Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What happens is we harbor anger too long?

Dear Reader,

When you respond by email through the blog, your message comes anonymously; so I can't respond to you personally. Should you want to send me email directly, you can find a General Queries button on the main page of my website, and just click on that button and your messaging software will open up an email window addressed to me personally. I'll be glad to answer you as soon as I can.

Having said that, allow me to briefly answer the question I recently received from you following on my previous post of July 2nd, which took a lot of time and energy to do, which in part explains the lapse of time since then. I developed quite extensively the background context in which Christians and for that matter any human being can best understand the mechanism of anger.

You quoted me where I wrote:

"On a human level, if you harbor your anger too long without acting you may begin to have homicidal fantasies - even though you may have no intention of ever acting them out - so you need to find some way to channel your anger, which is raw power, into some constructive form of action."

What I didn't explain fully is that such fantasies tend to occur in more extreme situations. For example, one woman explained to me years ago that after her husband abandoned her and their young children, she just knew from the fantasies coming into her imagination that during that extremely emotional initial period, had she come upon him in front of her on the street while she was behind the wheel of her car; she would have been severely tempted to step on the gas and not on the brake.

I believe that this would be a fairly common fantasy for abandoned women to have during the initial period of emotional turbulence, and this condition could last longer depending on what help she seeks for herself. That is just one example, but the point here is than anyone - man or woman, youth or child, young adult or elderly person - will have trouble with anger when it is allowed to simmer on the back burner for too long without relief of the pressure; much like a pot left to simmer too long on the back of the stove with the cover on tightly.

What came after what you quoted from me was an explanation of what kinds of things we can and must do in order for the mechanism of anger to play itself out, deliver its message, see that we have received the message, and then go away and leave us alone and in peace once again.

What you mentioned, reader, was a much more normal and not at all extreme case of anger. In the normal course of the day, someone offends or hurts you, and you feel angry. However, out of Christian charity, you decide to love your neighbor - even when the neighbor behaves like an enemy - and you hold your anger in rather than act it out and react. So you don't react and you instead treat the person with equanimity, also out of concern for the example you are giving to others. You certainly don't want to cause scandal.

I couldn't agree with you more. This is what Jesus did himself, and He didn't suggest we do the same, but Jesus actually commanded us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us, and so on. Most of what I wrote in the last posting was not at all about what we actually do in our relations with others when the circumstances cause us to experience anger. Rather, what I was concerning myself with was on the inside of us, while the anger is going on, what we can do to help ourselves manage that energy of anger and what it does to us.

We need to channel the energy of anger into some useful outcome so that it doesn't sit on our back burner and burn a hole through our pot, or boil over and cause a fire on our stove top, and so on. I certainly don't suggest that the only way to channel the energy of anger is to throw it in the face of the person who triggered that anger, no, not at all. We need though to acknowledge the anger happening inside us and we need to develop a whole bag full of tricks or ways of using or diverting that angry energy to useful outcomes.

Here are a few examples. On the heels of anger churning up inside of you, your swim, run, or walk may become rather more vigorous than usual, as you give the anger free rein in a safe way and allow it to play itself out until you feel calm, loose, and peaceful again. If you need to beat the dust out of some carpets, well those carpets would get a beating the likes of which they've probably never seen! In a completely different way, if the situation causing your anger requires that you sit down and have a talk with someone, then the anger can give you the boost of energy you need to make up your mind to do it and to actually approach the person and not settle for no until the person finally agrees to meet with you.

It is certainly possible for us to allow ourselves to be governed at all times by Christian charity, and love others - even enemies - as God has loved and continues to love us, which is in mercy, in a love so great we can never deserve it. Nevertheless, we can still, on the inside, manage our energy budget in such a way that the anger we are experiencing won't burn us up. The thing about anger is that it will keep stirring us up as long as the conditions generating it continue to exist. The more difficult and outrageous the situation, the more intense and persistent the anger, and the more our anger managing strategies need to be creative, diverse, and effective.

God bless you, and may the rest of what you find in the July 2nd post help you do that well, for your sake, for the sake of the good example you will give others, for the good of souls, and for the glory of God!