On the Value of Anger

(posted for International Pagan Values Blogging Month)

Wait a minute, what did she just say? I couldn’t have heard that right, we can’t really be valuing anger, can we???

Yes, you heard me correctly.

There are many ways in which my thoughts, experiences and values don’t line up with many other people’s. So perhaps I should use this time to blog about some of the things I’d be willing to lay down money that other people aren’t going to touch. Starting with anger.

Because we live in a culture heavily influenced by Christian morality and its turn the other cheek, the meek shall inherit the earth philosophy on life, most of us grow up demonizing anger, believing it a wholly negative emotion for which there is never a justification. New Age philosophy, which influences a good chunk of the modern Pagan movement, is no better on that front; though their reasoning may be different, they also hold that anger is negative and destructive and needs to be avoided at all costs.

I’ve met plenty of Pagans and a few Christians that claim to reject anger, are always happy, serene and pleasant about everything all the time. To be perfectly honest, I don’t like dealing with such people because I find them creepy; I often find myself wanting to lean over and stick a pin in their leg, just to see if it would piss them off. Anyone who has interacted with me online or in person knows that I’m not the cheeriest thing out there and identify as a misanthrope, but that doesn’t mean I am incapable of being around nice people, this goes beyond that. Its like what I imagine interacting with someone who had had a lobotomy must be like, there is something almost robotic in their responses. Human beings are designed to feel a wide range of emotions and to entirely remove one of those emotions from your repertoire removes some of the humanity from you. Some people consider that to be enlightened, but then again a lot of traditions deplore anything human or worldly, a view that I in general disagree with (even as a misanthrope).

Although this is not the focus of my post, I will acknowledge briefly the other side of the equation, not as common but equally annoying. There is a contingent in the Pagan community of arm chair warriors who have of never been closer to a war than watching old John Wayne movies on TCM, who have no training and no discipline but still think they can call themselves warriors because I guess it sounds so macho and bad ass; also there are those so called “dark” wiccans or pagans that often as not come across as very young late teens early twenties, naive sheltered kids rebelling against a middle class upbringing. Both of these groups often embrace so called negative emotions such as anger and elevate it to a quality to be celebrated and utilized above and beyond all else, probably mostly as a phallic extension or a way to rebel against the dominate paradigm rather than any well reasoned self examination. This side also misses the point though in a very different way.

Are all modern warriors or self identified dark pagans going to fall into that category? No, of course not. Just like its very possible to embrace wanting to be a nice person without taking things to extremes. But more often than not anger seems to be an emotion that people are completely irrational about, swinging to either to one far end of the spectrum or the other, with very little rational middle ground to be found.

The fact is no emotion is wholly negative when expressed with a sense of moderation. Everything can become negative if over used or used the wrong way. There is such a thing as being too nice and becoming a door mat; there is such a thing as being too giving or too understanding and becoming an enabler. But do people try and warn you about excessive kindness? Not anywhere near as often. And again, those traditions that deplore the human condition seem to consider excessive kindness enlightened, whatever harm that can do to you and to those around you.

You feel anger for a reason. When someone does something to hurt you, you have a right to feel angry. When someone does something to hurt your family or your friends, you have a right to feel angry. Anger can serve as a sign that something is wrong, that you need to protect yourself, that you need to change something. Its a perfectly natural and justified reaction to someone or something, knowingly or not, violating your boundaries. Its not something you should have to apologize for.

If you would say this is basic stuff, looking around at our culture does not bear that out. What do we as culture truly value? A person that is never angry, that can forgive anyone anything no matter what. A woman who can embrace her child’s killer in love and forgiveness is hailed by the media and the public as some sort of a saint, something we should all aspire to be. While I guess the woman who can’t do the same is a lesser person, sure we feel bad for her experience but we’ll expect her to work on that anger so that she can come to a place of forgiveness. It is after all, the only way she’ll ever be able to move on.

As controversial as it may be for me to say this, I do believe a big part of that is nothing more than our cultural attitudes that instill a sense of guilt for maintaining a degree of anger toward anyone. We’re supposed to love everyone, or at least not hate anyone. This isn’t always the way that things were, and in plenty of ancient cultures not only was anger or holding a grudge considered okay it was the correct and moral thing to do when someone harmed you or yours. I don’t recall reading about a lot of ancient Norse or Greek warriors being kept up at night over it. Why should I be?

