“When you’re mad at someone else, especially in that hard-to-get-over way, chances are very (very) good that there’s anger toward the self to uncover, explore, forgive. Treat everything with another person like it’s between you and God–or you and you, in other words.” ~Jaya the Trust Coach
Anger is often thought of as one of the “negative” emotions, but I’ve noticed that for the person who is angry—particularly if it is of the self-righteous variety of anger—it can become like an addicting drug. This kind of anger brings with it a powerful sense of energy, of strength, and, most importantly perhaps, the absolute confidence that one is right.
And who doesn’t like to be certain that they are right, without any fault or blame in the matter, that they know more than anyone else the truth of the situation? Oh yes, it’s an addicting state, indeed.
I have two friends right now in very different situations who have been carrying around vast amounts of anger for quite some time. In both cases, the angry person has some justification for their anger. They are each involved with organizations that are unhealthy. In both cases, the angry person is choosing to stay in the organization that is provoking such anger. Indeed, they both have shown an extraordinary commitment to staying where they are despite the fact that neither one of them has had anything remotely positive to say about the organizations in question for a very long time. They just continue to become angrier and angrier.
One of these friends is very vocal with her anger. She lets those within the organization (and plenty of people outside of the organization) know on a regular basis that she does not approve of the way they are doing things. As you can imagine, she tends to cause hurt feelings, anger, and defensiveness in those on the other end of her attacks (which is then viewed as further proof of their lack of character). None of this seems to be improving the situation from what I can tell from the outside. But she spends a lot of time and energy defending her own right to be angry and to speak her anger no matter the impact on others because she seems to be convinced that she sees the real truth of the situation that no one else (even those more intimately connected to the situation) can see.
The other friend is very vocal about her anger to everyone except the person she blames for the situation. Even when it is clear that the person she is angry at is not at fault, she blames this person anyway but does not discuss it directly with that person. Instead, she spends a great deal of time and energy bad mouthing this person to other people, conspiring to make this person look bad (or at least make life more difficult), and generally acting out in passive-aggressive ways. She is now at the point of finding reasons to be angry no matter what happens. If the person she blames goes left, she is angry that they did not go right; if in the same situation, the person goes right, she rages about the fact that they should have gone left. And because she won’t address it directly with that person or even imagine that she might not know all of the details, she is often reacting out of layers of assumptions about the situation that are wrong.
Because I am on the outside of both situations, I can observe the effect of my friends’ anger on themselves and those around them without being directly affected by it. And both situations have been very helpful for me as mirrors of my own anger patterns. I have some of the tendencies that both of these friends are displaying, and I have been taking a hard look at ways I want to use these examples to find ways to create new patterns of dealing with my own anger in the future.
First, I’ve recognized in the one friend my tendency toward self-righteous anger where I’m not only sure that I see the truth more clearly than anyone else in the situation, but that I also have the right solutions and if everyone would just listen to me, all would perfectly fixed. It also feels so good to “know” that I am completely justified in telling those involved how they should be doing things since I am, of course, right. If they don’t listen to me, that just proves how wrong they are! Of course, I really don’t know as much as I think I do, but it sure feels good to be so certain of the clarity of my vision when I am in that state of anger. The real truth is that this has never, ever improved any situation that I’ve brought this kind of attitude into. Even if there is some truth to what I am saying, that self-righteous energy creates too many barriers on both sides for any positive outcome to be created.
Second, I’ve recognized in the second friend my tendency to spend a lot of energy on blame instead of problem-solving to find a solution. In addition, I can fall into the trap of talking about the problem to any and everyone except the person I am so busy blaming. I can do passive-aggressive anger with the best of them! The benefit of this, of course, is that if I don’t deal with it directly with the other person, I can never be proven wrong in my assumptions. I also don’t have to take any responsibility for changing myself or acknowledging my own contributions to the situation because I have laid all of the blame at someone else’s feet.
In both cases, I cease to use anger as an information source to tell me that there’s a problem to be addressed and instead use it as fuel to create an impervious shell of knowing that I am right and that I have the truth. The problem is that these ways of dealing with things have proven over and over again that they don’t work. Theses patterns hurt me and hurt those around me and just generally make a bad problem worse. I want to learn a new way of reacting that is more helpful for everyone involved.
I’ve been working on following the advice that Jaya gives in the opening quote and beginning to treat all anger as being between me and me. I still have a long way to grow to get to where I want to be, but I’m finding that this one shift in perspective breaks me out of the addictive cycle that anger creates for me. If it’s between me and me, it’s harder to get addicted to being right by making the other wrong because it’s all just me. I may still need to have a difficult conversation with someone else to set boundaries in order to address the situation, but at least I’m getting the focus back on changing me and how I react, which is all I ever have control over anyway.
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