Anger has always been my go-to response – a protection of self when slings and arrows come against me. I have friends who worry about their anger, wishing to be void of negative emotions. There seems to be a belief today that we should all retain a Buddha-like calm. Anger, however, has always been my friend. Like a fever working to regulate the body against a nasty invasion, anger warns me when my boundaries are being violated.
I’m not talking about rage here or acting out in a way that could hurt others. I’m talking about that rush of emotion that says "this is wrong and I’m not happy about it." I admit when I was a child my anger often took the form of temper tantrums, but the anger itself was often not at fault. It was a child’s way of individuating, of drawing my line in the sand. Often times it was a logical response to an illogical family system. I remember reading books about wild horses like the Black Stallion that would talk about the need not to break a horse’s spirit. I would take this to heart and when things got tough I remember thinking, “they won’t break me.” I used my anger to this end.
Once my parents tried to wash my mouth out with soap and in my anger I ate the soap. Ha! I thought, whatcha gonna do now? My father once took away my teddy bear Sam, my security blanket. I screamed for hours until he relented and retrieved him from the top of the closet. I’m not condoning this behavior, exactly, but even back then I recognized that anger could help me when things seemed unfair.
In high school, I remember getting angry after trying repeatedly to master a technique in gym class. “This is stupid,” I said. The gym teacher got angry in turn, grabbing my arm and twisting me around to face him. “How do you think that makes me feel when you say that?” he asked. Didn’t he realize I was just trying to protect myself from feelings of inadequacy? My anger was a worthy shield.
When I got older and my family faced a series of crises I remember admitting to a counselor that I was angry at God. “Better angry than ambivalent,” he told me. The Psalms alone are riddled with an angry David questioning God’s intent. Jacob even wrestles with God. Ambivalence can leave one frozen, anger can set you off in a direction.
Like any one else, I don’t want to spend my time consumed with negative emotions, but for me anger has been anything but negative. It is a way to resist violations of self; when I feel it rearing its head, I evaluate the situation. Why am I angry? What part of me is under threat? Is this justifiable? Without this anger it is easy for me to let other’s opinions have their sway, to give in to their projections rather than my own reality. Anger is how I weathered the storm.