Being angry was never OK when I was a kid. People who were would be condemned. Most of the time angry folks were identified as trouble makers where I grew up. My brother Jimmy was an angry sort. We always said he had a temper. He was a really good baseball player. My dad always said that he would have been a big leaguer except for his temper. I doubt it. Yet, he was good. I remember when he struck out he would cuss out the umpire for a called strike and they would argue before he was thrown out of the game. He would take his bat and break it in two over his muscled thigh. This was before Bo Jackson was on the scene and made that behavior famous. I tried it once. It really hurt my leg and didn’t even come close to breaking the bat.
In church, preachers would give sermons against being angry. It was definitely considered a major sin. “Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath” was a biblical reference that was preached to death.
As a young impressionable boy, I learned a lot from listening and watching others in and out of church deal with anger. The middle to late 60’s resembled what is currently going on in our country. People were angry and riots were many. I grew up in the Midwest. Folks didn’t think they were racist and would get mad if anyone explored the issue with skepticism. Civil rights leaders were considered trouble makers because they were mad at injustice, persecution and white domination. I learned their anger was not OK.
There were so many reasons given that it was not ok to be angry. In the church I grew up in it was called “carnality”. This is a word not often used in today’s world. It is referenced in the Bible to describe someone who refuses to be subject to the law of God. In my church, I remember folks who were angry were people who were defined as full of carnality. As a little kid, I interpreted the meaning as if you were angry, you were probably full of carnality and likely would go to hell. The conclusion was don’t be angry.
Yet, I was angry as a kid growing up about a lot of things. I grew up with four older brothers who were pretty violent. I witnessed a lot of knock down/drag out bloody fights. I watched anger humiliate and dominate others in ways that I will never forget. I learned to be afraid of anger
I also learned to numb out with anger. My older brother David was an angry sort, too. He told me one time that when he went into a rage it wouldn’t hurt when he got hit. I watched him fight once when in a fight a guy wrapped a chain around his head with blood spurting everywhere. He went nuts and threw the guy on the ground and pummeled him into submission. Though it was scary to me, I learned that anger could be used to numb out fear and every other feeling I knew.
No one ever told me what to do with my anger. I was warned about it. It was judge and condemned. The only thing that was ever suggested is that I needed God to rid me of this awful curse which meant I went to the altar of our church countless times to get rid of my carnality (my anger) but it never worked.
I remember as a young boy needing to make a decision about my anger. I was afraid of and sickened by my older brother’s barbaric attempts to dominate others in fighting. I chose to stuff my anger. I turned it inward. As a young boy I made an unconscious pact to be depressed. At least, no one would know that I was steaming with anger inside. I remember cutting myself with a razor blade and it felt good. I remember sinking into a deep depression with remnants that exist to this very day. Somehow beating myself up over mistakes made or missed opportunities became an acceptable behavior that actually sabotaged ever managing my anger effectively.
Even in therapy, strategies often emphasized how to get rid or eliminate anger. It was like if you beat the hell out of a sack of pillows and worked up a big sweat, you were doing the right thing with anger. So I did. One therapist I did this with told me I was the angriest person she has ever worked with in terms of beating up a sack of pillows. I broke 2 of her tennis racquets beating up her pillows. While it felt good, I walked away never really knowing what to do with the anger that remained or how to manage anger effectively. What I do know is that today a lot of people are angry across our country for a lot of reasons. Here are a few things that are making sense to me about managing anger:
It has been helpful to understand that my anger is not a sign of immaturity or an indication of a lack of spirituality. It is an expression of being human. It is a healthy response to injustice, misunderstanding and trauma. In the presence of personal or community turmoil and tension and stress, it is a beginning to recognize that in and of itself anger is not to be judged or condemned. When I feel oppressed and injured by another’s words or behavior, anger is an appropriate human response. It is not a feeling to be ashamed of or to run from. It is an energy form to be appropriately expressed.
Have you ever been angry at someone or something but you cannot figure out just what it is that you are angry about? In order to manage what you feel, it is important to recognize what is triggering the emotion. One of the great complexities of our culture when examining the mass shootings across America that have been committed by so many young white men is “what are these young men so angry about?” The answer to the “why” of anger is crucial individually and collectively in order to effectively manage anger. When you don’t identify the source of anger it will remain misplaced.
When you recognize the misunderstanding, injustice or traumatic occurrence that the person or situation represents, you can move the energy of anger from the person to the issue. The impact of causation can be addressed. When you fix your anger on the person, you are more likely to remain stuck without addressing the issue that is triggering the emotional pain. In effect, you are vulnerable to focus on the symptom and not consider the systemic causation regarding the pain you feel. So, if you come from an alcoholic or other addiction family, you will need to shift from the anger toward the alcoholic who is creating the chaos, to understanding the dysfunctional family system that contributes to the alcoholic’s behavior in order to address your anger about alcoholism. It is true about our anger toward what is happening collectively in our country. In order to utilize your anger about tension and stress constructively, it will be critical to shift the anger from the person and carefully examine systemic root causation toward what it is that creates injustice, inequality and traumatic experience. This requires personal and collective maturity. Uncovering systemic causes for experiences that trigger anger are not easy to uncover. It demands the creative energy that appropriately directed anger provides toward creative solution. You can get pissed about the experience of unfair treatment and vomit your response in ways that are not hurtful or offensive. Just don’t throw up in the lap of someone else. Figure out your designated bathroom and vomit there. Then, direct the energy of the anger you feel to creative recognition of cause and effect about what you are angry about. Maturity and lifelong practice are the only ways I know toward mastering this adult response. When you are upset, individually or collectively about the world around you, redirect your anger from person to the issue at hand.
You will need your anger to say “NO MORE!” People say it all the time. However, tragically, many misdirect their anger energy toward destructive actions. Anger has motivated me to go deep within and embrace the pain, the fear and hopelessness of life’s situation. In that place, I have been able to resource my own brilliance that has helped me to transform my anger from what I hate to what I love. It is in this place that I believe you and our society can and will only find the creative solution and resource to address the individual and systemic solutions to the issues of injustice and inequality that ignite rage and anger. May God help us to maturely do the work that appropriately directed anger requires. It has been the only solution I have experienced toward healing addiction and may it heal our land.
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