Anger 2.0

Well, this is a bit awkward, but the fact is, friends, I lied to you. In my last post I went on for 400 or so words about the need to switch from depression to anger but not being able to figure out how to do it. Lies, lies, lies. In fact I am plenty angry already and I know all of the reasons why. I tend to speak obliquely and not quite say what I mean or give only partial answers. Lately I’ve been called on it a few times. It’s a bad habit but represents one of my many layers of self-protection, so it is not so easily unraveled.

On the comment board my friend Miss Order sent me to this TED talk, in which a rather charming and funny young man explains that, while we might think that success brings about a positive attitude, in fact a positive outlook brings success. He recommends some positivity exercises, like finding three new things to be grateful for every day (every day?!), journaling about a positive thing that happened so your brain relives it, and several others—meditation, perhaps.

Well, that’s a nice theory, and unlike much advice one finds on the internet, it is actionable. (I read an article this morning that said, instead of trolling job boards, get a friend inside the company to score you an interview. Seriously. That was advice published on HuffPo.) You don’t need a friend with interview-scoring power to write down three points of gratitude.

My issue with the plan is the same problem I have with all such fix-yourself programs. It ignores the structural barriers that actually matter. Maybe you don’t have a job because you’re not positive enough. Or maybe you don’t have a job because there aren’t enough jobs. These are very different problems.

It’s a bit of a religious notion, really. If you have faith and maybe make a few blood sacrifices, the deity of your choice will look after you. And if you come down with a deadly tropical disease anyway, well, your faith obviously wasn’t strong enough.

Not that I’m opposed to gratitude. Nearly everyone has something for which to be grateful. I can think of two or three off the top of my head. But gratitude doesn’t address my anger. It doesn’t mitigate the structural barriers. It doesn’t solve any of my sometimes overwhelming and seemingly unsolvable problems.

Just to play along, I’ll start with one:

I thought it was going to rain all day, but the sun just came out.


14 thoughts on “Anger 2.0

  1. I do that too! That speaking obliquely and giving partial answers thing!! But then sometimes I speak too plainly, and people get upset. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, take it from me. No offense to Miss Order, whom I love, but I HATE HATE HATE, with the fury of 10000 furious soldiers of fury, exercises in gratitude. No, I really hate them. I hate them. Few things can spark the ember of my anger as quickly or easily as someone suggesting I spend some time feeling grateful. It’s so *presumptuous*. How insulting is it, REALLY, for someone to suggest that if you’re angry it must be because you aren’t *grateful* enough?? It’s so self-righteous! It’s so WRONG!!! A person CAN BE GRATEFUL AND ANGRY AT THE SAME TIME. In some situations, it’s even healthy to be so.

    I once kept a gratitude journal for two days and then turned it into an anxiety/negativity journal. I kept it for six months. I wrote in it every single day. It turned out to be quite helpful, getting the anxiety and negativity out of my head and onto paper. With the help of my anxiety/negativity journal, my book “Anger,” some meditation, some massage therapy and some changes in focus, I feel the sensation of anger less constantly than I did two or three years ago. For me, the key was taking the pressure off the systemic (and largely unchangeable) sources of anger, and instead recognizing the anger itself as a problem, and reaching out for ways to deal with it. Interestingly, some life changes followed. They are still following, albeit slowly, and I still experience flashes of anger. But it’s occasional sharp pain now, instead of a constant dull ache. If that makes sense.

    • I’m glad to hear you say that (about gratitude exercises), because I was feeling guilty or maybe just churlish about my initial eye-rolling response. I’m not the only ungrateful cur out there. Phew.

      Is anger a problem in and of itself? Isn’t anger a rational response to the angering stimuli?

      • Oh, well, don’t go by me. I have a reputation for churlishness, at least in my own imagination.

        Yes, anger is a problem in and of itself. It’s a symptom, like pain. Anger tells you you’re suffering, it tells you when something or someone is hurting you, and in that way it’s valuable. But chronic anger coming from something you can’t necessarily change interferes with your functioning and has to be addressed as a symptom. If you had RA, for example, you wouldn’t put up with the pain in your joints just because the disease is incurable. Worse, the pain in your joints, if untreated, prevents you from mitigating the disease. Anger is the same. You can’t work around the disease causing your anger, or formulate strategies for mitigating it, if you’re acutely feeling the pain of your anger all day long. Anger blocks optimism and imagination. It limits creativity. Chronic anger, without treatment, makes more anger. At least, this is what I believe, having suffered through 3+ years of rage.

    • At the risk of TROBL becoming my middle name, I have to say that once again I agree with you both. Gratitude and positivity are both helpful emotional habits, sure, but they don’t solve problems or overcome obstacles by themselves. It seems kind of like handing a child with a broken bone a stack of busy work to keep their mind off it.

  2. I think that the assumption with all of the gratitude stuff is that you’re probably a spoiled brat with nothing *actually* wrong or disappointing or unfair that has ever happened in your life. Why else would the single solution be to simply realize how awesome things really are?
    Also. No progress is made by people who are busy feeling content with how things are.

    • I think it is more that happy, positive people are attractive and therefore more likely to have good things happen to them. Which might well be true, but “more likely” does not equal “definitely will.”

      • Well there is that, but look at the people to whom the ‘attitude of gratitude’ advice is directed. They are, for the most part, people whose problems are middle class woman problems, or first world problems or white people problems. Problems that are the problems associated with a life of privilege.

  3. I didn’t really think of that clip as being about gratitude, really. I watched it more with an eye toward helping my children train their brains down happier paths, rather than more negative paths. I have never in my life kept a gratitude journal – although I have kept a journal before the internet stole away my writing for just myself habit…

    I also don’t think the point of being happy is that it gets you anything, beyond simply being more happy, which is no mean feat. I think that our brains are physical bits of wiring that can be rewired, with purposeful activity (like cognitive therapy and mediation) and pharmacology. Again, I liked that video in that it had some useful stuff in there for training (I just accidentally wrote “braining” HA HA HA!) nice plastic little brains, such as the 4 that reside in my house.

    I suppose it is also important to understand what you are wanting here. A new job, getting rid of the anger? The happiness practice won’t directly help either (and possibly not indirectly, either). And the anger I don’t have any answers to that either (not that I am here to provide any answers, of course!!). OBL sounded like she had some good advice for that as that is something she has faced. I am not generally an angry person. I get very angry hormonally once a month these days (big difference from the crying it used to be – oh, the joy of hormonal changes after children!) and I get furious at my husband about certain home-related tasks and I am acknowledging and waiting out the one and working through the other (supposedly i will be writing a blog about this, but I keep miniblogging on your blog instead). My sister dealt with a lot of her anger through therapy and a divorce from the largest source of her anger…

    So I don’t know. I didn’t mean to add to your anger! And I don’t ever intend to propose simple solutions to complex problems. I do still think that guy has some interesting things to say about how our brains work. I think the more we understand how our brains work, the better we can understand how to work around the parts of our thoughts/behaviors that don’t work so well. We have a lot of evolutionary underpinnings (monkey brain, lizard brain, etc – Sheri Tepper writes them out so well in her books!) that, frankly, aren’t all that useful for what our lives now consist of, so we need to work around them. I am really excited about all the functional MRI studies they do these days to see what parts of the brain do what during various thought processes.

    So again, mini blog. Here’s to less rage and more fulfillment in life!

  4. I want to stab advice like that in the face.

    (I thought about apologizing for my fervor, but nah. I don’t really feel like. So instead I’ll apologize for not apologizing.)

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