In my last article I spoke about anger and the negative impact it can have in our lives. I had such a big response to that article, that I have decided to follow up with another aspect that I see often in relationships around anger.
This time though, I want to focus on when other people read us as angry when we aren’t angry.
How often have you been asked by your partner, a friend, your kids, “are you angry”, when you quite simply aren’t feeling anger? More often though, these people will “see” that we are angry and respond as they would if we were intentionally showing anger. They will walk away, get ready to defend or ready to attack.
Now if you are not feeling angry, that can be an action that makes no sense to us. Sometimes it can be hurtful.
Let me explain with an example.
I have what we like to refer to as “resting bitch face”. I like to call it “my thinking face.” I dislike cooking. I am not a great cook and find no enjoyment in it. With a large family, it is hard to produce a meal that everyone loves and that is easy for me. Cooking is a chore. A big chore. When I am cooking, I am not angry, but I am usually deep in thought.
Frequently, before my family accepted “my thinking face”, one of them would walk into the kitchen and take one look at my face whilst I was cooking and read “anger”. Now depending on who it was, the reaction would vary.
One would ask why I was angry.
Someone else would turn about and exit as fast as they could.
Someone else would tell me I am angry and then be annoyed themselves.
You get the picture.
I was never angry. I rarely express my feelings with anger, I’m pretty tuned into me as you would hope doing this job. Usually what it was they were reading was one of these:
- Me thinking about what I need to do next in the meal preparation.
- Me thinking about what I haven’t yet done that day and planning.
- Me analysing something in my head that was highly entertaining to me.
When I am in that space, I rarely notice anyone in the room anyway if they enter quietly. I simply was thinking. I wasn’t angry, sad, unhappy. I wasn’t anything negative at all. I was lost in my thoughts.
But to them, I looked angry. And they reacted as though I was. That didn’t feel nice for me. If someone just walked away and left, then I might wonder later on why they were being quiet and think something was wrong for them.
Their incorrect reading of my angry looking thinking face, set the tone for the evening. Not great.
When I realised this was quite common, I addressed it directly with each of them. They now know to ask me, “Are you angry”? And I will respond with an explanation for what they are obviously reading. Our evening then goes along as it should.
I see this with couples and with kids and parents quite a lot. It isn’t always reading the facial expressions incorrectly. Sometimes it is the tone, sometimes it is the volume, sometimes it is just in the delivery being abrupt.
Often, when someone is showing what is read as anger and isn’t, what they may really be feeling is:
- And sometimes, like me, they may just be thinking hard.
What do you take from this? Well unless you know for sure that they are angry, and I mean actually know, not just using your mind reading powers, then ask them! Maybe not in the moment. That can be hard to do if you think it is anger. But after, when you feel calm and safe, ask them. Let them know that in that moment, you thought they were angry. Ask them if you read it correctly and if not, what was it they were feeling/thinking.
Learning what is real and what we have imagined can change the whole dynamic of relationships. Any relationship.
Anger doesn’t serve us well. Even worse when we aren’t angry but get labelled as that. Something to consider in your relationships.
As always, here if you need.