The essential difference between anger and rage is that with anger there is always a choice of response.
I have the ultimate say as to where and how anger is to be directed. With rage I do not have that choice. Rage has the agenda. Rage takes over my right to choose. Rage has the power of choice. (Read: What is rage?)
A personal story I am fond of telling to demonstrate the power of choice inherent to a relationship with anger is of the time when a drunk loudly knocked on the front door of our house at two o’ clock in the morning. Now my wife and I live in a quiet neighbourhood, where the noisiest event of the day is when the school bus passes our house on the way to picking up the kids at the end of the school day. Other than that not much happens around our place, and this is one of the reasons why we choose to live here.
When the drunk pounded on our door initially we were both afraid and confused. We had no idea why someone would be knocking on our door at this time of night. It had never happened before. When I left the bedroom to head to the front door and I heard the man on the other side of the door clearly drunk my fear quickly turned to anger. “How dare this guy wake us up in the middle of the night,” I muttered to myself, “Considering I have to be up by six o’clock for a session with a phone client.
I was angry with this man and wanted him gone as quickly as possible. My initial reaction was to dial 911, call the police and have him escorted off the property immediately. However, another part of me basically said, “Hold it. What if he has a wife and children? Think of the stress a police presence might inflict on his family. Maybe he simply had a night out and lost his way.”
After this internal debate which literally lasted seconds, I was ready to make a choice. I picked up the portable phone and dialed 91 only and kept my thumb over the number one on the phone in readiness to dial it should I need to. Then I went over to the front door and calmly but strongly said to the man on the other side of the door, “You need to leave now!”
His response: “Oh! Sorry. Have a good night.” And he turned around and staggered back up the driveway crashing into one of our bushes on his way out.
There are many different levels of anger response. On a more sedate level, anger may say, “I need you to stop now.” If the person on the other end stops, any other expression of anger will not be needed. Anger ends at that level.
If the person does not stop, I may need to move anger to another level and say: “I am angry with you because you will not stop!”
On the next level, I may need to raise my voice so that I am loud. The same words I used before now have even more impact: “I am angry with you because you will not stop!!!”
If the person on the other end still does not stop and there is no option on my part to stand down, or it is not appropriate to do so, I may wish to seek some authoritative support to become an instrument in backing me up on my anger.
What if the other person becomes aggressive, does my anger have the right to be aggressive back? I believe anger has that right if aggression is threatened. I will consider all necessary non-aggressive options available so that a physical outcome of my anger is a last resort. Anger certainly will not initiate aggression. But if you physically attack me or my family and anger has no other options, I will consider some sort of appropriate physical defensive retaliation if that is all that is left to me.
I recall the story of the Kung-Fu specialist in Edmonton, Alberta who was cornered by three youths in a shop doorway with the intent to beat him up and steal his money. When he warned them of his skill and that each of them could be hurt they merely laughed at him. After continuing to reason with them asking to let him go for their sakes, warning them that in no way did he wish to hurt them, the youths still kept moving aggressively towards him. He said they left him with no choice and he used his Kung-Fu skills on them.
I asked him, “Could you have killed them?” He said that he could have done so, but in no way would he have wished to do that. He did hurt them though but in a way that left no scars. His hope was that they would be sufficiently sore for a few days and that would suffice to teach them a lesson and protect others from their aggression who may not have the protective skills he possesses.
With anger there is always a choice. And anger will take physical action only as a last resort when there are no other options available.
There may be times when anger needs to choose its mode of expression quickly, especially in those moments when our lives are in danger. But even then there will be a part of us present who is witness and fully conscious to what is taking place, who has the power to moderate anger’s actions as needed.
Our Authentic Self is always present alongside anger. Authentic Self always has the power of choice. Rage overwhelms Authentic Self. When rage is present Authentic Self does not have the power of choice. (Read: What is Authentic Self?)
While it is possible to have an authentic relationship with anger, it is not possible to have an authentic relationship with rage, just as it would be difficult to create an authentic relationship with someone consistently dictatorial, constantly controlling, or tyrannical. Such relationships will inevitably become one-sided in favour of the dictator, controller, or tyrant.
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