Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thinking About

Tonight after our 40-minute sit at meditation we read the vignette on “Anger” from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are. This was probably well-timed, given my recent bouts with my own anger over a family matter and my return to therapy to seek help with it.

On the trip home, I found myself contrasting the anger of a young child with the anger of an adult decades older.

Babies are born with an escape valve that vents their anger either by crying or kicking or biting or head-banging or some combination of the above. Although we adults don’t encourage these behaviors, we understand that this is the primal way to deal with anger. Those same babies are likely to work out their frustrations and hold no grudges afterwards, often peacefully falling asleep.

As we grow up, we are taught “anger management” and even encouraged not to let ourselves become angry. This results in adults who fall into several broad categories:

– There are those who fail anger management and continue to have temper tantrums, like my 30-something neighbor who recently was so angry at a car parked on his lawn that he punched the side mirror off, resulting in 25 stitches in his hand.

– There are those who deny their anger, as I did for much of my adult life. The biggest revelation of my first round of therapy was that I was angry and that it was OK to be angry. My upbringing did not recognize anger as an emotion. Instead those feelings were squelched, resulting in lots of old baggage.

– There are those who acknowledge their anger and simply try to make sense of it, without letting it get the better of them. This is the group I want to belong to. I love the way my therapist is helping me identify the patterns that set me off and her strategies for coping. She is no Pollyanna when it comes to dealing with feelings.

My initial reaction to tonight’s reading was that anger between adults can have no positive effect on either the angry person or the object of her anger. It can leave behind scars and a wake of hurt feelings if it reaches confrontation. It’s a balancing act between venting our anger and holding it in for fear of the consequences. There must be a middle ground. I’m searching for it.


Blogger steve said...

'An angry heart is locked forever to the past"...something like that...
Bill Moyers had a segment concerning the book 'Amish Grace" about how those folks so easily and completely forgave the guy that came along killing the kids at that the point of comforting his family at his Funeral 3 days after...

9:52 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- Yeah, these people seem to have mastered the art of converting negative feelings into positive feelings. I'm not sure I'll ever get there. I think a good first step is just realizing and accepting that you have feelings of anger and noting how you got there. That's Anger 101. Maybe Anger 102 is learning how to deal with it in ways that don't make things worse. Anger 103 must be the art of turning it into something more positive. I remember Thich Nhat Hahn talking about the same thing. The Buddhists have a lot to say about this.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I continue to seek a way to deal with anger. I acknowledge it to myself, work through it through writing, art, exercise, but I seldom express it, which terrifies people.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I agree that writing helps a lot. It's very therapeutic. The first time I wrote about anger, I felt guilty! Old habits die hard.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I think people confuse anger with bloodlust (much in the same way they confuse love and lust). As always, Marcus Aurelius offers some advice on this: "Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away." - Marcus Aurelius, 'Meditations'

However, I will confess that I can become bloodthirsty if my children are threatened, but for a car on my lawn? Nah, I would just call a tow truck (or the police, or both).

11:38 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- Your quote is very much in keeping with the reading from Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, which contained the following lines:

There is a price we pay for being attached to a narrow view of being "right." The collective pain we cause others and ourselves bleeds our souls. Hard as it is for us to admit, especially about ourselves, self-tinged anger may be something we indulge in and surrender to far too often.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Ruth D~ said...

This touches a chord. I had to learn to give myself permisssion to be angry with loved ones, after years of denying those feeling. I also felt that when someone was angry with me it meant they didn't like me. It's freeing to express anger in a calm way. Even Jesus got angry.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

RuthD -- "Expressing anger in a calm way" almost sounds like an oxymoron, but you are absolutely right that this needs to be the goal. It's a very hard thing to do.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I love what Pema Chodron says about anger, that it's a "piercing" energy that shows you the truth. But if you cling to it, it will burn you (her exact words). She's so smart.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- Very powerful. Almost something that could come out of a Harry Potter book -- but then I have HP on the brain and he's very ANGRY in Book #5.

10:26 PM  

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