September 24, 2001
The World's Prejudice Against Anger
In light of the 9-11 terrorist attack, anger is on everyone's minds - the anger of the terrorists and the anger of the people who want to retaliate. Then there is a large contingent that sees anger as a defect to be replaced by peace, love and compassion. It looks to me like anger is still the world's most maligned, unappreciated, and misunderstood emotion.
Anger is an essential element in the response repertoire of any organism. The warning hiss, the tail rattle, the low growl, the showing of teeth, the fierce look, or the sharp warning bark are necessary behaviours that assert the perceived boundaries of the self. All organisms have a protective display that indicates to an intruder that they have gone too far. This is not violence. This is simply a compassionate, preventative measure - since any healthy animal will not endanger itself or others by getting into a violent encounter.
The word "emotion" comes from the Latin prefix "e" - "out," and "motus" - "move." Emotion means to "move out." That is what sensations and feelings are meant to do - move through us and out. Anger is also an outward directed display of emotion, not intended to hurt, but to protect both the organism and the intruder. But if an outward directed expression is repressed in the organism or suppressed in a social group, it gathers a power that can build to the point of explosion.
A pot of steaming vegetables on the stove can feed us. But if the lid of the pot is clamped tight, the pressure will build up and the dinner will become a bomb. The heat isn't a danger. The boiling water isn't a danger. The real danger is the compression and holding down of the natural outward movement.
So it is with people. If we are allowed, from the time we are children, to express our joy, sadness, hurt, and anger in a natural way that is not injurious to others, it will never back up in our systems and explode in fits of rage, beatings, rape, murder, war - and suicide bombings. But repress that rage, and the whole world is in trouble.
The rage we hold inside from our personal history is usually either directed inward at ourselves, or outward at others. When we hold it in we get thoughts and feelings of self-hatred, depression, body tension and physical illnesses. When we act it out, we blame everyone else and have thoughts and feelings of hatred for others, along with a host of violent and destructive actions.
There is another way.
Instead of directing anger inward or outward, we can direct it at a safe object in a safe environment - a punching bag or a mat. We can say all the horrible things we actually think and feel about anyone and everyone who has ever wronged us in our past. We can move it out of our system and emote all the hurt and boundary violations we have endured all these years. We can cry and wail about what was taken from us and what we never got that we needed so much. We can feel the vital energy and self respect that the safe expression of genuine anger can give, and our depression will lift. We can finally let the pressure of the time bomb diffuse bit by bit until we are able to live this life in balance.
If we were to do this, it would be a much, much safer world. A world where we are all free to be ourselves, to laugh, cry, love......and growl.