In this article I will use our Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, as a vehicle for explaining a couple of significant factors that may go into developing a personality that expresses itself through anger.
As this is written John Bercow’s behaviour and the possible ramifications for him personally are all over the press that love to gossip about our politicians. If what is being said about his behavior is true then he has behaved unacceptably. What makes him of interest to me is that he is intelligent, successful and articulate and yet he appears to be unable to control his anger. This is not unlike a lot of our clients who come to see us for anger management assistance. The stereotype of those that seek anger management help is the bullying abuser that John Bercow is being portrayed as by some parts of the press and twitterati. What is going on underneath, however, could be completely different.
In this article I will look at some of the key factors that go in to anger and see where those may be surfacing for our speaker. Before I do this let me be clear about one thing, being angry does not automatically make you a bully. Anger, however, can become the vehicle for bullying and can often be the case.
“…being angry does not automatically make you a bully.”
If there is one factor that is likely to have an impact on anger it is stress. The experience we all have with stress is that the more stressed we get the more likely we are to be triggered into anger. In other words the more stressed we are the the less tolerant and empathetic we are able to be.
What is underlying this is that stress is all about fear. Fear is about feeling vulnerable and one of the best ways we have developed to avoid feeling vulnerable is to be angry. It protects us.
This culture that we live in does not value vulnerability and so increasingly we feel unable to connect with and allow feelings of vulnerability. This is an issue for our overall mental health and it is a big factor in dealing with stress.
The house of commons and politics in general is a tough, combative debating environment. Being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. In addition to that the speaker has a huge agenda to manage and is being influenced by all sides of the house and needs to be able to control debates and make decisions under very stressful circumstances with huge amount of public scrutiny.
In short, in my opinion, if you wanted to rank the most stressful roles in the house of commons I think speaker would come in just behind leader of any of the major parties.
If reports of his behavior are correct it could be about stress. This does not excuse the behaviour but could go some way to understanding it.
A great deal of work we do with our clients is around the challenges that life presents to their self esteem. Part of our self esteem is governed by our ego. That part of us that wants to be loved, liked, respected and appreciated (to name but a few of the ego needs). People often use their careers to sustain their unhealthy self esteem and when our self esteem gets challenged it is easy to think that being angry is a good way to restore balance. It’s obvious really, if I get angry with you of course you will respect me won’t you?…..not really is often the reply, but it does not stop us behaving that way.
“…if I get angry with you of course you will respect me won’t you?…..not really is often the reply,…”
Wrapped up in this is also any negative beliefs about ourselves we may have developed over time and that we seek to remedy and hide. Often, when we are getting angry the energy that is escaping from us in a torrent of abuse is that of “ you must think I’m stupid/ugly/ useless/unworthy (circle as appropriate) “ to name just a few. These are our own negative self beliefs coming to the surface and, in the moment, causing extreme anxiety, which we cover up with anger.
If our sense of self esteem is not 100% healthy then it is easy to feel vulnerable and really easy to cover that up with anger.
I am not going to suggest what I may be able to see about John Bercow’s self esteem because it is not my place and I do not have enough information. Suffice to say, the bear pit that is politics in this country must wear an individual’s esteem down over time.
Unhealthy anger is all about power. I feel powerless and helpless and my way of regaining or strengthening my power is to be angry. It’s not subtle but in the moment it feels like it works. As John Bercow is discovering this does not always work and it can backfire. Many of my clients have experienced those moments where they let go with both barrels and immediately realised in that one action they have just let go of any power they had.
Of course bullying is also about power so where do the two meet or combine. I can be angry and discover that my anger gets things done for me and influences others. I may not like it but if it happens often enough I can become a little addicted to it and it can at least become habitual. It can become my default influencing style. It shows a lack of control.
A bully will use anger systematically. They will set out to use power, influence and if necessary anger to get their way. This does not make them an angry person it makes them a bully.
Where the two can become merged is that of habitual use of anger as an influencing style. The one thing that angry people and bullies really have in common is that they do it because they can. When power in a relationship is unequal and that power is exerted over the weaker person continually then that is bullying. If an individual gets angry and no one stands up to them, or worse they get their own way after all, then a change to the power in the relationship can happen and anger becomes the tool to get what they want.
So whether John Bercow is simply someone who gets angry too often or if he is a bully both may be happening because he gets away with it.
It would appear from this perspective as if he is about to find out he cannot get away with it.
Our speaker is likely to be under considerable levels of stress and have regular challenges to his self esteem, as do all politicians. These factors may explain some of his behaviour but they certainly do not excuse them.
He may be a sinister systematic bully or he may simply be someone who has been allowed to get away with unprofessional conduct for too long. Of course, he could be innocent of all the charges that have been made in the press.
I along with may others will be watching with interest to see how history writes the result of this one.
If you are having episodes of anger and are concerned about your impact on others, or you are being accused of being a bully feel free to call 01332 869212 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and book a confidential chat to see what your options are.