“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”
I once knew an angry man who came into a large inheritance. He was neither an especially happy nor likeable fellow. He was moody, complained incessantly about everything and everyone and detested other people. Life had cheated him, or so he claimed. When he collected his allotment, we thought he would be happy at last. And he did seem happy or at least happier for a while, but it didn’t last. In time, he rediscovered his anger and became unhappy again.
Someone told me once that happy people remain mostly so even when something sad or traumatic happens. Over time, they return to their natural state-of-being. Angry people must, therefore, return to their natural state-of-being following a happy or fortuitous event.
Of all the emotions we experience, happiness and anger are two of the most potent. When I cite happiness, I am not referring just to being in a good mood, but rather experiencing the happiness that comes from a deep and abiding sense of joy and a confident expectation of good things. This complete happiness stems from self-love — a component of healthy self-esteem.
As with anger, I am not just referencing being upset at a perceived slight, but rather an anger that originates from poor self-esteem and a negative self-image — from a lack of self-love and respect, founded on the fear that you are neither good enough nor worthy of happiness.
When we live in a state of happiness, we are in growth mode. We approach life as if it were an amazing adventure. We open our hearts and our arms to life, embracing it and welcoming new people and experiences. Our comfort zone expands and along with it, our world. We see the world as a place of abundance with endless opportunities to grow and succeed.
When we have a negative or fearful mindset, we are in protection mode. We may begin to believe that all resources, even emotional, are limited; thus, we are in competition with everyone for everything. We expect to be cheated, disappointed, and to fight for our fair share. Our fear of being “short changed” prompts us to become angry. Our world and comfort zone becomes smaller as we attempt to “circle the wagons” to protect ourselves and our rights.
So, if we’re fearful, why might we express that fear through anger? Simply put, anger feels stronger than most other emotions. Anger provides us with a mask to hide behind and a means of frightening others into submission. Anger helps us to believe that we are not afraid.
We like to label our emotions, but in fact emotions are neither good nor bad. It’s how we choose to respond to them that makes that determination. There are times when it’s appropriate to be fearful and times when anger is the appropriate response. Many of life’s greatest achievements and societal changes came about become someone became angry enough to stand up and say, “Enough!” There is a difference, however, between someone who becomes angry when appropriate and someone who is just mad. Recognizing when it is appropriate to become angry and to what degree requires wisdom and awareness.
How can you move from a state of protection to a state-of-growth — from withering fear to expansive happiness? Any change this dramatic will take time and effort. The first step is always self-awareness. Find the courage to take an objective look at yourself and the impact your cur-rent state of mind is having upon your life, health, and your relationships with others.
As Gandhi once said, “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.”
Fear can be like a high wall that separates us from where we are and where we would like to be. Before this wall can be scaled, we must first acknowledge and accept its presence. Recognizing our fear and anger can be the first step toward successfully surmounting it.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His most recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca