The Either/Or Trap of Anger

Anger Good or Bad?

Two students were in an anger class I taught back some time ago.  One of them was adamant ….

“Anger is bad, it makes me do shit that gets me in trouble.”

His counterpart held a position on the other side of the coin.  For him, he said, this ancient feeling was good. It helped him act when he needed to do so. If he was stuck in the doldrums, he would get fed up with himself, get mad and get going.

Both were right.

Both were wrong.

How can that be? It begins with the idea that what we feel and what we do are linked by a causal relationship.  In other words, feelings make us do things.

Step Out of the Good/Bad Trap

As I consider it, this is an ineffective way of thinking about any feeling. The idea of good and bad can be a trap.

How about helpful or a hindrance?

How about skillful or inept?

How about mindful or mindless?

How about both?

It’s a Hindrance, Inept, and Mindless (Bad)

From his point of view, anger was at the root of all his troubles. In class he acted out bitterly and let all who would listen know that he was resentful.

What did he want? He wanted anger to go away. In his mind, it was the only way he could get some peace. He had tried many things to get rid of his anger, to control it, even to hide from it.

What happened was that he had crafted a suit of emotional armor that constantly needed repair.

And the more he repaired it, the heavier it got. It kept people away, but it was all he could do to lug it around.

He could not bring himself to see that. He was unable to take a step back and look at his protective suit, to mindfully look at it’s form and its function. Instead, he looked at the world through the visor of his hostility armor. 1 .

It’s Helpful, Skillful, and Mindful (Good)

What about the other guy’s position? Anger is good. For him, anger was his motivator. It helped get him out of a rut.

He was on the right track. He was beginning to take anger as information and then acting accordingly – a good step. Further conversation revealed one flaw. When he was feeling anger, it still defined him. His position was still that people are their thoughts and feeling.

Feelings can be Your Friend

For both of these guys, it makes sense for them to begin to take a step away from the feeling. This gives them a different perspective. It begins to change the dichotomy of either/or good/bad to being both/and.  This takes perspective…

You can even try this at home.

If you have read about anger, talked to someone about it, or whatever, you may have heard that you have to admit that your feelings. So you learned to say, “I am angry.”

One step removed from that would be to say, “I notice I am feeling angry.”

Even further back, giving more perspective, would be to say, “I notice I am having the feeling of anger.”

I know, it seems silly, but there is a difference.

When you say the third sentence – I notice I am having the feeling – you begin to separate out the feeling from the I.

You don’t have to believe it. As a matter of fact it’s better if you don’t. The behavioral act of saying may start to give you a little distance.

So, get ready for the stretch here. If you notice the feeling and can observe it, then you are not the feeling itself.

hen you are able to open up that difference between you and this strong feeling, it changes how you relate to the it. It has a name and it isn’t you.

You can then begin to make friends with your own emotions. They have a lot of good information for you.

So, your questions to ponder –

What would anger give you if it wasn’t “a problem?”

When you think of the difference between you and this or any feeling, what previous experience can you build on?

What would be the first thing you’d notice when you accepted feeling angry as simply (a somewhat unpleasant) part of life?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Asela

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