Recently it was my choice to pick our monthly book for my book club.
I chose Loving What Is.
Shocker I know.
Not everyone loved it, which is totally fine because truth be told, I don’t love the writing style and I find the tone a little pandering. BUT the ideas in it are golden. Golden I tell you!
But anyway, in our conversation during this book club, several people took issue with the book because wouldn’t loving what is cause you to accept unjust situations?
What if you were being abused? Should you just accept it and love what is?
What about things that are wrong in the world? If we loved it, nothing would change!
What about things that are wrong about myself or my husband or my children? Don’t I need my anger to change myself and others? Do I have to become a doormat?
I’m going to make the point in this article that no, I don’t think clinging to anger is either healthy or productive to solving problems.
However, I fully admit I could be wrong here, so I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I think feeling that my anger serves a purpose has been the greatest roadblock to my own self-improvement.
Let me be clear, I think anger is natural. I don’t think we should feel guilty when we feel anger rising inside us. I don’t think we should fear anger or condemn it. But (there’s always a but), I do not think holding on to anger is productive. I think thinking anger is productive is what poisons us.
Its what poisons me.
Let me illustrate my point with three examples- one about myself, one about the world and the last one about marriage.
Example #1: Myself and My Productivity
As I’ve done “the work” (this worksheet from Loving What Is) its been interesting to see which patterns come up again and again in what bothers me.
A while ago when I would go to bed, I started writing down “things that lifted me up” in one column and “things that brought me down” in another. Interesting patters started to emerge from doing this regularly.
I noticed the same things tend to bring me down again and again.
Heading the list was this little number:
“I should get more done.”
I’m sure none of you can relate, but I’ve had a real destructive relationship with this sentence for . . . hmmm ever. It brings me down. It makes me beat myself up.
When I want to be happy, this little black cloud says, “But no, because you should get more done. You should be being productive right now- look at your house- you’ve got emails to respond to, bills to pay, your to-do list to tend to. You can’t feel good about yourself because you didn’t accomplish much today and have so much more to do.”
I think that misunderstanding the role of anger has kept me from progressing past this.
I have stubbornly clung to the idea that letting go of my anxiety towards my self would mean that I would get less done. I’m terrified to accept myself as is because I’ve thought in doing so, I would become complacent. Lazy even. So, I cling to these negative emotions like an anchor.
But anger is a TERRIBLE anchor! It steals my joy. It makes me beat myself up. It takes all the happiness out of doing the things that I actually want to do.
I’ve realized this truth in other areas of my life (in dealing with my spouse and my kids for instance) I have successfully discovered- anger does no good there. I’ve seen the anger for what it is- a major hindrance in my relationship to them, but for some reason this area of productivity I’ve found the hardest to give up. I know that it is a roadblock in a healthy relationship to myself, but I find myself again and again so hesitant to work on letting it go.
Example #2: The World’s Problems
This is a common discussion my husband and I have. We have differing ideas on the role of anger (differences of opinion in marriages?? Whaaat?).
One of the things I love about my husband is that he really and truly cares about those who are suffering in the world. He wants to alleviate their suffering. He wants things to be more fair economically and politically- for everyone to have their fair shake at a good life.
And he doesn’t see this happening, so he thinks that his anger serves an important purpose. He learns about those suffering unfairly in the world and thinks that they deserve his anger. He finds it his duty to learn about them and feel angry on their behalf.
He would say his anger is what leads him to call his congressmen, spread their message and shine light on a predicament that others are choosing to ignore. He wishes more people would be angry because it is what moves people to get. things. done. To be outraged enough to speak up and act up.
I can see that viewpoint and I can also see that those thoughts come from the best in him, not the worst.
But I have a different view . And please, don’t think I’m trying to convince you that he is wrong and I am right. As I mentioned before, I’m open to being wrong.
I think change and involvement is necessary in these tough world problems. I think acting is important. I think we should all be informed. But I do not think anger is either necessary or productive. I truly think we are only hurting ourselves when we choose anger. And not only ourselves but those around us as well.
