Runway Generals Jarhead Jargon :: Radical Honesty About Anger & Forgiveness Jargon
'How'd I get screwed into going to this dinner?" demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It's a Thursday night in mid-April, and the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sitting in a four-star suite at the Hôtel Westminster in Paris. He's in France to sell his new war strategy to our NATO allies – to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies. Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany's president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.
"The dinner comes with the position, sir," says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn.
McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.
"Hey, Charlie," he asks, "does this come with the position?"
McChrystal gives him the middle finger.
The general hates fancy restaurants, rejecting any place with candles on the tables as too "Gucci."
"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.
He pauses a beat.
"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."
With that, he's out the door.
"Who's he going to dinner with?" I ask one of his aides.
"Some French minister," the aide tells me. "It's fucking gay."
The general's staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There's a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority.
After arriving in Kabul last summer, Team America set about changing the culture of the International Security Assistance Force, as the NATO-led mission is known. (U.S. soldiers had taken to deriding ISAF as short for "I Suck at Fighting" or "In Sandals and Flip-Flops.") McChrystal banned alcohol on base, kicked out Burger King and other symbols of American excess, expanded the morning briefing to include thousands of officers and refashioned the command center into a Situational Awareness Room, a free-flowing information hub modeled after Mayor Mike Bloomberg's offices in New York.
When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal's side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn't hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny.
So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word "victory" when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.
Freedom Phoenix: .. A friend and long-time political observer predicts that the Republican establishment, .... plans to introduce the armed neocon Gen. Petraeus into the presidential race. He has the qualifications, after all. He’s a lifelong federal employee, he’s killed plenty of people, he has a smear of medals; he’s devoted to the empire; he’s believes in permanent, global war; and he pledges allegiance to the merchants of death. What’s not to like?
General Martin Dempsey: 18th Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff: Joint Force 2020: Future Options: Overview
PROBLEM SOLVING OPTION: Radical Honesty About Anger & Forgiveness
Excerpt from: Practicing Radical Honesty: How To Complete the Past, Stay In the Present, And Build a Future With a Little Help From Your Friends; By Brad Blanton, Ph.D.
(Author of: Radical Honesty: How To Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth)
PRACTICING RADICAL HONESTY'S CONTENTS:
- FORWARD BY NEALE DONALD WALSCH & AUTHOR'S PREFACE
- Introduction: The Decline of Individual Psychotherapy and the Rise of Therapeutic
- Living Under the Old Paradigm
- What Is A Mind And How Does It Work?
- Dysfunctional Family University, The World-Famous School Within Which We Grew
- The Truth About All Cultures
- Conscious Community and Conscious Child Rearing
- The Road From The Mind Jail Back To Being—The Sufi Levels Of Consciousness
- Adults Are Nothing But Large Children Who Have Forgotten How To Play
Part Two: Community and Compassion
- Community And Compassion
- Radical Honesty About Anger
- In Praise Of The Old Paradigm
- Creating Your Life
Part Three: Creating Your Own Destiny—The Workbook for Life Design
- Introduction to Part Three: The Workbook for Life Design
- A Programmatic Approach To Personal Growth
- Confronting The Past To Get Complete And Have Energy To Create
- Planning The Future So You Remain Called Forth From Your Mind
- On Continuously Being Centered In The Present And Using The Mind To Transcend
- The Life Purpose Statement
- What Is A Project Outline?
- Sample Domains And Projects—A System Of Organization
- Reformulation of Current Work Using the Project Write-Up
- The Umbrella Project
- Project Development Stages
- The Story Of An Evolving Project
Part Four: How to Speak and Listen Your Projects into Being
- Creating a Context
- It's A Lot Of Work To Make A New Story, Isn't It? Now What?
Part Five: Paradigms And Contexts: The Revolution Of Consciousness
- Introduction & Normal
- Creating A New Paradigm By Creating A New Context In An Old Paradigm
- A Sufficient Fundamental Identity–The Living Being In The Body From Moment To
- The Big Picture—The Larger Context For All Human Activities
- Intimacy and Community
- The United States of Being, A New Nation
- Declaration of Independence for a New Millennium
- Bibliography and Recommended Resources
- Annotated Resources
9. Radical Honesty About Anger
The main thing that keeps us attached to beliefs at lower levels of consciousness is our inability to forgive—which is our inability to get over belief about how things should or shouldn't be—which is the source of anger. So let's learn about anger.
If cultural transcendence is necessary to contact reality, and culture resides in the minds of individuals, and other participants in the culture disagree with any change because of attachment to the cultural values they have learned, both internal and external conflict are inevitable. This means anger is inevitable. Anger cannot be avoided; it has to be gone through and gotten over. Getting over being mad, or finding the capacity for forgiveness, is absolutely necessary for both individual personal growth and cultural change. So one of the most critical questions to be answered for any person willing to grow beyond their cultural provincialism is: How do you get over being mad?
Not Catharsis, Just Full Disclosure
Radical honesty is a powerful process by which people can make corrections in the mind's distorted and only partly conscious map of the world. By sharing secret memories, thoughts, and models—by putting into the public domain among friends what had been hidden and defended—we have a chance to break free of the paradigm of limiting beliefs that we developed in the past. These are the beliefs to which we are emotionally attached; the ones our minds defend as though we ourselves are threatened. The paradigms that allowed us to survive as children within the family within the culture must be transcended so we can thrive as adults. We do not give up attachments without a lot of practice. Central to that practice is the process of getting mad and getting over it.
