Due to the nature of the work that I do, I have noticed in recent months that there are a lot of individuals who have been labeled as aggressive when really they are just plain old angry. In all fairness, they have the right to be angry. They are dismissed, disrespected and sleeping outside. They have a long history of trauma and violence and ongoing triggers in their day to day life. And, they are judged. All day. Every day. By the people who know them. By the people who don’t. And by the professionals who are supposed to be helping them. It would make anyone angry. And then they get labelled. Aggressive. Dangerous. Problematic.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of the individuals that I work with are all of those things. They will come at someone with aggression and violence and there is a risk of getting hurt. I am not naïve. I know that is the reality of the individuals who are living on our streets. But, that is not the norm. Not by a long shot. Rather, it is so much more complicated than that.
“Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathic witness.”– Peter A. Levine
Some of our clients will yell. They will call you names and will make people who do not know them, or their challenges, uncomfortable. But, the part that most of us tend to forget, and don’t understand, is that anger is the first and easiest emotion to handle. If I am angry, if I yell, if I tell people to go away, then they can’t get close to me. They can’t see my pain or try to help. They can’t hurt me like most of the people in my life already have. If I am vocal and loud and “hard to deal with”, I may be more safe. Safe from someone getting past the wall I have created for myself and showing me that I deserve better and more. That they won’t hurt me, but help me. That they care about me, even if I don’t want to see it.
And the most important part of this, is that it is not just my clients that feel this way. We all know those people. The grumpy old man who hates people on his property since his wife died. The angry co-worker who is short and snappy and no-one wants to work with. The person who is screaming at the cashier because she messed up her order. Or the student who has emotional outbursts in class and is considered “disruptive”. Like, my clients, some of these individuals are actually aggressive and violent, but for the majority of them, they are not.
So, the question is, why do you care? Why do you need to know the difference? Why does it matter?
Well, you may not care, and that is your choice. You may not want to know the difference and will continue to label these individuals with the negative connotations that I have already mentioned. But maybe, just maybe, some of you will notice, and even consider, that maybe there is more to the story. That the anger you are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. The tip is what you see and there are a large amount of things happening under the surface. And for those of us who tend to move through society observing, we should notice this.
Anger is easy. Hurt and pain is not. Yelling and punching things is easier than crying and feeling the heartache. Snapping at someone is easier than saying I am not doing okay today. Does it mean it is okay for someone to yell? No. Am I saying you need to put yourselves in situations where someone can be violent? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that sometimes, all of us, needs to take a moment and remember.
Remember we do not know what they are going through.
Remember that there is always more to the story and we don’t get to judge how somoene reacts.
Remember that labels, like aggressive, can be hurtful.
Remember that anger does not always translate to dangerous.
And most important of all, remember that someone, maybe even you, will be at a point where the only emotion they can manage for the time being is anger. That with support, understanding and compassion.. maybe, just maybe, they can start to feel safe enough to explore the other emotions they are feeling as well.
And when you see that happen, damn is it powerful.
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