As much as has been written about anger, as many sermons as have been preached and as many therapists as have been consulted, abundant anger continues to slosh around in many lives. Such residual anger inhibits personality, skews relationships, affects physical well--being and monopolizes time.
Low-level, persistent anger occurs in relational wounding, but also over institutional hurt and community injustice. Such anger does not evaporate as easily as quick, simplistic religious and therapeutic recipes would have us believe--at least I never have found that the case. Ultimately, I find that ending anger is not so much an act of will as it is winding my way through a lessening of tumbling thoughts, repetitive remembrances and rehearsing conversations. Then there comes a moment--not programmed--when I sigh and move on, leaving behind the low-level intense anguish, and often, but not always, the memory.
My response to one hurtful experience, three decades ago, set a pattern that has been helpful in working through the anger I encounter.
I covered over a hurtful situation with a smile and 'understanding.' However, six months later, unexpected anger bubbled up (erupted is a better word). Initial bewilderment gave way to externalizing and organizing the turbulent feelings by writing out my thoughts. There was an intellectual, even sensual, delight in working and re-working the words by which I was able to delineate more precisely both the situation and the feelings surrounding it. Also, it seemed that some of the anger flowed out through my fingertips onto the paper.
I then sanitized the document so that inappropriate, ineffective and aggressive language was eliminated. Next, I sent this clear rational statement to the person involved.
I still follow this process but, for those times when there is no direct outlet for anger-and this is especially true of institutional hurt and community injustice , I set myself free by creating a kind of burial service in which I go outdoors, ceremoniously burn the paper and allow my angry feelings to follow the smoke. This is of great help in lowering or eliminating the intensity of my anger.
Reading the above makes the process seem far more orderly than it actually is, but I find that this practice does go a long way toward defusing persistent turbulent emotions.
This is a front-line report from one of life's participants.
--Robert H. Tucker
27 September 1999
© Robert H. Tucker, 1999.
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