‘A couple of sessions ago you said – and I agreed with you,’ said Toad, ‘- that anger is one of our basic emotions.  I recall you said that these basic emotions are like the primary colours on an artist’s palette.  So my questions is, ‘if anger is a basic constituent of my behaviour, why don’t I get angry?’’            
     ‘That really is an excellent question, Toad,’ said Heron. 
‘However, like all good questions, the answer is likely to give you painful insights into yourself.  Are you ready for this?’          

     Toad looked steadily at Heron. ‘I have gone this far,’ he said.  ‘I can’t stop now.’          

     ‘Right,’ said Heron.  ‘Perhaps the best way to begin is to use our brains and our reason, even though the question is all about feelings and emotions.  Let us start by imagining the following situation.  You are being held captive by benevolent despots.  They have complete dominion over you, yet at the same time they look after you and take care of you.  How would you feel about that?’     

     ‘I think I would have very mixed feelings about them,’ said Toad.      

     ‘Exactly!  And that’s what you experienced when you were little.  How could you be angry with these kindly despots, your parents, who clearly had the upper hand and on whom you were totally dependent?  And whom you loved.’        

     Toad sat very still, deep in thought.      

     ‘It does seem to be a genuine dilemma,’ he said.  ‘So what would have happened when the force of my anger met the apparently invincible power of my parents?’       

     ‘It seems to me,’ said Heron, ‘that there can only be one possible answer.’       

     ‘And what is that?’ asked Toad.       

     ‘You had to learn how to be angry on-aggressively!’       

     ‘But that’s impossible,’ replied Toad quickly.        ‘Surely, being angry means being aggressive by definition.  Isn’t it more likely that I learnt to suppress my anger totally?’        ‘I  doubt that very much,’ answered Heron.  ‘Anger is such an integral part of our behaviour that it can never be totally suppressed.  Let’s use another metaphor, this time from science.  Imagine a cylinder of gas which has started to heat up.  The pressure is increasing and there is danger of an explosion.  What can be done quickly to reduce the pressure?’  

     ‘The first thing you could do,’ answered Toad, ‘and the most obvious, is to open the valve as far as possible and vent the gas to the atmosphere in a great, powerful jet.’  

     ‘Quite so,’ said Heron.  ‘And this is just how some people learn to deal with their anger.  They release it like a powerful jet of gas, directed at the chosen target, and then resume their normal behaviour.  What they forget, or deliberately avoid noticing, is the damage they cause and the adverse effect this behaviour has on their relationships.’  

     ‘So anger is aggressive, like I said?’ said Toad, anxious not to lose his point.  

     ‘Yes, it certainly is in this example and this is what I wanted to illustrate.  But now, consider this.  Think once again about that gas cylinder getting hot and the pressure building up inside.  Is there another way to reduce the pressure, perhaps less dramatically?’  

     ‘I suppose if you wanted to be more careful, you could simply open the valve slowly and let the gas seep out over a period of time.  Is that what you are thinking?’  

     ‘Indeed it is,’ said Heron. ‘Don’t you see, Toad?  You are discovering the answer!  What you and many other people have learnt, is how to be angry non-aggressively.  You adopted ways of letting out your anger slowly and gently, almost imperceptibly, so as not to upset anyone.’   

     ‘But how?’ asked Toad plaintively.  ‘I can’t remember behaving like that.’ 

How a Child Releases Its Anger

 STRONG        Rebellion






                        Being bored

WEAK            Withdrawing   

     Then he continued,

     ‘Of course, the point is – and I know you are beginning to realise this, Toad – that all those behavioural strategies are, in effect, defence mechanisms developed in our childhood to protect us from the dangers we perceived then, real or imaginary.  When we see adults sulking and throwing tantrums and moping about and saying they are bored, we may wonder if their behaviour is appropriate or whether they are compelled, yet again, to act our their childhood.’  

Counselling for Toads