There is great freedom in releasing the heavy load of pretense—and the uniquely distorted view of life made necessary by the vicissitudes of how we were raised. Not only is there freedom, but space is created for true intimacy with current friends and lovers, through forgiveness of begrudged caregivers from the past. To do that, we have to get mad at them and get over it by going through it with them, if they are alive, or with the assistance of a skillful therapist or trainer if they are dead.
Getting free of the tyranny of the human mind is the first step in the process of becoming a creator. Creators change cultures and families from dysfunctional to functional.
This chapter focuses on honesty about anger because it is the linchpin to learning to be free from domination by the mind. Freedom from domination by the mind for individuals and then families and then small communities and then larger communities is the key to creating a new functional culture. Developing skill in detachment through learning how to get over anger that comes from attachment and consequently loosening the attachment is as critical to social change as it is to personal growth.
Getting Over Being Mad
There is a specific technology for getting over being mad. Getting over being mad is called forgiveness. It is not easy to do. Essentially you have to get mad in the presence of the person you are mad at, be present to your experience in your body while being mad, be specific and not abstract about what you are mad about, and stay in touch with the experience and the person and the conversation until you are not mad anymore.
Our minds, as well as a lot of experts, tell us to avoid this at all costs. Most of us, most of the time, would rather just stay mad and think about it and invent categories full of negative judgment for the rotten jerks who made us mad and look for further proof that we are right and they are wrong. It's more fun and it's easier to do.
Unfortunately, the "easy" way is the one most damaging to ourselves and others and it doesn't work. The only way to get over the depression and anxiety and fury and physical illness caused by this way of avoidance is to get a prescription from psychiatrists or other physicians for drugs that help you avoid feelings. The drug companies are always there to serve, with lots of variety and plenty of support and lots of good advice and tons of alternative "mother's little helpers." If that doesn't work, illegal painkillers of various kinds are easily obtained. The old paradigm is powerful in keeping itself in charge and the opiates for the people are
Furthermore, there is lots of advice by experts who will be concerned for your welfare and willing to fix your upset with many congenial old paradigm explanations and things you can do to avoid dealing with your anger. You have heard of or tried many of these ways, I am sure. But let me just review a few of the phony solutions to anger.
If anyone has ever told you that you can forgive someone by just deciding to forgive them, that person was wrong. If you believe you can forgive someone by just deciding to, you're sadly mistaken and you have fooled yourself out of getting over your anger. If you think you can forgive someone you are mad at by praying, thinking, writing letters and sending them, writing letters and not sending them, doing "therapy," talking to someone else about it, "acting out" in a protective environment, beating pillows, shouting at other folks, becoming "spiritual" or "attaining enlightenment" or any of the other methods of avoidance of face-to-face forgiveness that millions of minds have derived as a way to avoid the work of forgiveness and the experience of forgiveness, you are likewise, like all of them, still delusional and still angry.
Seriously, the way you get over being so serious about what you are angry about is to face it and face the person you are mad at if they are still on this earth and work through it until it gets funny. If the person is dead, there are other ways to forgive them without digging them up, but those ways don't work if you are engaged in a conspiracy with your therapist to avoid contact and honest sharing of your anger with the living people you are mad at.
Being Specific and Getting Face-to-Face About Resentments
We have been taught all our lives to abstract from our experience to be able to take control of the experience. This absolutely does not work when you are mad. When you abstract from your experience when you are mad, you displace your anger by redirecting it to the emotional support of an idea that makes you right and the other person wrong. If you want to get over being mad, you have to come back down from the principle, to the experience of being mad—away from the general principle and in the direction of the specific events that preceded the abstraction. You have to say to the person's face, what the person did or said that made you mad.
Forget about explaining why. You don't know why, anyway. Drop the explanation. Just resent them for what they did and don't justify anything. You are petty. We all are. You are crazy. We all are. Go ahead and be petty and crazy and do it out loud and magnify the experience.
Getting through the experience of anger by getting into the experience of anger is accomplished with a simultaneity of contact with the other person and one's own experience in the body at the moment of speaking the resentment. Staying present with the person you resent and to the sensations in your body that you associate with resentment, while being completely willing to experience the resentment and communicating it contactfully to the person being resented, results in the resentment going away. You use the phrase, "I resent you for…" and name the specific behavior committed or words said (and perhaps tone of voice used) by the person, while looking the person in the eye and speaking directly to them in a voice with pitch and volume appropriate to the degree of resentment.
In this moment, you are describing something simple that occurred that both of you can remember (rather than an abstract interpretation of right or wrong or good or evil.) This allows you to stay focused on your sensate experience rather than paying attention to your own explanation. Your explanation is just your mind's paranoid way of trying to ensure its survival.
As satisfying as righteousness is, we have to give it up. We might have to play it up in the process of giving it up. So if you want to go on a righteous tirade, go on it, but don't quit there. Keep going until you get specific about exactly what got you so damned mad. We have to do this to get to where we can play with each other again. We do this to get over taking our violated expectations too seriously. We do this to be more powerful in creating together a life of play and service for each other. Get mad and get over it. Forgive and go on and create. This process is critical to transcendence of belief. The following major excerpts from the chapter on Anger from Radical Honesty describe the methodology of forgiveness.
How to Deal with Anger
Author and teacher and life experimenter Sam Keen says, "We human beings are Homo Hostilus, the hostile species, the enemy-making animal. We are driven to fabricate an enemy as a scapegoat to bear the burden of our denied enmity." The way we can own what we are attempting to disown by blaming and categorizing and attacking others is
to do it out loud in front of them and get over it.
