Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
It is totally human to feel righteous indignation and even justified anger. And unless we were born as saints of some kind, anger is a very real part of our lives. We have probably been told, with some emphatic feeling: “Don’t be so angry!” – a suggestion to which we may have replied, maybe with full blown fury, that we are not angry, damn it!
Is this a giant disconnect from reality? I don’t think so.
True, we humans are sometimes justifiably angry, but I think it’s worth considering that when we deny it, even while fire and smoke are coming out of our ears, that we may actually be speaking the truth. And that is because the pain of rejection, grief, frustration and fear, to name a few emotions, can be pretty hard to cope with. So much so that when they stir within it is only a small step to re-packaging them into anger.
And that makes sense when we are in survival mode – and maybe not because we are fighting for the point we think we are trying to make, or to be understood. It appears that displays of negative emotions win the angry person a higher social rank. Sort of like cats who hiss and fluff up their fur and walk sideways to look bigger to an enemy. The fiercer feline wins the day.
But I don’t think most people want to feel fierce. Quite the contrary. I think most people just want to be loved and to love themselves.
If there is one thing I have learned well as a hospital chaplain, it is that fear, sadness, rejection and grief are the constant companions of many, if not most, individuals. These are scary emotions to feel and face. They are complex and messy, and feeling and expressing them requires certain risks of self-revelation. Oddly, a display of anger can seem like the safer option.
It’s so sad that the very emotions that make us human are so soften referred to as “negative” and are expected to be, to varying degrees, kept under wraps. Is it any wonder that, after a lifetime of social training to “never let them see you sweat” that we strap on the trappings of anger? Nah. It’s pretty natural. But it’s also pretty detrimental – and seriously exhausting – to our personal wellbeing and our relationships. And that can lead to even more fear and sadness – and even less self love, and even isolation.
Saints we are not. Not even close. All the more reason to allow ourselves to be fully human. Fears and sadness and regrets and anger and all. All the more reason to honor self-knowledge, feel our more tender emotions, and embrace the growth that letting go of (not) really angry responses can bring.