The Transformative Power of Anger: Lessons from Hulk and Thanos
I've been meaning to write this post for a while but I struggled to find a compelling starting point. Then, I re-watched Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War and inspiration hit.
As a movie enthusiast, I've always been captivated by the opening scene of Infinity War. Hulk and Thanos engage in a direct hand-to-hand battle where at first, it seems like Hulk has the upper hand. However, Thanos remains unimpressed by the few hard blows initially dealt by the Hulk who is then viciously defeated and ends up unconscious on his back.
I have found that scene to be a powerful portrayal of anger, i.e. of the stark contrast between uncontrolled, immature, and destructive rage from the Hulk versus the controlled, measured, and strategic expression of anger by Thanos.
On my own journey through life, I only recently started interacting with my anger and it has been quite liberating and interesting. The question I keep asking myself is how to understand and harness the energy of my anger in productive and effective ways and how to redirect it in an appropriate manner so as to maximize its utility.
This post is an attempt at answering part of that question and sharing some of my thoughts on the topic.
Are You Denying Anger Too?
Let me set the stage: Throughout most of my life, I've grappled with denying or repressing my anger. It wasn't because I didn't experience it; rather, I simply didn't know how to effectively handle it. I was also never taught, or had a good role model, on what a mature way of expressing anger looks like.
On some level, I believed that anger - if expressed - would eventually consume me, turning into rage and obliterating anything in its path. It seemed dangerous to connect with this energy. It was intimidating as well as scary, and at the time, the best available unconscious strategy was to push it down.
Hence, expressing anger felt unsafe due to my association of it with immaturity and destruction. Moreover, I lacked knowledge or hands-on practices about healthy outlet and expression.
This is where the fight between Thanos and Hulk grabbed my attention.
Understanding the Hulk & Thanos: Uncontrolled Rage vs Controlled Anger
In all the comics as well as movies, The Hulk represents the embodiment of pure rage and uncontrolled anger. Bruce Banner, the alter ego of the Hulk, transforms into the green-skinned behemoth when he becomes angry or emotionally overwhelmed. The Hulk is characterized by his immense strength and his inability to contain or direct his fury. As the Hulk, Banner often struggles to maintain control, resulting in destructive outbursts and collateral damage. He can be thought of as the manifestation of unchecked and unbridled anger.
Thanos, on the other hand, demonstrates a more mature and measured way of dealing with his anger. While anger is a driving force for Thanos, he has developed a level of self-discipline, strategic thinking and tactical prowess the Hulk does not possess. Thanos sees himself as a righteous figure, believing that his actions, driven by his anger towards what he perceives as a flawed universe, are necessary to restore balance and order. He seeks to achieve his goals through calculated planning and manipulation rather than purely relying on unrestrained rage.
Thanos' measured approach to anger is evident in his pursuit of the Infinity Stones. Instead of impulsively lashing out, he patiently collects the stones, devising a plan to wipe out half of all life in the universe in order to achieve what he considers a necessary balancing act. While his actions are ruthless and devastating, they are guided by a twisted sense of purpose and a belief in his own mission and vision.
In terms of emotional control, Thanos demonstrates a greater ability to channel his anger into calculated actions, whereas the Hulk struggles with containing and managing his rage. This distinction highlights the difference in their approaches to conflict and their respective levels of self-awareness.
It is worth noting that the Hulk's lack of control over his anger is often depicted as a source of inner turmoil and conflict for Bruce Banner. Throughout his story arcs, Banner grapples with the desire to control and harness the Hulk's power, seeking a balance that allows him to utilize his strength for good while minimizing the destructive consequences. This then culminates in Avengers: Endgame as Banner decided to go half-Banner & half-Hulk, combining the best of both his personalities. Personally, I didn't care too much about that part of the story, but I digress.
Finding the right balance between harnessing the potential energy behind anger while also minimizing the probability for unintended negative consequences of expressing it is what gets to the root of my own questions about anger.
Despite Thanos being the villain, his exceptional self-control and warrior-like demeanor captivated my interest, particularly in contrast to Hulk's childlike and uncontrolled display of brute force and rage.
Practically Exploring Anger: Physical Expression & the Power of Writing
Personally, I have found that engaging in physical expression works best. For example, hitting a punching bag or pillows, yelling into a mattress or pillows, or even finding a secluded place in the forest to pick up, swing, and break branches (ensuring privacy, of course). These physical outlets allow me to release pent-up energy and provide a sense of catharsis. I always feel mentally clearer, less tense and more empowered after the fact.
Another approach that has been effective for me is writing it out. When I feel upset, frustrated, or angry, I find truth in expressing my thoughts and emotions by writing them down. Whether on a computer or my phone, I simply write out what's present, capturing the raw essence of what is on my mind during those intense moments.
I have also combined this writing practice with the physical expression. After engaging in a physical outlet, I take time to reflect on my experience. I then write about the insights gained, the deeper truths revealed, and any newfound perspectives that may have emerged. This process allows for a more holistic and productive release of anger, leading to greater self-understanding and growth.
A third avenue was to educate myself. This has helped me with gaining more understanding, confidence and clarity in how I can relate in a healthy manner to my anger. Here are a few links that I have found useful:
Robert Greene & Jordan Peterson on How to Integrate your Shadow Self
Mark Passio's presentation on The Sacred Gift of Anger
Jordan Peterson on how Men Need To Become More Dangerous
Last but not least, being part of a men's group has been incredibly helpful in navigating challenging emotions, including anger, and having a tight-knit community of supportive and powerful men is a definite game changer. For the men out there, I can only highly recommend it.
What is your strategy of dealing with anger or upset? Let me know in the comments.