This is the second installment of Holding Both: The Power of And. Please refer to my initial post to read about why I created this series.
For this installment, we will be comparing quotes, wisdom, and thoughts on anger. This isn’t a battle royale of thoughts and people, but rather a way for us to dig deeper into this shared wisdom. In this comparison we are examining whether anger is destructive or constructive. To kick us off, we are going to examine a quote attributed to Buddha..you might be able to guess Buddha’s stance on anger.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
I actually found myself using this quote quite a few times recently in helping some of my clients clarify if they feel like their anger is serving them or not serving them (ie. Does it feel like that coal?). I think any of us who feel like we have been swept away by anger could relate to this quote. Most of the time we feel like the ones assuming the burden of our own anger, especially, if we aren’t able to use it to drive us to some sort of catharsis. Reading this quote, I am reminded of how the anger argument tends to lead towards a conversation on what embracing forgiveness could look like. This is definitely an act for oneself, which will likely be explored in a future post.
“Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame”
– Benjamin Franklin
Ol’ $100 spot may also be aligned with Buddha in his thoughts on anger as well. Have you ever popped off and felt absolutely terrible about it later? Many of us likely have. When anger prevents us from being able to take intention in our actions and leads us to feeling like we have lost control and impulsively explode we are left over with a lot of remorse. Not many feelings are quite as terrible as this. So the shame spiral begins.
So what does all of this mean? Should we restrain, pause and hold onto or fight our anger? Is it purely a destructive force? Well there is probably one thing we can all agree on. Anger doesn’t feel good. I think this is about to get a little bit more complex.
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
– Maya Angelou
Counterpoint to the above blanket statements on anger. I love how Maya differentiates bitterness from anger, especially in the context of society where Black female voices are seen as “angry.” Placed in a pathological light, this differentiation is important. Anger can lead to movement. Anger can lead to needed change. Anger can be the action on our moral compass. Maya also notes that anger can be the catharsis we need to actually feel and complete a necessary emotion to cleanse ourselves of bitterness and toxicity of resentment. If anyone can demonstrate how anger is not only necessary but beautiful, it is Maya Angelou.
“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”
– Malcolm X
To piggy-back on Maya’s quote, Malcolm speaks more to how anger leads to progress and social change that I also alluded to. Anger serves to prop our ego up, helps to energize and motivate, and can bring power where vulnerability feels like it might crush us. I think we are seeing this anger/outrage a lot in our current political environment and we are seeing the movements that are harnessing anger to institute progress. Anger is a powerful fuel for the engine of change.
“Love implies anger. The man who is angered by nothing cares about nothing.”
Lastly, in support of allowing space for anger as a driving force, this quote speaks so much truth to me. Just as I believe, to love someone or something is to also set ourselves up for pain and vulnerability, it is also an avenue for anger because we are passionate, care, and need to take a stand. It is hard for me to see someone as being fully authentic when they are not able to admit to or express their anger. I truly wonder if someone’s capacity to love is limited if they are unable to express and acknowledge their anger?
So how do we put this all together? Read on with my closing argument:
“Anger is just anger. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice.”
– Jim Butcher, White Night
This quote is very in line with how I see the nature of anger. It is just like the nature of all emotions. It would be a little too simple to label any emotions as good or bad, right or wrong. They just are. I would also argue that we don’t have control over how, or when they present. All we have control over is our capacity to notice and acknowledge our feelings and choose how we want to engage with them.
This line of thought captures Acceptance and Commitment Therapy philosophy, which I weave into a lot of my work. This quote also captures how bringing in awareness, acknowledgement, and intention can make the biggest difference in determining if the overall experience of an emotion is helpful or unhelpful to us. This quote is a perfect synthesis of the wisdom of both sides of the anger argument. In a lot of ways both sides are true AND context matters (He did it! He referenced his own blog them! We can wrap this up!)
My parting word of wisdom comes in form of another quote:
“When angry, count four. When very angry, swear.” – Mark Twain
Pretty much says it all. Be on the lookout for a future post about swearing in therapy and why it’s f*cking great! Also, check out my BRB Video Channel. I will update that as frequently as possible.