A famous war story tells of a platoon of soldiers who had been fighting together as a unit for some time. One night, an enemy soldier lobbed a grenade into their midst. For a few seconds everyone froze. Suddenly, a private dove on the grenade with his helmet. It detonated under him. The man was destroyed, but the other men were saved by his heroism. One outstanding characteristic of human beings is that they are sometimes willing to sacrifice their lives to save others. Such acts of courage are honored, as they should be, as the highest expression of love.
But one of the greatest tragedies possible is great courage wasted. Many of us deal with anger in much the same way as the private in the story deals with the grenade. We consider anger a life-threatening experience. Anger wells up in us, seemingly from out of nowhere, and we imagine it will injure everyone we love if we let it go off. Without even thinking, we smother the anger the way the private smothered the grenade. We sacrifice ourselves to protect our friends and family.
What makes meaningless sacrifices look like heroism is ignorance.
History is full of pitiful, wonderful, pathetic heroes who sacrificed their lives to save those they loved from some imagined threat that seemed real at the time but turned out not to be. The tragedy of the useless sacrifice of life has been around for as long as human beings have been around and will remain central to the definition of humanity until we learn to create ourselves differently.
Our greatest heroism, our willingness to surrender life itself for our loved ones, and our greatest tragedy, the mistaken and useless sacrifice of our own and others' lives for meaningless causes, are central to the tragic joke we are. Nowhere is the waste of courage and love better demonstrated than in everyday cases of the unsung heroes of anger. In every case, the hero is a fool. His courage is wasted. The hero's fear of the devastating effect of anger is entirely unrealistic. He or she overestimates the destructive power of anger and feels that it must be controlled even if it means sacrificing his or her life. What is even worse is that the poor fool dies over and over again, a little piece at a time. Anger is not a grenade.
Anger is merely an experience, made up of sensations.
Many of us consider ourselves to be heroes and heroines when we are just damned fools. Only the people who live with such heroic fools seem to recognize them for what they are. Such recognition exacerbates the problem, for nothing makes your average fool more angry than having to live with a useless ingrate who doesn't appreciate the heroic sacrifices that have been made for his or her benefit. To make things worse, the "useless ingrate" usually sees himself or herself as another unappreciated hero, sacrificing self-expression for the health of the relationship.
As we accumulate resentment for not being appreciated for sacrificing our lives to protect others, our acts of love and courage become poisoned memories. The person who loved you and whom you used to love becomes the biggest pain of your life.
Fifty-three percent of people who get married in the United States get divorced. That is not the worst of it. The worst is, of the forty-seven percent remaining, most of those relationships are angry people tolerating each other and suppressing hostility. They are miserable people who are more terrified of being alone than of living in the misery they know and are familiar with.
The contrast between self-perception and perception by others stands out clearly in my work with couples and families, in which I am privy to the ongoing arguments between martyr-heroes and hero-martyrs. People really get mad when they're resented for withholding anger—something for which they feel they should be appreciated. But, contrary to popular belief, people always resent being withheld from and lied to, even if it was done for their own protection. Withheld anger destroys relationships by sucking the aliveness out of them. For aliveness to be restored, both to the relationships and the individual, anger must be expressed and fully experienced. When you experience an experience, it goes away. When you resist experiencing an experience, it persists. It stays and takes new form and elaborates itself and fuels the collection of further evidence of the malice and badness of the scapegoat who made you mad in the first place.
Direct and Indirect Expressions of Anger
How does a person in the habit of suppressing anger learn to express it? Expressing anger takes practice and is a process that improves over time. The way anger is expressed has everything to do with the outcome of an argument. When anger is expressed in such a way that both people are fully present to the experience, the anger eventually goes away, and the people have a new opening in their relationship.
Anger is universal, but methods of expression vary. The continuum of expression ranges from murder to total suppression and cover-up. The continuum can be divided into two parts, indirect expression and direct expression. All indirect forms of expressing anger are dysfunctional, sick and stupid. Many direct forms fail as well. Many people have tried to express anger directly at one time or another but have given up because, as some have said, "It only seems to make things worse." It does make things worse for a short time, but much better over the long run. When people don't get good results from the direct expression of anger, the odds are the anger wasn't completely expressed.
Probably one or both people were mad, but trying to be decent and fair at the same time.
We all know and can sympathize with the dilemma. Trying to be fair and mad at the same time turns out to be ridiculous and feeds the fury. Trying to be constructive while wanting to destroy is a real dilemma, a division of energy between opposing goals, and confusing. Divided expression doesn't work. This self-opposition with regard to expressing anger is what perpetuates anger. To express anger fully, we must give up most of our constraints on it. We must inhibit killing and physical violence. But we must be willing to be angry rather than decent and fair, because angry, rather than decent and fair, is what we presently are. After we are angry,
we may be decent and fair, but we will never be authentically angry or authentically fair while we are struggling to be both at once.
Anger is Universally Human; Ways of Handling Anger Are Culturally Varied
It is human to feel angry, just as it is human to feel love, desire, or fear. Anger is not in itself a problem. Children periodically get mad, raise hell, and get over it. Sometimes they win and get their way and sometimes they lose, but they usually get over it. Adults, however, persist in using learned ways of handling anger that don't work. This attachment to fruitless strategies is the problem, more than the anger itself.
Anger is bound to happen to all human beings from being little, less strong, and dependent on others for a long, long, time. It seems like it takes forever to get big. All children get mad in all cultures. Some babies are fussier than others to start with, but all babies are in for disappointment as they grow older. The older they grow, the more disappointments they experience. And they protest angrily. Parental response to these early instances of protest is the start of long-term cultural conditioning. Some cultures are angrier than others. Some cultures do a poorer job of responding to natural anger than others.
