This is the fourth segment in a five-part series on Anger.
While it is easy to blame others when your expectations are not met, it is even easier to blame yourself. Getting angry with yourself can be a punishing experience. And if your personal standards are unrealistically high, you may find that you punish yourself quite a bit.
Anger turned inward can be tricky to detect because it is often a silent affair. Yes, there are times when we may curse loudly, smash things, abuse others or even hit ourselves (see video below).
But there are other times when we are filled with self-loathing even as we smile. Personally, I've noticed that my self-attacks are usually quite stealthful, taking the form of derisive questions that echo in my mind: "How could you forget her birthday?" or "What were you thinking?" "What is wrong with you?"
While we usually try to control our temper when it is directed toward others, most of us don't even try to control the severity of our self-attacks. Social constraints like empathy and fear can moderate our harshness with others, but there are no parallel restraints when it comes to self criticism or attacks on oneself. If you are harsh in your judgments of others, you are probably even more intolerant and cruel with yourself. Anger turned inward can be the most vicious anger of all.
The jury is still out on whether (and how) frequent self-attacks damage our minds and bodies, but most of us believe that they do. Sigmund Freud theorized that anger turned inward becomes depression: Consistently blaming your frustrations and disappointments on your own shortcomings might well create a sense of hopelessness about the future. In the movie Manhattan, Woody Allen expresses the common belief that if you repress your anger you may damage your health:
How to reduce the wreckage wrought by anger turned inward?
Anger turned inward is a clue no emotional detective can safely ignore. Investigate the scene of the crime to get the lay of the land:
- How often do you attack yourself?
- What kinds of attacks do you mount? (verbal, physical, brutal, or prolonged)
- What are the warning signs of self-attacks? (tension, irritability, picking, headaches)
- Is there an early point in the process where you might have a better perspective, and a chance to move in another direction?
As the investigations proceeds, try to discover which of your limitations most often trigger your attacks. Consider, for example, whether you are most angry with your perceived shortcomings in:
- Self-control (over-eating, over spending, promiscuity, drugs, etc.)
- Self-discipline (lazy, selfish, greedy, etc.)
- Awareness (insensitivity, ignorance, forgetfulness, self-absorption, etc.)
- Abilities (physical, intellectual or social)
Once you begin to understand the causes and qualities of your self-attacks, try to seek a broader perspective:
- Look for the many causes of your failed expectations
- Avoid unrealistic expectations and – don’t expect perfection.
- Consider whether you really had control over what you imagine you should control.
- Try offering yourself the compassion you would provide to someone else
Finally, learn from your mistakes and then move on:
- Try to accept your limitations as you work to improve them.
- Use your anger to motivate you to make changes to avoid future problems
- Focus on what you can do to avoid repeating mistakes (put reminders in your phone, think before you speak, keep certain foods out of the house)
- Get rid of useless reminders (give away that dress you never wore, stop revisiting your past missteps)