I have been abused or ill treated for much of my life. Am I angry about what happened to me? Of course I am. Do I hate the people who abused me? You bet I do. Is this eating me up inside, interfering with my life, preventing me from moving forward? Absolutely not. In fact my life has steadily gotten better in that I am living on my own, far from those people; I have a girlfriend, a small circle of friends, an apartment I take care of, a deity I serve, a religious community I interact with; sure I will always struggle with things like self esteem, anxiety, trust issues and the like, but for the large part I am very happy where I am now. The anger and hate I feel is there but more dormant in the back of my mind, it doesn’t dangle over everything I say and do, for the most part I rarely even think of it.

I’ve been told often enough that I need to “come to a place of forgiveness” so that I can “move forward.” I think its very plain to anyone who saw my life then and sees me now that I have indeed moved forward by leaps and bounds, all without coming to that place of forgiveness. And who is it often telling me this? Usually people who, when they list all the instances of “anger” they graciously and selflessly forgave and put behind them, tends to include things like the guy that cut them off in traffic, the waitress that got their order wrong, the anonymous idiot on the internet that disagreed with them, the boyfriend that ended their relationship after just two weeks and I was sooooo in love with him! You don’t tend to get lectured by those that have been through things like serious abuse and betrayal, even if they have felt a need to find a way to forgive they usually get it if you don’t.

I’ll state this very plainly: if something such as the getting cut off in traffic is the best personal example you can come up with, you are not qualified to lecture me on anger. You don’t know what anger is, you haven’t come anywhere close to real anger.

So what sort of anger do I know? I have been abused physically, I’ve been emotionally degraded, I’ve been treated like an animal. My rage is seething, black, all consuming, something that wants only to destroy, to kill. There is a rage in me that is capable of seriously hurting or killing someone; I think everyone has such a capability in them that can come out under the right circumstances, but most people will never come face to face with that. If I had been given the opportunity to cause serious damage to one of those people, I likely would have. My rage is a frightening thing, frightening to the people who have seen it in its full force (or even half force), frightening to myself as well. For a long time I actually tried to be as non confrontational as I could be because I was afraid of that anger exploding out of control.

But that’s not helpful, and I learned that pretty quickly. You can deny you are feeling anger all you want to but you are, you always are. And either it expresses itself in a healthy way, or it goes in a bottle deep inside until that bottle gets too full to hold anymore and it explodes out in less healthy ways. Being non confrontational means not establishing boundaries, not taking care of yourself and making certain that other people treat you with dignity, the way you deserve to be treated. If you just feel serenely peaceful about everything, if you only calmly accept everything that comes at you, where is the motivation to change? The motivation to stand up for yourself?

Anger can be a powerful motivator. That may well be the only reason why I didn’t kill myself back when the abuse was happening, why I never gave up when I was told there was no hope. I didn’t have anything in life, no support no hope and seemingly no way out, all I did have was my anger, my hate. That’s what kept me getting up in the morning, what kept me fighting and what likely saved my core personality from being broken, what inspired me to struggle to heal myself and go out into the world and try to forge a life for myself when I was told I would only ever fail. Sure, now I have a girlfriend who loves me, I have deities that love me, friends that care, a life that’s worth living, but prior to all that I had was spite. I was not going to let those people win, I was not going to let them be right about me, I was not going to let their efforts ruin anymore of my life than it already has. Spite helped bring me to what I have now, without it I might have never left my bedroom. Even now I can still bring that up when I need it to push me through something difficult to do; I want to succeed in my life on my own terms, because I was always told that I couldn’t.

When ignoring anger isn’t realistic, you can make it work for you instead. Using it as motivation is one way. Anger can be crafted into a shield, used as a defense mechanism; people haven’t harassed me in years because, as I’ve been told, I put off a vibe that I’m someone you don’t want to mess with. Anger can be crafted into a weapon to be used in defense when the shield is not enough. I’ve been working the last year or so of finding that line where I can unleash that rage in appropriate levels without having to worry about losing control too much. Doing so has put me in a far better place in life in that I’ve been able to strip out the people that have proven themselves a toxic drain on my mental health, and I won’t be letting that happen again either.

Yes its possible to dwell too much in anger, to allow it to consume you in unhealthy ways. Using it as a motivator is helpful but sooner or later life needs to be about something else; some people deserve to be hated but sooner or later you have to stop thinking about it all the time, you have to move on with or without forgiveness (and you can do it without, don’t let people tell you otherwise); using it to defend your personal boundaries and those of your family and friends is a very effective and very good way of using that emotion, and there is a huge difference between that and being a bully. Those are extremes to avoid just as one should avoid being a door mat or an enabler, but anger is one of the few places where people actually advocate throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

You feel anger. You do whether you want to acknowledge it or not. Its a human emotion and it has its uses. Better to learn to acknowledge it, to listen to what its trying to tell you, to learn to control it and get it to work with you to help improve your circumstances in life. It can become one of the more helpful tools in your arsenal … or, it can give you an ulcer, a break down, ruined relationships when it explodes out at random, or maybe just a miserable life surrounded by people that don’t feel a need to respect you and you have no motivation and no way to change that. You decide.

