It’s been six months since I went on Mike Fisher’s British Association of Anger Management (BAAM) course. Six months since I sat in a room with six strangers and revealed proudly to the world, I get angry and I’m here to do something about it.
I remember it well.
Mike Fisher has been running weekend workshops for over 17 years and has averaged out to have helped a 1000 people deal with their anger, for every year doing it.
I love Will Storr’s description of anger, which he wrote for the Observer newspaper having been on Mike’s weekend course in 2007.
“I can feel my rage. It collects in the centre of my throat. It’s like I’ve swallowed a cannonball and it makes me want to scream. I am brimful of anger, and when it sloshes out, it does so in the only direction it’s allowed to – at inanimate objects. I shout at keys I can’t find, at carrots I drop on the kitchen floor, at doors I stub my toe on. Last week I called a spilled glass of elderflower cordial a cunt.”
There are six ways we express our anger; intimidation, interrogation, poor me, distancing, winding up and blunder bussing. I’m a bit of everything when I get angry. I’m a big man who looks scary in an aggressive, ‘I can kill you’ stance. I’m good at machine-gun spraying questions, while being a victim the next moment. I often walk away from situations having dropped an anger grenade in the room, leaving its victims to clear up the emotional mess.
When I’m angry at seeing my shadow face to face, I often take the mickey, and shake off my cruel remarks as a joke, and tell the recipient not to take it seriously. Though last but not least, my anger is best released as blunderbuss. ‘He’s like a bear with a sore head,’ my partner would say politely, while in private, complain I have tantrums like a 3-year-old, cursing, slamming, banging, cussing and swearing about the house.
What’s wrong with Shouting?
As a kid I used to shout when my sister stole my bike or broke my toys. It was what I did to vent my fury at having a horrible sibling. My mum never checked me for it, except to say to the people at the receiving end, “Let it go through one ear and out of the other and ignore him!”
I was brought up to think shouting was an acceptable way to express anger and I carried it onto adulthood, as any child would. 30 years later, with kids, a partner and pets, I’ve come to realise it isn’t.
My partner hates me shouting, but I justify doing it, by blaming her for making me angry by telling me to stop shouting in the first place. It’s a catch 22 situation. I’ve been shouting all my life to express my anger and now I have to stop? How do you break a habit of a lifetime? Though my partner would say I’m missing the point. The big question remains, why am I angry?
Over to Mike Fisher.
“Anger is the symptom and shame is the cause. Everyone here suffers from what I call “toxic shame”. Shamers feel like they have been somehow cursed, that they’re not like other people. They think, “I am flawed and defective as a human being”, and, ‘If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.”‘
As Will Storr wrote from his own experience, “I’m concentrating all my efforts on trying not to cry,” as I can testify at having grown men either side of me break down in tears during a Mike Fisher weekend workshop. I was close to tears myself.
“We avoid facing our own shame,” Mike continues, “by using such behaviours as perfectionism; control; resentment; criticism and blame; moralising; self-contempt and contempt for others; patronising; envy; indifference. Each of these behaviours focuses on another person and takes the heat off us. You need to practise what I call “radical authenticity”. You need to accept that the authentic self is often not very nice. But by accepting your shadow-self you’re accepting your humanity.
The Jungian concept of ‘Shadow-Selves’.
“Have you ever had the sensation of a stranger walking into a room and feeling suddenly gripped by absurd levels of hatred?” says Mike Fisher, “this is what happens when we encounter a person who is exhibiting one of our ‘shadows’, those qualities we possess but which we repress or deny in ourselves. Do you hate arrogant people? Greedy people? Or is your bête-noire the obnoxious, ungrateful or slutty? Well, welcome to yourself. You may have been taught, since before you can remember, that ‘showy’ people are bad. In response, you’ve spent your life deliberately avoiding designer labels or boasting about your holidays. Then in stroll Flash-boy Godwin, all bespoke cuff links and diving safaris in Micronesia. And everyone aahs and coos. How comes he’s allowed to do that and you’re not?”
I’ve come to realise that while I get angry at being told to keep quiet by my partner, I tell her to do the same when she’s trying to express her feelings to me. We each have our own emotional needs which need replenishing. We get angry at our own behaviour.
It’s ironic really, but super liberating all the same. Once you understand the mechanics of anger, you control the anger. Or as Will Storr puts it better than I, “Mike Fisher’s course is part theory, part a process of unpacking his pupils; taking their rage to pieces and seeing what its motors look like. If there’s one single goal of the intensive three-day course, it appears to revolve around teaching us how to understand and then accept ourselves in all our fallible glory.
We need to learn how to decode the language of our emotions, to be wise about hunting down their causes and bold about stating them. If we know what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it and are unafraid to tell the rest of the world, we’ll suddenly find we’re in command of ourselves. It takes away some of the terror of being human.”
Make no mistake about it, people who have been hurled into the very troughs of despair by their explosive rage.
Reading Will Storr’s article brought tears to my eyes, because it spoke of an incident in his childhood with has left a lasting impression into adulthood.
‘We were in the car, on holiday, looking for a bike rental shop. My dad was angry because we couldn’t find it. He was saying, “Somebody help me.” I saw a road we hadn’t been up, a narrow one on a steep hill. He tried it and scratched the paintwork on the door. Then he started shouting – saying it was my fault. My mum told me to apologise, which I did. Then, later that day, she called me downstairs, from where I’d been hiding in my room. I thought she was going to say sorry to me, because it obviously wasn’t my mistake. But she scolded me some more and made me go out to Dad and apologise again. I just felt totally unsupported. Totally alone.’
And this is the crux of Mike’s anger management course. He takes you to places you might otherwise would not have known about.
For example, I never realised that the shame of my mother being certified insane and committed to a mental asylum for 6 months, when I was 6 years old, had left such a lasting impression on me! But alas it has. Its left me an angry man and ashamed of my childhood. As Will Storr reminds us, “We must learn to accept ourselves in all our fallible glory”.
Mike Fisher would say at least twice during the course, ‘Listening to you makes me very sad,’ with a noticeable twinkle in his tear-shot eyes, followed up with, ‘Let’s see how the weekend unfolds,’ if the person he is saying it to becomes defensive. Mike would smile dreamily and assure us, ‘You’ve got to trust the process.’
The benefit of Mike Fisher’s hard-won wisdom.
So, six months on, where am I? Well, I’m still here and I’m happy and not angry at all. When I do get angry, which I still do, I look at the bigger picture and think how it’s going to affect me in 5 minutes. If it isn’t going to matter, I let it go and don’t take it personally.
Now I just wish my partner would go on a BAAM course too!
If you are having anger issues like I am, why not get in touch with BAAM. Mike’s team are on call to book you on the next available three-day course, taking place throughout the UK.
Call BAAM on 0345 1300 286
In fact, its National Anger Awareness Month 2013, from 1st – 31st December 2013, so there is no time better to do it than now.
National Anger Awareness Month is all about learning to take control of your behaviour. Everyone feels angry at some time; what matters is how you express that anger.