Dr. Kimberly Riley
As we all sit back and reflect on what the first half of the year 2020 has meant to us, a variety of emotions may come up. Some of us may describe what sounds like sadness or grief, while the rest of us may talk about what can be taken as anger or frustration. Either way, everyone has some emotion attached to their experience over the last few months.
As you think about what you have been feeling the most, I would encourage you to think about your anger and where you have directed it, what has caused you to feel the angriest, and has your expression of anger felt consistent with who you are or have been as a person in the past. In this article, we will journey through the ways that we can end up having displaced anger and what we can do to manage our anger effectively.
Public Grief and Fear Can Lead to Public Displaced Anger
Towards the end of January of this year, basketball fans all over publicly grieved the loss of Kobe Bryant. His death caused people who were never fans of the sport or maybe not even a fan of him to reflect on life and how life can be cut short regardless of who you are or how hard you try hard to be safe.
Kobe Bryant was traveling in a helicopter and it ended up crashing which caused everyone on board to pass away. Lots of people became angry about everything, or so it seemed. People became angry with Kobe Bryant for traveling in a helicopter when he could have just traveled on the freeway, they were mad at the pilot for flying in the weather conditions that day that caused the crash.
They were frustrated that Kobe Bryant was being celebrated after death when he had done some things during life that people were upset with; everyone was mad, but their anger was pointing in several different directions and often at a person or thing that didn’t represent their true feelings, which was probably extreme sadness.
Because people were grieving a public figure, they started to group together based on their anger in a public way. During the days and weeks after Kobe Byrant’s death, you could find social media posts with people criticizing the way that other people were processing what happened.
It is always interesting when people get angry with someone else for feeling anger about something opposite or different than what they are angry about. In these moments we have to then stop long enough to ask ourselves why we are so bothered by the expression of emotion by someone who doesn’t share what we feel, because really, everyone is allowed to express themselves in the way that makes the most sense to them and life is beautiful once we understand that.
It is always nice to have someone on your same team of course, emotionally, or otherwise, but grief can be a little different. Sometimes people get angry when people identify with them through their grief and loss. They want to own the experience alone and be unique in their suffering.
When you go to support them, they tell you that you do not understand, and all of a sudden the support person questions how they can love the person through their pain when they won’t allow them to. The person who becomes angry may be seriously hurt about something, usually a loss and angry that it ever happened, but instead of expressing that pain, they direct their anger towards the person trying to support them.
Sometimes people do not want to reflect on what happened, so they skip past the self-reflection time instead of taking time to understand what they are feeling. This is why so many people seem to say things in the social media setting that they would not say in person. It is because they are not taking the time, they should in order to understand their anger before posting and end up saying something out of character for who they usually are.
When two people feel completely different about the same incident, what they should do is come together and express their emotions to one another while listening, but what usually happens is that they forget about why they were originally upset and become angry with the other person.
If people could stop long enough to grieve with one another, they would understand the benefits of it, and then hope to receive that same treatment when they are feeling sad. Publicly, this type of shared sadness from a larger scale could look like organizations sending out a message to support the grieving people in the community, and from a smaller scale, it could look like a friend posting a supportive message on their social media page.
Public grief can lead to public anger, but it doesn’t have to be displaced. People can figure out what they are upset about and go towards that person or issue so that resolve can happen. When we displace our anger about something that makes us sad, there is no chance for resolution and healing cannot happen.
Kobe Bryant’s death was sad, and people became angry, but they didn’t necessarily know where to place it, so they didn’t stay stuck in the anger after a while. They looked deeply at their sadness and cried, loved their children more, and shared the grief with others through many different outlets.
A hashtag started showing up on the internet called “GirlDad.” It was a movement to recognize dads who have daughters, since Kobe Bryant had four daughters and one passed away with him in the helicopter crash, dads were moved to have better relationships with their daughters while they have the chance.
Parents were afraid of what could happen to their families in such a tragic moment, so they recognized the shared fear and did something they could do in the moments they had, which was love and spend time with their children and spouses.
In March 2020, something quite different showed up in our communities. COVID-19 shook up the United States. People were confused and afraid since it seemed deadly and highly contagious.
All over the US government officials made different decisions for their areas, and eventually, all of America’s children were home from school, and people were in almost every state in America were required to stay at home and stay safe. People became fearful and without ways to understand the danger and what would happen next, they became angry.
Publicly, people started to blame everyone and everything with the hopes of some outcome, hopefully, one that made them feel better, but instead they felt worse. Their anger was undefined. Some people were angry about the recommendations, such as staying home, social distancing, and wearing masks while others were angry about the extreme number of deaths.
Many people started to suffer economically because they couldn’t work, so they were angry and started protesting to get the attention of local governments. They wanted their states to remove stay at home orders so small businesses could open back up.
People were very afraid that their lives would never go back to what they knew before and information spread around the internet that induced more fear, so without processing what was true for them and respecting what was true for others, people turned to anger that ruined relationships.
Their anger was often geared towards the wrong people, and sometimes it was displaced anger. Possibly, if asked, American’s would have simply expressed that they were angry at the virus and the way that it changed our lives. Maybe they would have realized that life is sometimes out of our control, but we can control our responses.
Fear is what people generally feel when they believe something is uncontrollable, so I wonder what life would have been like if we stopped to help people understand how to manage their fear? Helping people learn how to recognize their fear and the difference between what is real and not can keep them from turning their fear into anger.
The good thing is, we can all use one another to grow and understand our emotions together. The efforts may promote correctly placed anger and positive next steps. Understanding what we feel, whether it is sadness, fear, or anger can move us to action.
With all of what the year 2020 has delivered to us, from the death of well-loved public figures to unknown viruses, and outrage over the treatment of people within certain population groups, when we get angry and we point it in the right direction instead of displacing it, we can often see results.
Anger Management: Next Steps
If you are struggling during the current events happening in your area of the world or are having a hard time managing your displaced anger about past experiences and do not know how to share it with the people who need to hear your thoughts, the counselors here at Seattle Christian Counseling are available to help.
There are many ways that a counselor can help you discover the emotions that are possibly underneath your displaced anger so that you can begin to heal in all areas of your life.
“In Memoriam”, Courtesy of Fred Kearney, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “More Love. Less Fear”, Courtesy of Bram, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “School Closure”, Courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stop Talking”, Courtesy of Markus Spiske, Unsplash.com, CC0 License