We have been discussing different forms of expressing anger, looking at the research of Beverly Engel. So far, we have concentrated on the unhealthy expressions–passive anger, aggressive anger, or passive-aggressive anger–each of which leads to negative consequences in relationships. In our final part about unhealthy expressions of anger, Engel talks about projective-aggressive anger.
Projective-Aggressive Expressions of Anger
The concept behind projective-aggressive anger expression is in how the issues that surround someone’s anger are projected onto someone else. Because of the abstract nature of this anger, it is difficult to portray in description and illustration. Some examples of this are:
Ventriloquist: This occurs when one assumes consequences incurred from someone else’s anger will fall onto him- or herself. For example, if this person as a child was punished whenever expressing anger, he or she would be convinced that a friend who is angry intends to embarrass him or her; so, it is someone else that will do something to you. You then speak as if you were speaking for him or her, though what you speak may or may not be true.
Innocent Victim: This is when someone does something that is completely contrary to how you perceive or acknowledge a situation, and yet, because he or she provokes you, it is his or her fault. Whether it is true, it becomes the provoker’s fault; therefore, the innocent victim acts as if a violation has occurred but has had nothing to do with the situation that has caused the anger.
Anger Magnet: This kind of person seems to attract angry people. It may be a situation where one feared becoming like his or her father, who had been volatile with anger; yet, he or she attracts friends who seem to be in trouble, finding others too boring or dull. Thus, as the anger magnet pursues angry people, he or she perceives him or herself helplessly surrounded by anger and cannot quite figure out why. Then, when the anger magnet gets angry, he or she expresses it about who is around him or her.
Whose responsibility is the anger?
The projective-aggressive style of communicating anger is very interesting. It is a way to evaluate anger as more of the responsibility of others than oneself. It creates a sense of entitlement to be angry because one has been offended and use the offense as a reason to excuse the anger.
As you review these unhealthy ways of communicating anger, it would be easy to judge people who are expressing anger this way. However, once again, we need to remember the power of legacies, particularly when it comes to families or those who have been significant influencers in our lives.
Most people recreate the same styles of anger communication that they have been taught by others. In fact, we become quite loyal to our anger reactions and think that we are doing exactly what we should be doing, whether we are expressing our anger in ways that are or are not healthy. Our emotional expressions–our anger–stem from our internal core beliefs.
We need to recognize that most of us were taught these styles of anger communication by someone significant to us. Until we become aware that we are using an unhealthy way to communicate anger, we have no reason to stop. So, understanding why we do what we do (where did it come from in our past…) is so important to having the ability to make changes.
What are the more positive and healthy ways to communicate anger? In my next post, we will discuss the two broad categories of anger communication that are actually healthy. Hopefully, that will help you with those difficult discussions that are often so destructive to our relationships. Stay tuned!
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.