Recently, I’ve had several clients who are SO angry that they are blinded to any possibility other than getting revenge. I have yet to find a way to help them understand that their anger really is only killing them. Only when someone is open to entertaining the concept that there may be an alternative perspective, can he/she make a change. No one else can make that willingness happen.
Some people seem to enjoy being angry. I’ve often said that anger can be a smokescreen emotion. When we feel anger, we feel a surge of energy, and it gives us a sense of power – helping us believe we can protect ourselves. It’s as if we’re putting on a bullet proof vest (we often act before we stop to think that there might be arrows shooting back at us in reaction to our aggressive behavior, so until those reach us, we feel powerful).
But it’s a smokescreen because there are almost always other, more vulnerable emotions beneath the anger and aggressive behavior. Feelings like hurt, embarrassment, shame, etc. And most of those have probably been down there for some time, left unattended. We may have been able to contain them for years, but as humans we aren’t built to hold them in forever. They begin to seep out, sometimes a little at a time. And while the stream of steaming anger may be steady, there is also a pit of resentments inside us. That pit becomes harder and harder, like petrified wood.
The way many people try to deal with their anger is to use it against another or an organization with aggressive behavior, abusive language and/or passive aggressive acts. These are destructive, impulsive behaviors. They initially make us feel we can control a person or situation, but the reality is that they render us helpless and we eventually find ourselves at the mercy of these tools.
According to Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg in their new book LOVE YOUR ENEMIES: HOW TO BREAK THE ANGER HABIT & BE A WHOLE LOT HAPPIER, the only way to become invulnerable is to “change our view of enemies and learn to see every instance of harm as an opportunity — as something we can use to benefit ourselves and others.”
“Our enemies are our best teachers,” Thurman says. Because they ignite our anger and hatred, they force us to look at our own shadow sides, which is the first step to moving past reflexive negative behavior.
Once we have that wisdom, we can begin to employ more effective weapons — tolerance, compassion and love — and begin to reap real benefits. “If there weren’t people trying to harm us or keep us from getting what we want,” asks Thurman, “how would we learn patience and tolerance and forgiveness?”
We should be grateful to our enemies, for they teach us patience, courage and determination and help us develop a tranquil mind. – the Dalai Lama