I’ll tell you a secret: [the] anger rush is what keeps a lot of people angry…. Some angry people have learned to love and trust anger…. Rage is the old reliable emotion. You can always count on it to get you high.
—Ron Potter-Efron, Angry All the Time A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes.
Anger is a curious state. It is a moment of certainty, a moment of being beyond doubt. It’s hard to imagine being actively angry about something and at the same time doubting yourself. Anger and doubt are incompatible. That’s the appeal of anger—at least, for some folks, for those of us who crave certainty and have a hunger to be right. Life is uncertain, and the certainty of anger is like existential catnip—it’s intoxicating within its single-minded decisiveness. Anger often tends to be righteous. I’ve pondered a lot about this property of anger. It has fascinated me for long time. Then, I realized that the righteousness of anger is just that: The experience of being right. And being right—for once!—feels really good. Getting to feel right alleviates our own deep doubts about ourselves. A moment of righteous anger is a rebirth of sorts, a renewal of confidence, a restoration of faith in yourself. And that is intoxicating!
Yes, certainty feels good, and being right is intoxicating, but wisdom is an even better high—it’s a high without a relational hangover. Help your anger management clients appreciate that by giving up the need to be right, they stand to gain the relaxing luxury of not knowing. A certainty-hungry mind likes righteous anger because it comes with a sense of being in control. Thinking that we know how things really are gives us a sense of predictability and order (i.e., a sense of control). That’s why righteous anger is so rewarding: It reinforces our illusion of being in control. But wisdom, too, can give us a sense of control. Indeed, learning to acknowledge relative truths without clinging to absolutes allows us to be in control of our reactions to this bewildering and befuddling fluidity of reality. Wisdom is a more sophisticated, more elevated kind of high, a high without the hangover of conflict and regret.
Rethink anger. And rethink anger management.
Adapted from Anger Management Jumpstart: a 4-Session Mindfulness Path to Compassion and Change (Somov, P., PESI, 2013)
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