“Societies can be sunk by the weight of buried ugliness.” Daniel Goleman
Subtle and subversive bullying tactics are rife in families, organisations and in society at large.
How often have you come across the ‘polite’ cold shoulder or other blanking tactics, the perpetually sullen face or malicious gossip thinly disguised as concern? What about manipulation through ‘illness’, or other forms of sabotage?
For all the effort we put into developing IQ, when it comes to emotional intelligence we fall seriously short. And yet, how far we go as individuals and societies is primarily dependent on our emotional literacy - our awareness and understanding of feelings, and our ability to express them appropriately.
Take anger - a vital primary emotion, developed to protect and keep us safe.
On the whole, it embarrasses or scares us. Our children pick up on this and end up as ill-equipped to manage anger as we are, ourselves. Mismanaged anger is either loud, aggressive and in your face or, quashed and driven underground leaving us feeling shamed for having such ‘bad’ feelings.
Women and girls in particular are not supposed to get angry. Notice how soon we vilify an outraged female. Without the ability and courage to recognise, acknowledge and ‘own’ our anger, nor the skills to express it appropriately, we lose out on every count.
When children are habitually shamed for being angry they soon learn to dissociate from their anger and to neatly suppress it. Growth and self-awareness are compromised when we become disconnected from the emotion of anger. Thwarted feelings easily flow into a toxic undercurrent - difficult to see or pin down but nasty and ultimately as lethal as rising damp. Unacknowledged anger as often as not, gets projected onto innocent others.
Healthier families, schools and organisations
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored, than to anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain
Happy and productive communities teach people to recognise and accommodate uncomfortable feelings.
The starting point for a healthy environment is at home - with yourself.
1. Raise your awareness
Learn to recognise what your anger feels like, how it travels through you, whether there is shame in the mix, or has it mutated into defensive talk and self- justification before you feel the anger?
- Notice your own habits of blanking, 'politely' ignoring or undermining and examine your motives.
- Sit with the discomfort of the feelings, before launching out into your knee jerk habits of gossip or disconnecting from the other.
- Have the courage to feel your vulnerability and hurt that sits just under the surface of the toxic behaviour. Why not sooth that pain instead of lashing out at others?
2. Learn to express your needs better
Life is all about relationship...
- How we relate to ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, how we recognise what we need to function better, and so on;
- How we relate to others - how we own up to our feelings and ask for what we need or accept we’re in the wrong place; how we empathise with the needs of others and accommodate both parties;
- How we relate to the space we share.
3. Teach your children the same
Children don’t come into the world as angry beings...
- They need guidance and language to recognise and name their feelings.
- They need tools to calm down, a torch to show them the effect their behaviour has on others.
- They need praise for saying that they are angry, and the calm presence of a mature brain to negotiate their way to calmer shores so that they can say what they feel and need, without blaming or manipulating others.
4. Zero tolerance on bullying
Make a conscious decision about the kind of environment you want to inhabit.
Once you notice and deal with your own tendencies, learn to take a stance when it comes to bad and intolerant manipulation around you.
Have the courage to speak out and invite the subversive anger out.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.