As soon as we become capable of having expectations, we become capable of protesting not having them met. As Norman O. Brown points out in Life Against Death, if being neurotic is protesting against the world being as it is, neurosis is built in to growing up. The definition of a neurotic is someone who incessantly demands, in a rigid stylized form, that the world be other than it is. We are all neurotic from time to time. We earn the label only through persistence over time. If someone gets drunk a few times she hasn't yet qualified as an alcoholic, but if she persists she earns the right to the category. On numerous occasions, and at all stages of growing up, all of us behave neurotically. Whether we adopt the neurotic protest as a stand in life, as an incessant theme, and as a way of being, depends on a lot of factors, the most important of which is how we handle the anger that comes with disappointed expectations.
In our culture, when we are older we still experience anger, but we no longer permit ourselves to be angry and to express anger at the same time. Therefore, we don't get over it as quickly as we did when we were younger. We learn, in the course of growing up, after getting punished for anger and losing a few battles, that it is smarter to hide our anger than to express it. We are raised to believe that we should get angry only at certain times, at certain people, and only if we are "right." Because we all get angry all the time, at the wrong people, at the wrong times, and for the wrong reasons, we learn early in life that the way to deal with this unwanted anger is to keep it hidden. The best thing to do with anger, we are taught, is to lie about it. Maybe if we act like it isn't there, it will go away. Maybe we can just "get over it."
Unfortunately, avoidance doesn't work. We cannot avoid unwanted experiences—like sexual excitement and anger—at the wrong times toward the wrong people just by thinking we shouldn't be having them. Denial, the most primitive and least effective defense against these feelings, stubbornly persists even though it never works. When we deny anger, the way we perceive the world and the way we conceive of the people in it become distorted. The rest of our lives are colored by the distorted perception of the world resulting from the stockpile of denied and withheld anger.
The little nests of morality tales about anger that make up our Judeo-Christian-Greek culture, that our children learn from fairy tales and schooling, don't help them to handle anger. Rather, they help them to be inauthentic, neurotic, deceptive, alienated, lying, miserable people.
When anger is not expressed directly, it is expressed indirectly. So it gets expressed but not experienced. If anger is not expressed directly, it is not experienced directly. Unless you experience anger in the body and acknowledge the experience, the anger does not complete itself—does not discharge, subside, and go away. When anger is expressed indirectly, in ways that are calculated to avoid the experience of anger, anger gets stored up rather than dissipating. The experience of anger is converted to thoughts about the resented person—judgments, complaints, conclusions, and imaginary conversations. When you are preoccupied with thoughts about someone toward whom you are angry, you become distracted.
"You're driving me to distraction!" my mother used to say. Forgetting agreements, standing people up, mildly criticizing most of another's behavior, having accidents, making mistakes, accidentally saying things to hurt others, and forgetting people's names are all indirect expressions of anger.
Anger of this kind is dangerous, much more so than the short-term explosive kind. This is the form of anger with which we have been poisoned and with which we continue to poison our children. This form of anger accumulates and is the direct cause of physical abuse in our society. As difficult as it may be for our minds to accept, the direct expression of resentment works better than the suppression of anger to protect ourselves and each other from damage by anger. When we communicate our resentment to the person we resent, the anger dissipates more completely in the moment of expression and shortly thereafter. The anger may get cranked up to a higher pitch than seems reasonable in many small arguments, but the intensity of the experience allows the heat out where it can cool. Often the intensity is because of a number of associated events from the past where anger was not handled sufficiently, making the current expression part of a healing process that frees the angry person from limitations imposed and anger denied in the past.
People can get over being mad if they face resentment one instance at a time. People who are willing to do that with each other are a gift to each other. They contribute to each other's liberation and healing of wounds from the past. Even if the person toward whom we are angry doesn't change, agree to change, or apologize, we can still forgive that person for our own benefit. Forgiveness always benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven.
The extreme alternative to this one-step-at-a-time approach is to be a mass murderer, like the youngest kid to make Eagle Scout in Boy Scout history, get good grades, always be nice, become a good Marine and then go up in the tower at the University of Texas and shoot to kill everybody in sight for two hours. I was on the campus in Austin, Texas, when that extra good boy killed and injured all those people.
Displaced anger is the problem of the age. The people who died on battlefields in the twentieth century all died in the defense of some principle of rightness. Most of them were just kids. Most of them were being obedient and righteous. Most of them were scared. Most were angry, they thought, at some common enemy of the time in the socially approved way. Most of them were fighting to save their loved ones from some ignorant imaginary threat that probably could have been fixed by the honest expression of resentment between one or two people, or at worst, by killing only one or two people. Most of them were adolescents ganging together in a common cause of righteous murder to protect their parents who taught them to handle their anger that way. These kids, who were polite to their mothers and obedient to their fathers, were pitiful ignorant heroes, and the sacrifice of their lives was a waste.
So this is what happens with anger: as children grow, they are constantly overpowered, cared for, and controlled; childhood expressions of anger against stronger adults are punished, either overtly or covertly. Or worse, the angry expressions are condescendingly moralized about. As children, we do the best we can to copy approved ways of dealing with anger to avoid getting punished for it. The result, at least in our culture, is that most people don't express anger directly. It's not that they don't know they're angry or that they won't talk about their anger; they do and they will. Most people, however, won't express their resentment in person to the person at whom they are angry. Instead, they gossip, complain, criticize, fantasize about telling the person off, and let it out in other indirect ways. Suppression and displacement to ideals, indignation, and judgments (against others and ourselves) usually work well enough that by the time we males reach eighteen years of age and some elder idiot tells us to kill some people to defend some principle, we run right out and do it.
