Unlearning our anger

English: Angry woman.
English: Angry woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe.  I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
(from William Blake, “A Poison Tree”)

 I have known people who rise each morning to nourish their anger in resolve never to forget or forgive wrongs done to themselves.

Anger makes them feel alive, that they have significance and sovereignty over their lives.  The truth is that their anger masquerades their inability to set things right again.

The sources of anger are sometimes surprising.  Often we take up arms against family members, friends, and former loves.  As such, anger is many times symptomatic of love’s betrayal in the hands of those we’ve esteemed most through hurtful words, favoritism, or simply their not taking us seriously.

Anger may lead to sabotaging ourselves in acquiring a doomed dependency on others in the very likeness of ghosts that wronged us long ago, often in a childhood deficient in love.

The chronically angry are easily spotted in the sheer volume of their impassioned complaints against lovers and friends, the workplace, and government, surrogates for targets embedded in the past.

Hate stokes the past, unlike love which invests in the future.  Oddly, time may dull our memory of just what the hurt was or who did it, and yet we know we still feel the heat of rage.

To heal ourselves we may seek out love, only to reject it when it appears, fearful of its possibility for new hurt, or our becoming dependent on it, or its ultimate loss.

Anger can assume many shapes, among them a masochism of self-loathing; or a censuring of others; or a passive aggressiveness that denies one’s anger.

Anger has a way of becoming habit, or addiction to bookkeeping life’s liabilities; a kind of cowardice in a reluctance to confront one’s grievances, attempt their solution and, if unsuccessful, assume loss and invest one’s assets in the future.  As such, it’s self-defeating.  The late Merle Shain put it eloquently in her Hearts That We Broke Long Ago:

As long as you blame someone it makes the problem not yours but theirs, and allows you to keep it without taking responsibility for anything but pointing the finger.  Which means you give them responsibility for your life and paralyze yourself in a place you don’t want to be.

The positive side of anger is that it can help us assert ourselves against injustice; but when it entices us into a snare from which we cannot free ourselves, when we live our lives in the narrow confines of resentment, then it makes a wrong turn.  Quagmired in the past, we are unable to step into the future with its promise of new beginning


How fear erodes love

Like many of you, I follow the news, only to come away frequently dismayed. For all our pretense to rationality, people often seem governed more by passion than reason.  History strikes me as repeated scenarios of human excess, or what Freud astutely called manifestations of the Id, or pleasure principle. I like to think of this inchoate anomaly as the Child within.

There are pretty much seven salient emotions that define and undergird human behavior:  love, hate, hurt, anger, joy, sadness and, last but not least, fear.  The latter generally takes several primary forms: the fear of abandonment, of ineffectualness, of future events, and of mortality.

We’re all afraid in different ways to different degrees, but often don’t realize it, since it’s deeply imbedded within the Unconscious, tracing back to the loss of our hammocked security within our mother’s womb.  We carry no memory of those halcyon days of dependency, but the psyche remembers its glory and the anguish of its loss; so much so that we spend a good deal of our lives seeking commensurate bliss.

I’ve always relished the Edenic garden myth of Genesis with its several resonances of Man’s true estate.  In that story we learn that God made a woman to be a companion for the man he had made, for it wasn’t good for him to dwell alone.  In essence, we’re social creatures and need others to complete ourselves. But I wonder if there’s more going on here, say the underlying, primordial fear in whoever wrote this story of loneliness. Was the writer reflecting his own wrestlings with abandonment?

Such fear may lie behind the quest of so many for validation, whether through achievement, wealth, or power.  We want badly  to be esteemed. We want to draw the crowd.

This fear of abandonment doubtless explains a good deal of romantic love–a quest to find the parental surrogate with us “till death do us part.” Unfortunately, it may also fuel the often failure of this kind of love, since ultimately our happiness derives from within.  Sadly, it perpetuates relationships that frequently denigrate Self.  For a few, death is even preferable to rejection or desertion.

Our world is filled with children who never experienced kinship with an ideal mother in the first place, intensifying their adult quest and making them doubly vulnerable to masquerades of affection.  It may also explain, though inexcusable, much of the misogyny that still abounds expressed in myriad ways, sometimes brutally, by men who project their mother-loss on all women.

Fear of abandonment may lead to a need to control others, as if by putting them on a leash you can prevent their straying.

It also feeds jealousy, that brooding insecurity that suspicions a consort may be enamored away by someone more attractive.

It may likewise accentuate the need for young people to seek the crowded weekend bar, for what’s more hell for a single than a Saturday night alone?

Certainly, it factors into misbehavior and criminality, the need to gain attention or be confined and thus taken care of.

In the public realm, our insecurity renders politics manipulative, with appeals to our fears rather than the public good.  Government becomes a public parent, taking care of all, increasing our dependency, minimizing our self-sufficiency.  We now face an unprecedented federal debt that may do us all in.

Finding our way past this fear is problematic, since we tend to conflate all our fears with thoughts, and thus resort to rationalizations for what we do.  Fears like those of abandonment give rise to a sordid array of  compulsions and resultant follies

But back to where I began.  Properly motivated, love’s the grandest gig in town when conducted rationally in loving another for their individuality and not as some kind of throw pillow. Similarly, finding good friends enhances our lives, not because they cushion our loneliness, but because it makes good sense to bind with those with whom you share commonalty of interest.

Ultimately, our deliverance from anxiety over abandonment comes from diminishing the dominion of feelings; it begins with identifying them and uprooting them as our motivators: What am I really seeking in this relationship? Why am I not seeing the red flags?  Why this person?  Love must be built on more than a therapy for loneliness.  Love is marvelous.  For the right reasons!

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