There are various beliefs about anger, some seemingly contradictory. Some of them are button-pushers and some seem true, at least to me.
I though I’d share 10 of them:
1. Anger shouldn’t be repressed.
2. Anger should be expressed.
3. Anger is really fear turned inside out.
4. There is no justification for anger.
5. Anger is hate.
6. Anger’s roots are in feeling humiliated.
7. Anger’s roots are in feeling powerless.
8. Anger is a logical response to pressures and problems.
9. Anger is not a healthy response to pressures and problems.
10. Anger is about losing control.
Today, the day after Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), is a fast day. It’s part of the 10 days of intense introspection and self-examination leading up to, and including, the most well-known Jewish fast day, Yom Kippur. During this period, which is a time of self-reflection in which we focus on our relationship with ourselves, each other and the Creator, we may come across uncomfortable truths.
The biggest truth we can come across? We’re not perfect.
But, wallowing in guilt is not, despite popular misconceptions, a “Jewish” thing. We’re taught that guilt doesn’t get us anywhere. Honesty about our imperfections, reaching out to others we may have hurt, and a plan for positive self-growth, do get us somewhere.
One of the things the mystic sages teach us is that we should avoid anger throughout the year. But there is a special emphasis on avoiding it during the New Year holy days and this ten day period.
Why anger? Why not depression? Why not hopelessness? Why not fear? Why not hatred? These are all “negative” emotions, after all. The short answer is that we’re encouraged to work through those feelings, too. But still, not being angry is the focus here.
I believe there are many reasons why anger is given so much attention, but I think that perhaps the most Universal one is that anger destroys. Like no other emotion, anger can obliterate logic, love, and thoughtfulness.
Beginnings are fragile (think of conception, life). If we’re at the point of a new beginning, anger can mar that beginning, and suck the life right out of the new start. If we’re immersed in anger or rage, everything else is forgotten – even the New Year (or your new week, your new day, and so on).
We can even lose our sense of self, which is often referred to as being “besides one’s self,” that is, standing nearby, but disconnected.
Perversely, anger feels good and bad at the same time. Anyone who’s ever felt “righteous indignation,” in other words, anger at something unjust, knows that there’s some kind of satisfaction from this feeling. That’s the “righteous” part.
Sometimes our personal anger is so frightening that we feel we must take up a cause, and that cause can be halfway around the world and seemingly, little to do with us personally. Of course, many people fight for good causes and do not do it with anger, but sometimes, finding a cause can be the excuse to let our anger run rampant.
There are times when it seems the only response to the unfairness of our personal lives is anger. But living a life in anger can be like living with a part of ourselves cut off, dislocated.
If you’ve been very hurt, you might have to work through, talk through, and process your anger until it subsides. This can take some time. It doesn’t do any good to say to someone who has been harmed or abused “forgive and forget,” “anger doesn’t solve anything,” and so on. The pain can be so vivid that it can shut someone down; feelings of anger might be the only feelings possible, at least temporarily.