Undoing the Learned Suppression of Anger
Overcoming completely the learned suppression of anger is, I think, a futile objective. We have been too well trained to lie. Some people do become less angry, and less crippled by denial, through psychotherapy and some workshops and trainings. Some people come to terms with their anger and acknowledge its influence on their lives to a greater degree and become less helpless when they do get angry. Some people get over being depressed from suppressing anger. Others don't have much luck with it.
Everyone who experiments with telling the truth about anger at least finds out that people don't die if you tell them you resent them for something they said or did. In fact, more often than not, when people tell the truth about their feelings, relationships get better, even if the truth is about hatred.
The transition from being a foolish hero or heroine to being free of the fear of anger is a therapeutic process you can engage in by agreement with people with whom you have committed relationships. Expressing resentment directly is a requirement for creating an authentic relationship between two human beings instead of an entanglement of two minds.
Agreeing to tell the truth about anger in a committed relationship is a way to get over some of the damage and suffering that comes from how you were raised. It is a way of losing your mind and coming to your senses and experiencing yourself as a being, rather than as a jumble of morals gleaned from whatever your sad story may be. It is a way of growing beyond primitive foolishness to a more advanced form.
Telling the Truth About Anger for the Sake of Forgiveness
Telling the truth about anger means making a present-tense statement about your experience, while angry, to the person with whom you are angry. No one can have much luck getting over anger-sickness unless they can tell the truth about their experience in the present and in the presence of the person they are mad at. I'm not saying you should tell the truth to be a good or better person. This is not meant as a moral principle, but as a functional guideline. Telling the truth about your anger lets you function better in a pragmatic way, achieving your goals and enjoying the process, instead of feeling driven by forces beyond your control. When you are willing to have an experience be as it is, prior to categorizing the experience as "good" or "bad," and you don't waste all your energy trying to avoid or lie about the experience, you have a choice about how you can respond to that experience.
One of the hallmarks of suppressed anger is helplessness. You can detect the language of helplessness in such phrases as,
- "I can't."
- "They made me."
- "It's no use."
- "It doesn't really matter," and
- "You just don't understand."
Power is assigned to forces outside the speaker. Power on the part of the speaker is disowned.
The following example of a couple's interaction in my office illustrates an angry client being directed to make a present-tense statement about her experience, rather than remaining lost in her mind.
THERAPIST: "Anne, I want you to look at David and tell him what you resent him for."
ANNE: (looks at David and then back at the therapist) "He never listens to me. I can't talk to him about anything important and he has no interest in my life."
THERAPIST: "Look at David and tell him, not me."
ANNE: (looks at David and reddens) "You never listen to me. I can't talk to you." (She looks back at the therapist for approval.)
DAVID: "Yeah, right. I do listen to you." (Anne glances at her husband, then makes a "See what I mean?" gesture to the therapist.)
THERAPIST: "Anne, first of all, I want you to keep looking at David, not at me, and allow yourself to remain in touch with him even if you start to feel uncomfortably angry. Secondly, be more specific. Complete the sentence 'I resent you for…' with something he actually said or did."
ANNE: "I'm not angry; I'm just upset about not being listened to. He treats me like a child and I'm sick of putting up with it."
THERAPIST: "You're lying. You are angry, and you're unwilling so far to experiment with your anger to see what would happen if you were direct, instead of indirect and poisonous, in your expression of it. If you could tell him directly and expressively what you resent him for, you may find that you feel less helpless and less dominated by David."
ANNE: "I knew you'd take his side! You're just like a prosecuting attorney putting a rape victim on trial. I don't need to spend two hours and all this money to be berated; I can stay home and get that for free." (David has been reacting throughout
this exchange with dramatic sighs, scowls, and derisive laughter. Anne now turns to face him.)
ANNE: "I resent you for laughing at me, you…you…pig!" (Tears have welled up in her eyes.)
THERAPIST: "Good! Keep going!"
ANNE (holding out her hand for a tissue) "I can't…it makes me cry and I don't want to cry." (She attempts to control her tears; she closes her eyes, blows her nose, and then covers her face with her hands. After a moment, she lifts her head and faces
David again.) "I resent you for laughing at me just now. I resent you for laughing at me whenever I'm serious. I resent you for…for…for never listening to me." (They stare at each other. Anne has stopped crying. Her face is red and blotchy; her body is rigid; her breathing is rapid. David looks serious now, and his jaw muscles work. He is just perceptibly nodding.)
THERAPIST: "Good, Anne. What do you feel in your body right now?"
ANNE: (takes a deep breath) "Okay."
THERAPIST: "'Okay' is an evaluation. I want a description of what you are feeling in your body."
ANNE: "I'm tense all over. My…my…I'm breathing fast. My hands are shaking."
DAVID: "Your face is red."
ANNE: (shouting) "F_ _ _ YOU!"
DAVID: (loudly) "F_ _ _ YOU!!" (They look at each other, furious .)
THERAPIST: "Good. David, you'll get your turn to express all your resentment, but I want to focus on Anne and have her complete hers first. Anne, keep going; you're doing great.
Staying in touch with your experience in your body, tell David specifically what you resent him for."
ANNE: "I resent you for telling me my face was red. I resent you for NOT LISTENING TO ME, YOU ARROGANT SONOFABITCH!" (She throws her tissue at him.)
THERAPIST: "Good! What specific things has he said or done that you interpreted as him not listening to you?"
