How to Use Your Anger
March 20, 2019
“Fight against yourself! If you will conquer anger, it cannot conquer you. If it is kept out of sight, if it is given no outlet, you begin to conquer. Let us conceal the signs, and so far as it is possible to let us keep it hidden and secret … It should be kept hidden in the deepest depths of the heart and it should not drive, but be driven; and more, all symptoms of it let us change into just the opposite. Let the countenance be unruffled, let the voice be very gentle, the step very slow; gradually the inner man conforms itself to the outer.” (Seneca-De Ira)
Our emotions stand out in both their ability to drastically alter our behavior and in the mysterious way they do so. For, caught in the clutches of our emotions, we begin to not be ourselves, but instead, the mouthpiece for the emotion currently in control. We lose our ability to decide between right and wrong, and in extreme cases, between reality and imagination. The rather forceful nature of our emotions allows us to achieve feats not originally thought possible, for the good, but far too often for the bad. And out of all these emotions, anger sticks out as by far the most powerful and capable, but also the most destructive.
Rage, wrath, and resentment are all forms of anger which, if allowed to persist, will cause not only personal suffering to ourselves and those close to us, but also death on a mass scale. In the 20th-century, hundreds of millions of people died at the hands of political movements which fed off the resentment of the masses, a fact that should wake us up to the peril of ignoring our anger.
However, not all forms of anger are malicious and detrimental to ourselves. Anger can be a warranted response to mistreatment, and even rage can be to our benefit if our life is at stake. For as Aristotle put it, “Those who do not show anger at things that ought to arouse anger are regarded as fools”
Anger can also be used as fuel. It provides us with the energy, purpose, and drive required to transform ourselves and strive towards our goals. Anger is a sign that something within us wants to live, to triumph over adversity and affirm ourselves. The difficulty we face is how to utilize the productivity of anger, and mitigate the destructiveness of it. In this article, I will be attempting to examine how we could achieve this goal.
In understanding the importance of anger, we must first explore the antithesis of it. The antithesis of anger is apathy. It signifies that a will to die has overcome us. Instead of relentlessly striving and fighting for our goals and ambitions, we allow the dread and the overwhelming obstacle of life to bring us to our knees. In a world filled with optimistic dogmas, which view any sort of conflict or required effort as a negative, this feeling is far more present than in previous generations. “Indeed, no social emotion is more widespread today than the conviction of personal powerlessness, the sense of being beset, beleaguered, and persecuted.” (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.) While the phrase, “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is true, the reverse is and must also be true. Absolute impotence corrupts absolutely. When we feel that our lives count for little, when our apathy leads to stagnation in a form of work which produces only a paycheck and an emptiness in the soul, when we are surrounded by governments and corporations whose power far exceeds anything of which we are capable, and when we find ourselves lost in a sea of “faceless Others” (W.H. Auden), we cannot connect with, impact, or reach out to each other. First impotence, and then anger and rage, seem to be the result. “Our particular problem…at this point in history, is the widespread loss of the sense of individual significance, a loss which is sensed inwardly as impotence…So many people feel they do not and cannot have power, that even self-affirmation is denied them, that they have nothing left to assert, and hence that there is no solution short of a violent explosion.” (Rollo May-Power and Innocence)
In addition to societal forces, life itself, packed with the existential burdens that come with it, is enough to trigger the feeling of hopeless despair and powerlessness which generates anger. At birth, we are thrown into this world, which can be frustrating, unwelcoming and hostile to our desires. The helplessness we feel in the face of the cold indifference of the reality is worsened by the fact that, although we do our best to desperately deny it, deep down we know that our primal desire to perpetuate ourselves is doomed to fail. Death lies waiting for us all. But for as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Despite anger being a natural and healthy response, most of us have been conditioned, either socially or culturally, to suppress this anger in an unfit manner. We create “a common altruistic self-image behind which we hide the anger and resentment which dwells within.” (Academy of Ideas) This makes us mentally fragile and unstable, prone to outbursts seemingly from nowhere. Given how many of us are have experienced these events, we must find a way to productively deal with the presence of anger.
The daimonic is an Ancient Greek term that was originally used to refer to a power which came upon man– a spirit or intermediary between the gods and humans. Rollo May re-conceptualized the daimonic in modern psychological terms and defined it as “any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person.” (Rollo May-Love and Will) Anger, passion, lust, greed and the desire for power are all daimonic passions which have the power to possess us and take control over our conscious facility. These are powerful instinctive drives that push us to the achievements of these influences. While the benefits of the passions of sex and love are obvious, many overlook the benefit of the daimonic passion of anger. It has been cultivated, in recent decades, that anger must be repressed. In doing so we eliminate our creativity. Creativity is not limited to just artists, but rather, the necessity to be creative is called forth when inner chaos manifests itself in our lives. The presence of this chaos is a sign that a change in our character, worldview, or attitude is of need. When we are creative, instead of succumbing to apathy, we use that anger to react in a proactive manner, by transforming our mind or “giving form to some component in the external world to help us make sense of the chaos, cope with it, and ultimately transcend it.” (Academy of Ideas) This creative process is one of development and evolution. “Given the role of creativity in transforming chaos and conflict into order and form and feelings of powerlessness into power, the lack of a sufficient creative outlet in our life is a prime culprit for many of our personal problems.” (Academy of Ideas)
However, as Pablo Picasso put it, “Every act of creation is, first of all, an act of destruction.” In order to create something of more power and worth within our lives, we must be willing to clear away and get rid of the old parts of us that are no longer of use, in order for a more complete and beneficial person to emerge. For as Jordan Peterson put it, “What should move forward in time with me? And what should be let go as if its deadwood?” Or for as Nietzsche wrote, “ You must want to burn yourself up in your own flame, how could you wish to become new unless you have first become ashes!” (Nietzsche-Thus Spoke Zarathustra) In order to achieve this creative destruction, the energy, confidence, and drive that accompanies anger is vital to do so.
Given that anger is a natural reaction to many of the events that occur to us in life, it is of great importance that we understand how to use it. The suppression of anger is dangerous, we need to acknowledge our anger and prevent it from possessing our being and unconsciously wreaking havoc on our lives. For if we become more masterful and aware of its presence, we can use it to inspire, invigorate and propel ourselves to our goals, and allow us to become more assertive, competent and decisive human beings. But if we allow societal and cultural views to condition us into suppressing or ignoring our anger, we will transform this daimonic power, into a demonic one. “To learn to creatively live with the daimonic or be violently devoured by it. We will decide our own destiny. Let us choose wisely.” (Stephen Diamond- Anger, Madness and the Daimonic)