“And yet the dance of anger and forgiveness, performed to the uncontrollable rhythm of trust, is perhaps the most difficult in human life, as well as one of the oldest.” – Maria Popova
Anger is the emotion which arrives pushing our personal power forward like a forgotten best friend who must step up to the moment or regret the missed opportunity. That opportunity is using our personal power to right a wrong, perceived or real, which allows us to trust ourselves again. Anger feels like an ally because she reminds us that we do not have to receive the blow of being wronged (harmed and/or offended) with surrender.
However, when anger is misunderstood as a vehicle to overpower others (take back something we believe has been taken from us), we miss an opportunity to trust our self-respect.
Martha Nussbaum philosopher and author of, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice, helps us recognize that “wrongdoing” is often a misperception by the receiver. “Notoriously, however, people sometimes get angry when they are frustrated by inanimate objects, which presumably cannot act wrongfully… In 1988, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article on “vending machine rage”: fifteen injuries, three of them fatal, as a result of angry men kicking or rocking machines that had taken their money without dispensing the drink. (The fatal injuries were caused by machines falling over on the men and crushing them.)”
The men who raged against the machine, the vending machines, may have felt a complete loss of control over an object which could not be reasoned with. There was no argument which could persuade, there was no rising tone of frustration which would convince the thing to change its mind and this reality rendered the buyers helpless. The men thought they were getting a fair exchange and expectations were simple.
Cheating the men out of their money had occurred, but it wasn’t an act of harm. Feelings of powerlessness resulted from the loss of money but also from the loss of recourse. There was no one to report the loss too. There was no evidence the money lost was actually theirs. No show of self-respect could have made the machine return the money.
The ability to report an offense, be believed and seek restitution gives us hope that even in the event of wrongdoing – we can restore our human value.
“We are prone to anger to the extent that we feel insecure or lacking control with respect to the aspect of our goals that has been assailed — and to the extent that we expect or desire control. Anger aims at restoring lost control and often achieves at least an illusion of it. To the extent that a culture encourages people to feel vulnerable to affront and down-ranking in a wide variety of situations, it encourages the roots of status-focused anger.” –Martha Nussbaum
One Thing to Do: Practice Relaxation. When you care enough about yourself to calm down, using your personal power in a self-respecting way, you remind yourself you’re valuable. Thinking through what happened to make your anger surface is easier when calm.
- Breathe slowly. A five-count inhale followed by a five count exhale.
- Use a word which promotes relaxing. Say it to yourself as you breathe in/out.
- Trust your ability to problem solve once you feel less helpless.
- Ask for help solving the problem, if needed.
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.
Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.