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15 Responses to “On the Value of Anger”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    The fact is no emotion is wholly negative when expressed with a sense of moderation.

    Exactly. There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes expressing anger is pointless and it’s better to let it drop, but sometimes it’s necessary.

    I firmly believe that people who say they never get angry and have “evolved” beyond that are lying their asses off. I’ve been around a few of these folks (the Neo-Pagan community is indeed rife with them) and as time goes on their behavior usually makes it clear that they’re absolutely seething inside, despite what they claim. Instead it comes out in passive-aggressive ways that they try to pass off as something else, and given enough time, it usually escalates into some kind of drama. I’d rather be around someone who can be honestly pissed off, even if it’s at me, than people like this.

    • liminalrealm Says:

      Learning how to express things appropriately is helpful, nothing wrong with swearing at the guy that cut you off (yeah, you can be angry about that, he did wrong, that’s not safe driving, you could be hurt) but letting it ruin the rest of your day is pretty insane. But denial isn’t control.

      I definitely think those people are kidding themselves. Spend enough time around them and you start to see that smile is a little too tight, little too forced, see that flash of madness in their eyes. They often are very passive aggressive, and it really is easy to pretend you’re not doing anything there, easy to not acknowledge those behaviors.

      I would much rather be around human beings that can process anger, even if its at me, express it and be done with it. Even beyond the creepy robot factor, I don’t want to be anywhere near those people when they do blow, denying anger isn’t a way to learn how to deal with it and when it does come its going to burn like a wild fire because they’ll have no idea how to keep it under control. Deep breaths or affirmations aren’t going to calm the volcano, and that is usually all these people have.

  2. svartesol Says:

    This is an excellent post, and I’m glad you made it.

    Anger is a necessary emotion. Humanity started off as hunter-gatherers; we would not have been able to survive were it not for rage. Anger has killed and abused, anger has also saved lives and made change. It depends on how you use your anger. Forcing oneself to suppress anger to be “nice” or “good” doesn’t work, especially for people like us who have been abused in some capacity. I’ve tried to have people dictate to me how I should process my own emotions not realizing my brain doesn’t work like most people’s. I go into fight-or-flight mode very easily. Trying to just shove it under the rug by putting things in perspective doesn’t usually help. When I was younger, before my immune system started hating me, I was very physically active and would channel my rage into exercise including kickboxing. This was a good discipline for me. Now that I’m older and feel much older physically, I have found less intensive physical releases but also find that the pen (or keyboard) is indeed mightier than the sword.

    Anger is not wrong in and of itself. I’m not even going to give the whole happy PC BS of “one must sublimate one’s anger for the greater good”. No, if you need to feel what you’re feeling even if you need to draw with a Sharpie on someone’s picture and do the Mexican hat dance on it before burning it, do that. We live in a society where anger is not tolerated and everyone has to follow outmoded social norms (mostly based in monotheistic values, IMHO, but that’s a can of worms for another time), and then we wonder why we have things like Columbine and Virginia Tech every few years. Expressed anger is not what kills people, it’s not being able to acknowledge and work through one’s anger, including and especially if someone is traumatized and bullied in some way.

    I have not evolved beyond my anger, and I am oathed to a God of peace. He is not a pacifist, but rather a defensive warrior, and mostly concerned with creating stability so there doesn’t have to be war. He doesn’t expect me to be anything other than what I am, so I was through a long time ago with stuffing it down and shutting up.

    Anyway, excellent post, I hope to see more like this in future.

    -Siggy

    • liminalrealm Says:

      I completely agree its based largely on monotheistic values and said as much in my post; how many Norse warriors in the sagas were moping around about how anger was just eating them up inside and oh I simply can’t move on with my life, if only I could find some way to forgive these people that insulted my honor and embrace them as brothers … Yeah, not too often, and yet that’s people’s reactions now and I’m sure it has nothing to do with cultural stigma against anger.

      And why is anger something that must be evolved away from? We never would have survived as hunters and gatherers without it, why do we think we have outgrown the need for it? Where do we think we would be as a society if we never felt anger anymore? And why is that always the one emotion people want to deny the gods? They can feel emotions but only the ones of sweetness and light, never anger never dislike because those are “petty.” I completely disagree with that like I also disagree with the image of the angry spiteful god you must propitiate or else be smited; those are both extreme views, its not a matter of one or the other. People are just not rational about this.