ANNE: (pauses, considers) "He turns on the TV when I'm in the middle of saying something to him. I can be saying that Martians are invading and the kitchen is on fire, and he'll go, 'Wait a sec, it's third down.'"
THERAPIST: "When did he last do this?"
ANNE: "Um…Monday, I came home from work and I was telling him how upset I was about not getting this project that he knew was so important to me and he totally ignored me!"
DAVID: "Jesus, Anne, you started talking to me right in the middle of a game and it was an important part and I just asked you to wait until the commercial to tell me!"
ANNE (to Therapist) "Do you think it's too much to ask a husband to stop watching a football game for a few minutes to pay attention to his obviously distraught wife?"
DAVID: "You purposely bring up these melodramas when I'm in the middle of something!"
THERAPIST: "Wait, wait. You're both getting sidetracked into trying to prove, and get me to adjudicate, the rightness of your cases. Instead of focusing on the legality of your position, I want you to focus on your anger and your experience and express your anger without having to justify it. Anne, tell David you resent him for what he did Monday night and make it good and loud and direct and without justification.
ANNE: (takes a deep breath, turns back to David) "I resent you for turning to the football game as I was talking to you about my project!"
THERAPIST: "What do you notice in your experience?"
ANNE: "I'm feeling sort of…charged up. Tingling."
THERAPIST: "Say the same resentment again, with more expression."
ANNE: "I resent you for watching the football game while I was talking to you about not getting my project!" (She stops, looking at David, breathing more quickly. She leans forward.) "I RESENT YOU FOR WATCHING THAT STUPID FOOTBALL GAME WHILE I WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!!!!" she shouts, rising out of her chair. (She is shaking; her hair is flying; her fists are clenched. She sits back down, panting.)
THERAPIST: "What do you notice?"
ANNE: "I feel a lot of energy. I'm certainly not crying anymore." She laughs.
DAVID: "What's so funny?"
ANNE: "I don't know. Partly it feels good just to let loose. Partly, I'm laughing because I just realized that my mother used to complain to my dad all the time for the same thing. It's like it's the same stinkin' football game from thirty years ago, still on."
(She laughs again.)
The point of this work is clear. With patience and repetition, the client learns to be mad and pay attention to what she experiences in her body at the same time. Anne eventually got in touch with her experience of resentment, and after a while got over it. What came out after she wasn't so mad at David anymore was her resentment of her father for ignoring her, for giving her advice, for being cold when she made less than perfect grades, for criticizing her boyfriends, and so on. The anger that she was denying by claiming helplessness resulted in her saying she "couldn't" talk to her husband. The anger had a history in her belief about "not being able" to talk to her father. Later, she had a dialogue with an empty chair in which she imagined her father was sitting. She switched sides back and forth, becoming at one time her father and another time herself. In this imaginary situation, she told her father all the things she resented him for quite expressively and then played him telling her his resentments.
Later on in therapy, she agreed to spend three days with her father, and tell him her resentments, and stay in touch with her experience. She went on vacation with David and both her parents. When she came back from that trip, she was elated. She said, "When I left there, I was willing and even excited by the prospect of seeing my father again the next time we can get together. For the first time I can remember, I thought something other than, 'Well, I got through that visit.' While we were still at the beach with my parents, David and I talked about our relationship and about my relationship with my father. We argued some, and we both cried some. We came up with some new ground rules for our marriage—including telling the truth to each other, particularly about things we are mad about. One night, he and my dad and mom and I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning talking about everything, including what makes us mad at each other, but also about what we appreciate and a bunch of other stuff. We had a great time!"
Admitting Being Upset, Denying Being Angry
Generally, people are willing to admit that they feel "upset," but not that they are angry. We remember the adage, "If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all." Forget that. Do the reverse. And, when expressing anger, you'll do better when you overstate the case.
Since we too often underplay anger, we need to overplay our expression.
Most of us don't know how to identify clearly what anger feels like inside our bodies. We attend to our many racing thoughts, focusing on the rightness or wrongness of the conversation we just had instead of tuning in to our experience in the moment. We ignore our racing heart and the flush of heat in our face and the tension building in our shoulders and the tightening of our stomachs. When we do acknowledge these feelings, we do so only at an abstract level that subsumes too much experience. We say we are "upset" about some general set of behaviors on someone
else's part. Even acknowledging "upset" is a first step; some of us deny even that. The second step is admitting that our "upset" is anger.
The third step is speaking resentments specifically and in contact with one's own body and the eyes of the other person.
Other Clues About the Ongoing Denial of Anger
Lots of behaviors indicate anger. If you gossip about someone to someone else, you are angry. You haven't completely expressed your resentment to that person you gossiped about. Another tip-off is breaking your word while trying not to. When you find yourself "trying," struggling, striving without any results, look for whom you are trying to please: you are probably mad at them.
Another clue is self-condemnation. Instead of condemning yourself and calling yourself a rotten, weak, or stupid person, ask yourself, "Whom am I mad at?" Don't let yourself off the hook with the rationalization, "I'm just mad at myself." This is worthless. You postulate two people, "I" and "myself," who are mad at each other. You can only be mad at yourself if you are schizophrenic. "Roses are red. Violets are blue. I'm schizophrenic and so am I." Put the two pieces back together and discover whom you are mad at. When you have a choice of being mad at someone else or mad at yourself, always pick someone else, dummy. Most people think selfcondemnation is a virtue; it's not.
Another hint of hidden anger is perfectionism. People who are proud of being perfectionists and for whom hardly anything is ever good enough are angry at someone else.
