"Distorted anger differs from definitive anger in one fundamental way. In definitive anger, there is always a wrong perpetuated; the anger is a response to this wrong. In distorted anger, a perceived wrong leads to anger--but the alleged wrong is only in your perception; there is no real wrongdoing." ANGER: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way
In his book, Dr. Gary Chapman defines two kinds of anger: "definitive anger is born out of wrongdoing." Someone lies about us, steals from us, injures us, or in some way does us wrong. This kind of anger he says is valid anger. The second kind of anger he calls distorted anger and is triggered by dashed expectations, a grumpy mood, a disappointment or any number of things that have nothing to do with "any moral transgression." This kind of anger, is what Dr. Chapman calls invalid.
At first, I had trouble understanding the distinctions between the two. But, in the book Dr. Chapman offers a way to help distinguish which is which by asking a couple of questions. First, you must ask yourself: Was a wrong committed? (a violation of law or moral code); second, Do I have all the facts? An example may help here. Let's say my husband promises to pick me up from the auto dealer where my car is being serviced. He ends up showing up 45 minutes late without a call and I am angry. Is my anger valid? When I ask the question, was a wrong committed, I could answer "yes" because a promise was broken. But if I ask myself the next question, do I have all the facts, the answer to this question might be "no." In fact, I learn later from my husband that just before leaving our house, he noticed the sound of water running upstairs and discovered a water supply line was leaking all over the bathroom floor. So, before leaving, he had to make sure the water was turned off and he wanted to do some mopping up before he picked me up so I wouldn't have to do it. Hurrying out of the house, he forgot his cell phone and was unable to call me to let me know he would be late.
Now, I have to tell you that given the above scenario, I would probably still be angry because I would have expected my husband to call right after he discovered the water leak. But, that expectation alone, according to Dr. Chapman, would not justify definitive anger. As I really thought about these two types of anger, I realized that many times my anger is distorted rather than definitive because it has more to do with my perfectionism or unrealistic expectations of myself and others. This was eye-opening for me because I realized that much of my anger is fed by my own frustration or disappointment rather than wrongdoing.
So, how do I deal with my distorted anger according to Dr. Chapman? First, he says we need to approach the person with an attitude of "sharing information" and needing their help. Instead of me accusing my husband of "letting me down," "making me worry," or "breaking his promise," I use "I" messages to let him know how I'm feeling and solicit his help. For instance, "I'm feeling frustrated and I need your help." In this way, I'm owning my own feelings, without blaming him for them and I'm wanting to know more about the facts or situation that contributed to the circumstances. When I'm willing to do this, it helps to diffuse my own anger and give my husband the "benefit of the doubt" rather than making him the "bad guy" who let me down.
I have to tell you that this information is new to me. In fact, I initially resisted it when I first read the book. It took me a second reading to begin to embrace the differences of the two kinds of anger. I think it was partly because I reviewed the number of times I was "frustrated" with my husband over something that really stemmed from my own expectations rather than a moral failure or wrongdoing. I haven't even begun to look at the times this happened with my daughters growing up. I've decided not to dredge up a list, but instead try to work on changing my pattern in the future.
Can you relate at all? Are you like me when it comes to your anger? Do you find yourself making a case for why a person "should have" done it the way you would have done it? Or do you justify your anger by saying "I have made this very clear in the past! You just do this to irritate me!"
If you're really interested in looking at your anger, ask your spouse if he or she feels you have very high expectations. Ask how it feels when they sense they've disappointed you. Dare to ask your kids what they think about themselves when you get angry.
Let me know what you think...is your anger legitimate most of the time or not?