Wimps and Warriors: Anger and Power
An article by David Cornfield
After weeks of writing and rewriting a brochure describing the coaching services offered by Creative Edge for new entrepreneurs, I brought it to a friend for feedback. She read it while I waited, hardly breathing, trying not to look too nervous. When a puzzled look crept across her face, I asked if there was a problem. She hesitated, then spoke.
"You say here that you coach clients on issues affecting business success. You then list fear, depression, low self-
"Well, put it this way -
"You are going to have to unpack that a bit more for me."
"Okay. People who are afraid of anger avoid both their own anger and the anger of other people. They stifle their own anger by downplaying what they want so when they don't get it, they can tell themselves it doesn't matter and there is nothing to be angry about. To make what they want unimportant, they numb out their need and their desire with shallow breathing and tight muscles and various addictive behaviours that repress feelings. To avoid other people's anger they do whatever they can to accommodate people, sidestepping confrontation whenever possible.
This kind of behaviour may avoid anger, but it is not very powerful. People who manage anger in this way telegraph their powerlessness to the world by the way they carry themselves, a lack of conviction in their voices and a hundred other subtle clues that people pick up and label as wimpiness. It's hard to impress a potential client, or negotiate the best deal with a supplier when the underlying message you are sending is "I have no power". It's not a formula for business success.
Then there's your blusterers and blowhards who fly off the handle at the least provocation and who are just as ineffective as wimps when it comes to making an impression or negotiating a deal. Their frequent displays of anger are tactical maneuvers but have no substance. Once the emptiness of their threats becomes apparent, they aren't taken seriously either.
Warriors, on the other hand, are strategic about when to express anger. The anger that they express is genuine, tempered by reason and clearly within their control. They don't let their anger take them over. They listen to all parts of themselves. They do not blurt out statements that they will have to retract later. When they speak there is no doubt that they stand behind what they say. The underlying message is: 'I am powerful. Don't mess with me.' People take them very seriously and don't try to push them around.
"Okay, I get that the warrior is going to be a more effective business person. Is there any hope for the wimp?
"Yes, but there's no quick fix. Anger that is repressed doesn't disappear, it accumulates. The more that anger builds up, the scarier it is to release. If you suddenly uncork a lifetime accumulation of repressed anger, there's no telling how explosive you are going to get. To be strategic with your anger, you need to lower the pressure by discharging old anger. The release has to be done slowly, with guidance, in a safe place. It has to be expressive, not just talking about it, and it has to involve bodywork. Repressed anger is contained by holding the body rigid and not breathing very much. While the holding and the shallow breathing may be done consciously at first, eventually they become chronic and the ability to feel is numbed out. You can't release anger that you don't feel. Bodywork opens up the rigidity so that the feelings can be felt. Once the unexpressed anger has been discharged, you can relax a bit, breathe more easily, and feel more. The feelings that emerge will be more appropriate, you are less likely to go out of control, and in time, you are more likely to feel comfortable expressing your anger.
Meditation is also useful. Meditation teaches you to stay centered. Instead of reacting, you take a moment to discriminate between old inappropriate anger and anger that pertains to the moment. It allows you to feel your anger and choose your response."
David Cornfield, Creative Edge
Wimps and Warriors was first published in Eye for the Future, December, 1996
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