Friday, July 26, 2013

The psychology of speaking in anger, and WWRHED?

she's not actually angry, just showing off her lipstick. whatevs.

When people experience a stressful or threatening situation, they often experience a fight or flight adrenaline rush. When the situation does not present a legitimate threat (eg, my two year old is fuh-reaking out because she wants the doll her sister has), then fighting or flighting are both inappropriate reactions. In that case, your best bet is to acknowledge what you're feeling (anger, fear, stress, etc.) and let the feeling pass. Anything you do while in fight or flight mode will only prolong your body's physical and emotional state. That includes any attempts at "catharsis" (freaking out, hitting stuff, yelling, screaming, ranting, or venting) or any attempts to push the feeling away/deny it/otherwise suppress it. Once the adrenaline rush passes, you can more effectively come up with a plan to improve the situation that created the stress in the first place. And you can implement that plan in a calm, considerate manner. (related: How to deal)

But what if it is a legitimately​ threatening situation​​? In that case, the adrenaline rush can be useful. It motivates and empowers you to take action. ​However, a power hose can be useful too. It doesn't mean it is always the most appropriate tool for cleaning. Especially if you're just dealing with some spilled milk in the kitchen. So when dealing with both anger and a power hose, some nuanced considerations are necessary.

An important distinction to make ​right away is​: are you​  ​allowing the anger pass ​or are you actively suppressing ​it ​​because ​anger is bad, wrong, or unladylike. (Hint: ​it is none of this things). The latter is your absolute worst plan of action. Even if you achieve the friendly tone  and ​​win friends and influence people, ​you are engaging in a harmful pattern of behaviors with real and serious consequences on your health and 

Another important distinction to make is: are you using your anger to support your cause or to tear down a person? Unfortunately, this seems to be a difficult line to draw (separating someone from their ideas seems problematic for people on both sides of the issue).

Once you are certain that you are not just swallowing the anger whole or attacking a person, you have to decide whether your best course of action is to let the anger pass before taking action or to use the anger to motivate your response.  ​I believe the calculus of this decision making depends on variables like: How much power do you have? How big of a voice do you have?​ How much power does the threatening  person/issue/etc. have? What ​is being threatened​? ​What ​are the risks and benefits of taking  more versus less aggressive action? ​(​If you act while in anger, will you be tone-policed? Will you shut down  any possibility of an open dialogue? And/or will you inspire other people who were reticent to speak up? ​And can you still inspire those people with a more gentle approach that facilitates further discussion?)  Women in Christian circles are in a precarious place because they tend to have less power and face a greater chance of being considered too aggressive. ​It's a tough equation to solve.​

WWJD? Well, he's ​recommended you ​turn the other cheek but he's also flipped the merchant's tables​ at the temple​. So I'm not really comfortable speaking for Jesus here. 

​WWRHED? However, I think I can safely answer "What Would Rachel Held Evans Do?". Time and again she engages with people on divisive topics in polite, considerate, ​and productive ways. I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty impressed with her ability to do consistently do this. I have compared my reactions to stuff and her reactions to the same stuff and thought, yes. She was much nicer. I could definitely have been nicer. Personally, I know I've said dumb and offensive things that I totally regret. Usually I realize on my own how awful it sounded. Had I been called out on it, I know I'd have been much more receptive to feedback if it came from the RHE's school of engagement. 

But even people who are receptive to feedback and reticent to offend are still vulnerable to the cognitive dissonance that occurs when confronted with proof that they did something not cool even though they think of themselves as pretty darn cool. People's egos are hard to navigate. And what about the people who are not in any way, shape, or form receptive to feedback (especially from someone "like you")? it can get really frustrating to constantly try your hardest to use honey, and still not getting a single damn fly. And you know what? Screw the flies! Maybe I don't want any flies after all? I mean, flies, really!? What is that?!

In that case, the anger becomes more purposeful. Specifically, it keeps you from giving up. It keeps the learned helplessness from kicking in. Learned helplessness is that place where nothing seems to work, so why bother trying? Do people get tired of being angry? Yes. But I'm sure they also get tired of feeling like nothing they do is ever working. That nothing is changing. And that why bother? If anger is the one thing standing between someone and hopeless disengagement, then anger can actually be pretty amazing.



  1. OK, I already patented WWRHE :P As well as OMRHE haha