I’m getting tired of people telling me that I am angry. They also tell me that “frustrated” equals “angry”. I’d like to think with an English degree I could use better words than “angry.” “Angry” is such an ugly word. So gauche. So Jerry Springer white trash. Nobody wants to be “angry.” It doesn’t have any style. OK, sometimes I’m upset or unhappy that things aren’t going the way I think they should. Does that make me “angry”? My husband says that I get angry at him. This is really embarrassing. Is “embarrassing” yet another word for “angry?”
Am I not justified in my anger? Am I not allowed to be upset/frustrated/unhappy that things don’t go the way I think they should? Am I not allowed to be upset about how life doesn’t go as I plan?
Is telling me I’m “angry” another way to control me? Is it the new term for what I heard in my high school and college years – “You think too much.” Boyfriends who said that were dismissed quickly.
My spiritual director thinks I should say I’m angry. My pastoral care teachers think this too. Funny, I feel OK. Pretty good, until some authority figure thinks I should think I’m angry. Right now the thing that makes me angry is people thinking I’m angry.
I get frustrated when folks won’t try to help themselves. I see my obese coworkers who are pre-diabetic sneaking cupcakes from the break room. They have noticed all the work I have done to get better (I used to be 200 pounds). They comment frequently about how they wish they could get in shape. Then they sit and read all of their lunch while there is a great walking path right outside the break room door. Every hindrance they name I can find a solution for but then they come up with another excuse. I get frustrated with them. Does this mean I’m angry? Is “angry” the same as getting upset with someone who says they want to get better but refuses to take action? Is it “angry” to note that the American way says to do whatever you want, and then take a pill later? No work required.
Perhaps “anger” is tied to attachment. The world is not like how I think it should be. It isn’t that someone has something I think is mine. Part if it is that they aren’t doing things the way I think they should. They put don’t put stuff back where it came from, so I can’t find it when I need it. They have their music on too high so it annoys me. Is “annoyed” another word for “angry?”
Maybe I am angry. Maybe I should say so. I’m angry when people don’t do what they say they are going to do. I’m angry when I have to return something that isn’t what I ordered. I’m angry when a transaction shows up on my credit card bill that I didn’t expect. I’m angry when people expect me to pay for their laziness. I’m angry when I find something that I bought and lost, only to have bought another one. I’m angry when people refuse to take care of their health and then seem surprised that they get sick. I’m angry when people fritter away their lives on meaningless things.
Perhaps my anger is the reason I write. Perhaps my anger spurs me on to try to make changes within myself and within the world. Maybe there is a lot of power in being angry. Sometimes anger can be transformative. Sometimes it is the fuel that makes change happen.
I remember a story of a horrible, tragic car accident. The wife was pregnant and had gone into labor early. Her husband was out of town on a business trip. She didn’t have a babysitter for their young son, so he was in the car as well as she drove to the hospital. There was an accident. Only the young son survived, but he was badly hurt. When the father was able to get to see his son, he was numb. His entire family had been reshaped in an instant. His hopes and dreams for the future had crumbled away. It was days later that he changed and started to be angry. The chaplain thought this was an excellent sign – that then he could begin to accept his loss and go on. I remember this surprised me. “Anger” is good?
Perhaps “anger” is related to grief. Therapists tell us that anger is one of the stages of grief – but perhaps anger itself can teach us about grief. Perhaps anger points to a sense of loss, of not-right-ness. Perhaps knowing that can give us a sense of those situations that need attention. I think anger is the opposite of complacency. I think anger can be used as a force to change unjust situations.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was angry. He was angry that people were being treated badly simply because of the color of their skin. His anger helped lead a movement of nonviolent resistance that fostered change. If he hadn’t been angry, he would have simply accepted things the way they were and let them be. People would still be separate and not equal under the law. Jesus got angry at all the hypocrisy he saw – about how the letter of the law was being followed but not the spirit.
Maybe it is a good idea to get in touch with your anger. Maybe anger is a useful tool. Maybe I should stop being embarrassed by my anger and just start naming it for what it is. And then I should learn how to focus it and direct it so it can be used as a force for change.