      I’ve had enough people dictate to me that I need to be more forgiving, and those are usually people that have never been seriously hurt before. The hell that I will allow anyone to make me feel guilty for feeling the way I do about my abusive past, for me forgiving those people would be like spitting in the face of the little girl I used to be whose childhood was ruined by them. I suppose I also can slip into fight or flight mode easily enough though I’ve never thought of it that way, and too often my automatic response is kill him before he kills me since my former abusive circumstances didn’t make flight an option I never developed it much (speaking for myself here). I can slip into that explosive rage way too easily, and that scared me into trying to be non confrontational for a while. But that pretty much only led to having a bunch of people in my life not treating me the way I deserve to be treated because I wasn’t standing up for myself.

      I’ve always been very verbally oriented and when I write rants on my livejournal, that is a way for me to deal with anger appropriately. I used to write stories in which I killed people who were pissing me off, and then I felt better. This is how I express the anger appropriately (whatever opinions some may hold about the appropriateness of that), and there have been multiple times when that saved me from putting my fist through a window or someone’s skull. I’ve stopped even trying to hide it, and I feel so much better for it.

      I think our society would be much improved if it told people that anger was okay, if it didn’t make people feel so guilty for being mad when you often as not have every right to be, if it didn’t make people feel even more guilty for not willing to forgive when often enough it isn’t deserved. We probably would have a lot less instances of mass violence if people didn’t feel like they had to sit there and put up with it all until they just can’t take anymore.

      (and don’t get me started on our backwards ideas about bullying, where we think this is a normal part of growing up while being angry about that is at the same time not okay)

  3. Great post! This was one of the ideas behind the creation of Somafera – that instead of sublimating our rage, we could channel it into something powerful by actually expressing it physically and spiritually simultaneously (and the same goes for other powerful emotions, many of them “negative” but some of them positive too). This is why I’ve always thought it bullshit when people get concerned that aggressive, angry music will somehow cause a person to be violent. I know that it has often been that music – listening to it, screaming to it, letting it envelop me – that has saved me from doing something I’d regret. I also think that getting angry is a much healthier and ultimately beneficial response to abuse than being depressed or self-loathing or self-harming.

    • liminalrealm Says:

      I love that music too, and have a couple of world sucks everything die songs that I can play when I’m in a mood that help out. I’ve also found my writing is a great help since I’ve always been a very verbally oriented person. When I write rants about, say, wanting to put certain pompous idiots through a wood chipper or wanting to slam their face with a sledge hammer, it makes me feel better. I used to write little short stories where I would kill the people pissing me off, and it made me feel better. I’ve found that a very useful way of expressing my anger in a safe and appropriate manner without suppressing it or trying to turn it into love and kindness. And of course we all know what people think of people who write violence …

      And I agree, when it comes to abuse anger is far more appropriate than self loathing. Anger can propel you out of the abusive situation eventually, self loathing is more likely to keep you there thinking you deserve it. Anger can probably help keep most (though not all) of that psychological damage from sticking if you keep in mind this was on them, they were the assholes, you did nothing to deserve this and they are not right about you. Anger probably also saved me from being less functional than I currently am.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      “This is why I’ve always thought it bullshit when people get concerned that aggressive, angry music will somehow cause a person to be violent.”

      Someone once pointed out that just because there are a lot of sitcoms on TV doesn’t mean that comedy is breaking out in the streets πŸ˜‰

      • liminalrealm Says:

        And however many musicals they make, I have yet to see large groups of people on the streets spontaneously bursting into song. πŸ˜‰ (too bad, maybe that would put an end to musicals) πŸ˜€

  4. What a breath of fresh air! How many people do we know – I’m in the UK but it sounds reassuringly the same in the US! – who twinkle around in a totally dominating and untrustworthy manner. They’ll tell you anything they think you want to hear and in the next breath tell someone else the exact opposite. There’s a great deal of treachery in this way of being.

    ‘Forgiveness’ is a very blunt, unsophisticated instrument. I’ve found that time changes the way I feel about people and events that have made me angry, so that they and I can just come back together some years later and get over it. We don’t need to ‘process’ or enter into any other psychobabbling drama, we accept and move on. I’ve come across a few people whose behaviour has been unforgivable – as is normal in a world shared with 6 billion other people – and time means that, whilst I have felt no need to forgive them, I don’t think about them. Time has healed the wound that was left. Sometimes it takes 30 years, sometimes 1. That’s good enough for me.