"Love your neighbor as yourself" doesn't mean that you are supposed to lie about anger; it means to tell the petty, unreasonable, unjustifiable truth—good and loud and direct so you can authentically get over it so you can love that neighbor for real again, not phony it up and talk about how nice they are while lying through your teeth. Try treating other people as poorly as you treat yourself. At times, being honest about your anger is the only way you have of sharing who you are. Love is sharing what you have, even if you're having a fit. Telling the truth is loving your neighbor.
Stupid Questions, Dumb Ideas, and Inane Rationalizations
People ask me, "Why do I have to express my anger directly to another person? Isn't it possible to just forget about it or just understand the other person's situation and forgive him?" The answer is no. You cannot forgive someone else without expressing your resentment directly to her or him. We can all make up plenty of legitimate-sounding reasons for continuing to avoid or withhold from the resented person.
- "There's no point in bringing it up again. It's over. And, besides, I'm not angry anymore." (Then why do you keep thinking about it? Why do you keep bringing it up?)
- "I believe in forgiveness." (As if "believing" in forgiveness could make you forgive somebody when you haven't.)
- "She probably didn't mean what she said. She just had a really bad day." (As if you could reason yourself out of the experience of being angry.)
- "I can't even remember what I was mad about." (Meaning, "I'd rather not remember so I don't have to feel uncomfortable.")
- "I think I do the same things that I accuse him of doing, so I can't really blame him." (But you do blame him.)
- "She has many other wonderful qualities. I don't want to harp on the negatives." (So you lose touch with your appreciation of her soon after you lose touch with your resentment.)
All these explanations sound forgiving and noble, which they would be if they were experiences rather than ideas. The problem is not that these ideas are inaccurate or wrong. The problem is that ideas about forgiveness are not forgiveness. They don't even help. What you are left with is the experience of resentment and the concept of forgiveness—and a deteriorating relationship. These explanations are generated by your mind so that you can avoid the experience of anger. As you are saying or thinking these thoughts, you are busying yourself to avoid feeling anger.
Forgiving someone with whom you are angry—actually experiencing forgiving him—only happens after you tell him what he did or said that you resent. Only when you allow yourself to experience and express anger openly will it disappear. Thinking and deciding what to do about the person only serves to suppress the anger. Even though you think the anger is over, it will manifest itself in other ways. Your communication will be less honest and spontaneous; you may be more critical of him; you may find being with him more physically tiring, may forget appointments with him, and may find yourself inexplicably angry at him more and more.
After a while, your friendship may feel more superficial than before and you may not like spending as much time with him as you used to. If you live with the person, you may feel a difference in the quality of time you spend together. You may notice that you'd rather stare at the television than look into his eyes. Before long, you are living in a sad country song, crying in your beer alone full of nostalgia about "what once was but kin never be agin."
It takes a lot of courage to change this. You must be willing for things to get worse before they get better.
My Anger May Not Be Right
Most resentments are irrational, unreasonable, stupid, and based on incomplete information. Making a successful case for how your resentment is "right" and how the other person is "wrong" isn't the solution; it's the problem. We human beings are all selfish and unfair and it's worse than useless to pretend we aren't. It is common for children to resent a younger sibling for being the baby of the family. Is that the baby's fault? Did the baby choose to be born last in the family?
It seems unfair to resent people for things over which they have no control. We're all unfair. It's unreasonable to resent younger siblings, whom we also love, for getting more attention than we do, but the truth is that we still resent them. It's unreasonable to resent parents for growing old, babies for crying, men for being men, or women for being women or loved ones for dying. But we do. We all do. Our decision not to express our resentment is based on a deeply held belief that our anger has to be justified, righteous, and legitimate. It doesn't. To be free of anger, we have to give up this belief and allow our resentments and other people's resentments to be expressed even if they are completely irrational.
One of the reasons that getting over the loss of a loved one takes a long time is the refusal of people to admit that they are furious at the dead person for dying. It doesn't make sense to hate someone for dying—they didn't do it on purpose. We do hate them, though. Every one of us hates people we love who die on us. We are psychological beings and not logical beings. We are humans, not Vulcans like Mr. Spock of Star Trek. So, when you tell the truth about your resentments, you may look like a fool. Well, you are a fool! At least if you admit it you will be in good company. One thing for sure is this: the biggest fools of all are the ones wasting their lives pretending not to be fools.
Fairness versus Forgiveness
Many of us are concerned about fairness and use the principle of fairness as our primary rationalization for withholding anger. Advanced instruction in this principle creates lawyers who are miserable people. Divorces handled by lawyers often result in children shot back and forth like missiles between hostile camps. If you force yourself to be fair while still angry, you are a fool, and any agreements you make in such a state won't work for you. Judges and lawyers ignore this fact. Judges and lawyers exist for people who can't handle their anger. A judge tells you what to do, based on what he or she thinks is fair, whether you like it or not, because you haven't been able to work things out on your own.
There is a better way to fight that turns out to be equitable in the long run, even though it may look uncivilized and unfair in the beginning. It might not seem fair to express what seems like intense resentment for petty reasons in the beginning, but the advantages become clear by the time the argument is over. Things turn out fairly when, and only when, people get over being angry. The result of experimenting with this kind of interaction is very dramatic.
