Friday, 25 April 2014

I Can Be An Angry Person

I often think of myself as someone who doesn’t get angry easily. And in many ways this is true: when in real-time face-to-face interactions, I do not get angry very much. Often, in a situation when I might get angry, I either just feel the hurt that most people would turn into anger, or I turn it into nervousness or anxiety instead. I have a delayed fuse for these situations; it is not until much after the fact that I get angry.

But I must not let this fool me into thinking that I am person who does not get angry easily after all. It’s just that I tend not to remember those contexts in which I get angry. They are, roughly, two.

1.      I get angry on behalf of others, usually those I perceive as powerless. If someone says something which I think threatens a population or individual of which I feel protective, I get very angry very quickly. I also seem to lose any capacity for hiding that anger or assessing whether my response was rational.

2. I get angry when dealing with people at a remove. This normally plays out as getting angry at people on the bus or getting angry at people online. I think people might say that we get angry at people in these situations because we don’t see them as full humans, but I don’t think that actually applies to me, or at least not always. I can think of a few cases in which I was angry in large part because I was aware that the other person was human. I get angry in large part because I’m not afraid of sacrificing a relationship with a person on the bus or online. Of course in the case of #1 I become more than willing to sacrifice relationships to the righteous Balrog inside of me, but if someone with whom I have a personal relationship insults me somehow or commits a personal affront, I usually just feel hurt and uncomfortable without the anger.

The occasion of this post is that I got irrationally angry a few hours ago. I returned to PEG’s new-ish blog after realizing I had not read it in a while and discovered a post which absolutely infuriated me. It was entirely an issue of pride—he made comments about Protestantism generally, and the Anglican church specifically, which were not just false and unfair but also petty and cruel—and I lost my composure. I am usually able to keep my composure (at any rate I don’t comment), but I still find these outbursts shocking, even when I have to admit that they aren’t infrequent.

I am shocked by my anger because it seems to entail a loss of self, or a loss of a certain sense of myself. Since I think of myself as a person who is not often angry, whenever I am angry my self-concept is threatened. I also make decisions, when I am angry, that are not in keeping with my values, my self-perception, or my usual patterns of behaviour. It’s like an alien being which periodically erupts. I am alienated from myself, in a small way; but since I know that this anger and the decisions I make while in its grip all come from me, I am reminded more viscerally than usual of Freud’s unconscious, which could handily explain how this alien force could be part of me while still being so alien.

Lately I have been getting angrier than usual. The suspects are things I do feel justified getting angry about: rising economic inequality, the continued resistance to same-sex marriage, the Canadian federal government’s slow but steady erosion of democracy. I can feel this rage in me, growing. To an extent I am comfortable with that anger, because I feel much like the prophets of Israel rebuking a corrupt leadership. Yet I worry that the anger is habit-forming, and that I will experience flash points more often in relation to things which do not justify my anger (like some blogger saying petty things on the Internet—Catholics say petty things about Protestants on the Internet all of the time, and I’m sure the reverse is also true, so I don’t know why I haven't built up callouses yet).

But I wonder, also, if the reason I manage my anger so poorly is because I do not often feel it in the context of existing relationships, where I must both express it and manage it. Normally I try to suppress it in those cases, so I have little practice doing anything but suppress it or release it. I have no idea how to feel anger and still be productive. I have no idea how to prevent a total loss of self in the face of anger, and I wonder if part of that is because I have not found a way to incorporate anger into myself—or my sense of myself—in a healthy and containable way. I don’t mean that I want to become The Avengers’s Hulk, who is angry all of the time, but that in order to deal with anger in a reasonable way I might need to find a way to accept that I am, sometimes, an angry person.

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