I think anger or outrage could be the initial spark to move us to act, but I do not think that clinging to anger solves or helps anything. And I don’t think we do those who are hurting any great service by remaining angry on their behalf. I think we do them a disservice by lowering our own quality of life and that for those around us.
I think instead of being fueled by anger, our motivation to act can and should be fueled by respect. We respect those who are suffering enough to spread their message and do our part to correct their injustices. I believe anger is not only the more dangerous and potentially destructive fuel source, I also think its less effective.
I think dealing with our anger in this situation seems so unsettling because in order to deal with it we often have to face this uncomfortable little thing called forgiveness. This often feels wrong to work on forgiving a person or institution that is so clearly in the wrong. Why would we do that? What would that accomplish?
I think forgiveness accomplishes a great deal, topping the list- inner peace and increased love for those around us. Plus, when we speak with anger, it makes people opposing us shut down, not pay attention.
And no, forgiveness does not mean we become doormats. Forgiveness is such a misunderstood value. I describe that here.
Now, I’m not sure why I can see how damaging anger is so clearly in this political example (perhaps because it deals with someone else’s anger and not my own?) but not clearly in my own example of productivity.
By my own logic, I should know that anger not only has more destructive consequences, but just isn’t as effective in the long run as is respect. Productivity fueled by self-respect would be longer lasting and would certainly lead to a healthier self-image and self-esteem. And I do think it would cause me to get just as much done. And would vastly improve the quality of my life.
Why then do we cling to our anger? Why do we think it is so necessary for change?
Example #3: Marriage
I had a friend explain to me once that she was hesitant to let go of her anger and explain things calmly to her husband because then he would never change!
For example, she was feeling really overwhelmed with her schedule and cleaning and cooking one week and wanted her husband to step it up and help out more for the next week or two. She calmly asked him if he would help more around the house one night and he agreed, but then didn’t do anything. The next night she popped her lid, got upset and emotional and what do you know- her husband started cleaning!
Becoming really upset became a trigger for her spouse to know when to act. And she was none too keen to give up this power.
(We do this with our kids all. the. time. They don’t seem to listen one bit until we start yelling).
Here’s the problem with that: our anger has consequences. Negative consequences. Both for us and for those around us. Maybe unseen consequences, but they are always there.
With our spouses, our anger directed at them will always cause a loss of connection. Our friendship will take a hit every time.
It also does things like increase our blood pressure, cause us stress and trigger a large variety of unhealthy ways to cope with negative emotions and stress (numbing feelings, overeating, perfectionism, controlling those around us, drinking too much, distracting ourselves in too much time online, etc).
I’ve noticed in my own marriage, anger brings nothing good. For instance, when I come to Rich upset about something and he can sense my anger, his defenses go shooting up right from the get go. He is on guard immediately and easily becomes defensive. I do the same when the tables are turned.
When we come to our spouses in anger, we are not providing an environment for productive conversation. We’re providing a battle ground.
Its the same in my productivity example- how do I feel when I beat myself up? Like being more productive? No.I feel ashamed and want to numb those feelings (which generally consists of doing very unproductive things).
Its the same in my political example- how do you feel when you see a Facebook post of an angry political rant that goes against your beliefs? The intent of the post was probably to persuade you to their way of thinking, but have you ever been persuaded by an angry rant?
I would guess not. I, for one, am always deeply appreciative of friends who post their controversial thoughts in a thoughtful, respectful way without throwing others under a bus. These posts are infinitely more productive in changing people’s minds.
Its the same in our marriages. Dr. David Schnarch says that the most loving thing we can do with for our spouse is to manage our own anxiety.
Negative emotions can be effective to spark action, but they always come with negative consequences.
I think we can use the initial spark of anger to drive us to right wrongs, but only after we deal with our anger appropriately (the work is a great way to do that) and then are able to act out of respect for ourselves and others.
Those are my thoughts and observations, but I really want to hear what YOU think.
Do you think anger is productive? Necessary? Useful? When and why?
Do you struggle with clinging to your anger to incite change in yourself or others?