    • liminalrealm Says:

      Oh, I’ve met more of those sorts of people than I care to count (used to work for one as well), I find that dishonesty impossible to deal with. Not all of it is consciously treacherous (though sometimes), but an unconscious social pressure to try and please everyone often at the expense of yourself. Its hard to decide which I consider worse (honesty is a virtue I plan on examining, particularly self honesty).

      Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it can put much into perspective. I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without the abuse I suffered, though I remain angry about it anyway since it really shouldn’t have happened and their intention wasn’t to make me a better stronger person. But like you said, its something I rarely think about anymore, it no longer has immediate relevance to my life. I’ve had other people that hurt me in ways that were a big deal when it happened but later on just seemed annoying and distance from them makes me see them as far less malevolent and more sad and pitiful messes lashing out at me over their own undealt with issues. There isn’t anger there, but no desire to have anything further to do with them either. And there have been a few others where later on I find I just don’t care anymore and I can continue a friendship (keeping it in mind if only so it doesn’t repeat itself).

      I’ve never felt any need to formally forgive anyone, even if some times technically speaking I had done so. My life keeps moving forward and I try my best to stay focused on where I am now and where I am going. And in time, one year or thirty, it starts to feel less immediate and that’s what really matters.

      I am glad to know others agree with this as well, so often it feels I’m alone on this island. πŸ™‚

  5. So glad to have stumbled upon you – the issue of anger was something I was going to post about, but you’ve said everything I could’ve said! Anger is a powerful tool, if used constructively, and therefore just as valid as joy, forgiveness etc etc. Myself, I always identified with being angry, aggressive, independent when I was younger. Then for a few years, I ‘lost’ it due to some pretty bad experiences. This really got me down, I was no longer the strong person I thought I was. But a month or so ago, I had a day which just PISSED me off. And you know what, it felt GOOD to feel that angry – it empowered me, and I felt some of my own personal power surface. I’ve kept that moment in my mind for the past month, and am working on regaining the ‘power of anger’ in my life. I’m relearning that it’s ok to be angry, and using it to try set right the things that are wrong around me. Thanks for a wonderful post.

    • liminalrealm Says:

      If you were going to write about anger, please go right ahead. I was afraid I’d be the only one, its great to be proven wrong. πŸ™‚

      I had many of those same qualities when I was younger, that was part of what people considered such a big problem for me (since, you know, girls are supposed to be like that). I lost that for a while and fell into a pit of self loathing. Figuring out that I can still use my anger, powerful or not, that it doesn’t have to explode out of control, pulled me out of that pit. It does feel good to take that back. Some people do find more empowerment in anger, and there is nothing wrong with that in moderation. Its not automatically going to lead to anti social behavior, so long as you know yourself and know your limits. Some people can’t handle themselves there, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t.

      Best of luck to you in repairing your life!

  6. Agreed. This is certainly refreshing, and every saccharine-coated fluffball teen New Ager should read it before prattling on about negative energy.

  7. I’m in your corner. Embrace your anger!

    Actually, I’ve been trying to “work on my anger’ lately, because I have a small child who occasionally moves me to complete rage- and in these cases I DO need to push down the anger a bit because he is a small guy and doesn’t really “get” why it is so frustrating for me to deal with his behavior all the time and we are not on equal footing in the power dynamic department.

    Other than that, though, I am pretty comfortable with my anger and cursing. I often say “I hate this” and “I hate that” and people will say, “Oh, hate is such a powerful word, you don’t really mean it, blah blah, blah”. No, I tell them, I am pretty OK with my hate.

    You need not forgive those who have wronged you. Occasionally in life as we mature we get a better understanding of the kinds of things that motivate people, and then, yes, some like forgiveness comes. Doesn’t always happen though, and doesn’t need to.

    May the bastards who wronged you rot!

  8. narkosys Says:

    I completely agree with you!. Anger is very necessary in life. Bottling up emotions is not the way to go and neither is forgiveness. I can very agree that there are not many Norse who forgave in the sagas but then they had the option of using weapons.

    Except for the physical abuse, I have some of the same issues that you have. I do not know, nor never will know the hurt that was the catalyst for your anger and rage. All I can say that mine is very much a berserker rage and could care less about a shield, physical or otherwise which is why there is a need to have a release other than being able to just up and shove a sword or axe into your tormentors since that is looked down upon nowdays. (and don’t anyone say try martial arts. I have been training for over a decade now and I do not use it as a release for my anger as I will hurt someone badly if I do.)

    All in all your article was very insightful and I thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    P

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