Monday, November 8, 2010

More Musings on Anger

I recently blogged about my anger.  It was a short piece, partly because I didn't want to get carried away.  But I've been thinking about anger, and my changing relationship with it, for a while now.

Let me start off by saying that I believe anger is fundamentally a response to injustice.  Sometimes it covers up another emotion, as when we get angry because we don't want to feel sad, or afraid.  But the root cause of anger is, something happened that made us angry.  And I tend to believe that that root cause is valid.

The problem with anger is that we often express our anger at people, or things, who are not the root cause of our anger and don't deserve our hostility.  "I got into an argument about X because I was really angry about Y" - that happens a lot.  I also believe that most of us are discouraged, or forbidden, to express our anger.  Anger is a privilege reserved for the few, the higher-ranking members of a group (unless you can sneak onto the Internet and express your anger there without anyone finding out it's you.)  Or unless you've been given permission to get angry at a certain Really Bad person, or group of people.  We've been hearing a lot about anger in the media recently.  How much of that anger is misdirected? Is [fill in the blank] really responsible for whatever those people are angry about?

I once read a story about a man who was in jail for attacking women.  I can't remember now if he killed them or what, but the prison psychiatrist provided this reason for his behavior:  he was angry at women because his father used to beat him up and his mother and sister never tried to stop it.  It seems to me that the person you're most likely to be angry at is the person who's actually hitting you.  But for whatever reason, this boy felt that his father was not an acceptable target for his anger.  Women - all women - were an acceptable target instead.  (And the prison psychiatrist didn't question this!)

That's an extreme example of a case in which anger was diverted onto innocent bystanders.  Anger is a dangerous thing, there's no doubt about it.  And many people try to repress their anger . . . but that's not really a good thing either, if only because repressed emotion does have a habit of erupting in uncontrollable ways.

When I was younger, I believed it was okay for me to get angry at people; that expressing anger was healthy.  But now I regret the way I behaved; I feel that I took my anger to extremes, and certainly I got excessively angry about things that really weren't that important.  I indulged myself by getting angry and I hurt people's feelings.  Then in another phase of my life I found myself getting uncontrollably angry about one particular thing.  Whenever I thought about it, I got angry and lost the ability to do anything else or think about anything else.  It was sucking up all my energy and I finally had to make myself stop.  Was my anger justified? I believe that it was.  But it was too much for me.  It wasn't doing any good.

I took a break from anger for a while, until just a few months ago when I realized that I was angry again, about something different this time. And now I will admit that I am always angry.  I'm not getting angry at the people I love anymore - I think I can honestly say that.  It's not them.  I'm angry at the injustice in this world and the lies I was led to believe.  Getting angry at individuals does no good. But denying my anger would do no good either.

Anger is like fire.  It's hot and bright.  There's something beautiful about it. It can be more destructive than anything else.  But it also keeps us alive.  I have lit the votive candle of my anger.  And that tiny flame shows no sign of going out.

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