As a kid, I loved The Incredible Hulk TV show. I had no idea why. I think the success of The Hulk comics and TV has to do with the truth it touches upon: that if we refuse to grieve, then we must rage.
I have written here before about how we transform hurt feelings into angry lashing-out at others. I want to put a finer point on it: Almost invariably, our anger is a direct product of denied, refused, pushed-away pain and grief.
How do I know this? Because when as a therapist, I press on anger, if there is a good rapport, invariably tears follow. (If there isn’t a good rapport or I am not skillful in my intervention, I just get to have the anger targeted at me!) Just underneath the rage is a whole lot of hopelessness, a whole lot of disappointment, a world of hurt feelings and sadness.
I also know this because of my own experience. When I am sad, when I experience a drop in self-esteem (see my prior post on that less-than-useless concept of self-esteem), when grief arises in me and I am not willing to have it, WHOOSH, up goes the anger level. Pretty soon I’m looking for someone, or something to blame. Maybe with some justification, maybe with some disguise of righteousness (“Oh those damn health-insurance companies!”). But it’s a thin disguise. We’re talking about a wild wrath, not anything particularly useful or applicable to action.
There is such a thing as “righteous anger.” It is much quieter than rageful anger, the kind most of us experience most of the time. Righteous anger is perhaps in part what motivates great activists such as Mahatma Gandhi. It is steady. It is focused. It translates to right actions, not to unskillful actions. It is hopeful, while rage is hopeless. When there is no hope, there is only the promise of revenge and the satisfaction that comes of it.
I’d say 99% of my anger doesn’t look very Gandhi. It looks more Al Capone or Scarface. Or, the Incredible Hulk!
Remember how sad the theme music was from the TV show? If not, take my word for it. The guy was crying on the inside. If he had been willing to be sad, to grieve, there would have been no wonderful show and no fun display of turning green, busting out of his clothes, and causing havoc.
“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”