The major benefit of expressing your anger completely to someone is that, afterward, you can forgive him or her. The reason for forgiving your enemies is not for their benefit but for your own benefit. Holding grudges against other people doesn't hurt them; it doesn't even bother them much —in fact, it even pleases them if they are still mad at you. It's not in your enlightened self-interest to hold grudges, regardless of whether it bothers the person you hate or not. Unless you develop the capacity to do what it takes to forgive other people, you can't tell your story from reality, you can't forgive yourself, and you stay trapped in moral condemnation in your mind. Your body stays tied in knots and susceptible to illness and you can be sure of a bad life and lousy relationships with anyone else you pair up with, even if you leave the person you hate.
The "Dangerous Practical Consequences" Rationalization
You might protest, "The reasons I have for not expressing anger deal with real consequences that might ensue if I blew up at someone. For instance, I might lose my job." Yes, you might. However, there is a greater possibility that by not expressing your anger, you will sabotage your relationship with your boss or coworkers to the point where you may as well quit, or will end up quitting or getting fired. Perhaps you start missing days, making mistakes, or just being more interested in making the boss or coworkers wrong than in supporting them, him, or her. Maybe you withhold your enthusiasm a little. The job will become less satisfying, and the rewards of keeping your job will be far outweighed by the aggravation of having to put up with these people. This will occur in direct relation to how much you feel you have to withhold your anger when you are at work.
In addition to less satisfaction and poorer performance, the hidden costs include reduced physical health and repercussions in your family life. I am not encouraging you to lose your job, nor am I encouraging you to keep it.
You probably won't lose it; in fact, your relationship with your boss and your coworkers will probably improve if you confront them. But even if there is a risk you will lose it, be aware of the costs of hanging on to it.
Usually, what happens is you get a lifeless, depressing job and an unhappy family life for your effort. Eventually, even that tradeoff doesn't work. We have an oversupply of cowards with lousy, dead, depressing jobs and lousy, dead, depressing family lives. We don't need any more. Don't volunteer for that job. Damaged heroes with misdirected courage abound.
I have coached a lot of people through conflicts at work in private industry and the government, and many of my clients have climbed to the top of their professions. What seems clear to me is that people don't often advance by simply hoping for the best and behaving themselves. A lot of people waste their time being well-behaved employees, avoiding the risk of telling the truth about resentment, hoping for advancement. The people who actually get to the top are both more nasty and more loving. They are not good little passive-aggressive obedient people. They are more likely to be trouble. Maybe some of them got kicked upstairs because more passive people couldn't stand putting up with them anymore. Some got promoted because they stopped being willing to stand around and gossip about who was to blame for their unhappiness. By not expressing resentment directly, many people bring about the result they were trying to avoid in the first place—they stay stuck or lose their jobs. Through carefulness and politeness and good behavior, they choke themselves down to being bored, burdensome, stressed-out, miserable, pathetic people nobody wants to be around. Unless they are civil servants, some of these people do lose their jobs. Some remain working for the government as paperweights.
I am attempting to answer all the objections to being honest about anger that have come up in arguments with people from our culture with me before. Keep reading; we're almost through.
Will Telling the Truth About Anger Destroy Our Relationship?
Many of us won't express anger with a loved one. We believe that if we expressed our resentment, it would destroy our relationship and our beloved would leave us. But without the freedom to tell the truth about our experience, our relationships inevitably suffer. When we express only our appreciation and withhold our anger, we lose our ability to be fully present with the ones we love, and, sooner or later, we become less able to appreciate them. This is often why relationships end and families break up. Repressing anger to control other people's behavior (in this case, to keep them from leaving) is ultimately what leads to our inability to make contact with them. Repressed anger blocks the flow of love and creativity that we once experienced around them, and generates a flurry of thoughts for us to get caught up in. The more we are caught up in our thoughts, the less present we are to the other person and to what is happening in our own moment-to-moment experience.
Once you start getting more honest with yourself about your judgmental, angry mind, you find yourself confronting this question: "How can I express my resentment in such a way that I strengthen, rather than destroy, my relationships with others?" There are ways of expressing anger that work, and there are ways of expressing anger that make the situation worse. The ways that work the best make things worse for a
while, and better later. These are the ones you want. Most people express anger ineffectively, and then, when they see how uncomfortable the situation has become, decide that it's best to leave those feelings hidden.
Their conclusion is incorrect. It is best to learn how to fight so that the air between you and the other person is cleared. When you have "cleared the air," you are free to relate in a brand-new way to that person rather than to your ideas about the person.
My Anger is Too Explosive: I Might Hurt Someone
In the beginning, an attempt to change the habit of smothering anger can be explosive. The backed-up fund of resentment is released in a torrent.
The first blow-up seems like a nuclear explosion, both because of its magnitude and because it contrasts so dramatically with former politeness. After a little practice, the explosions become like conventional bombs, then like dynamite, and then like firecrackers. The eventual goal is to have hundreds of tiny explosions a minute, like an internal combustion engine. This anger is good fuel to burn; it's what makes Sammy run.
What usually happens without a good guide through the initial explosive experiences is that the person runs away from the experience. For this reason, the progression down the path from "explosion" to "engine" doesn't occur. If a therapist or coach or friend can support an angry person to stay with the experience of being angry even a few seconds longer with each explosion, the cure for phony heroics can begin. Paying attention to the experience you are feeling in your body while angry is the key to learning how to use anger rather than having anger use you.
One has to look and listen carefully to distinguish between a phony expression of anger and an authentic one. A noisy expression of anger is not always the truth. The over-expression of anger can also be a form of lying, or a way of covering over other feelings, like grief. Some loudmouthed people are angry all the time. They are loud and intimidating about it to cover over other feelings. This coverup anger, even though intensely expressed, never decreases or subsides because it is a phony expression in the first place, usually hiding grief or hurt feelings or fear of intimacy.
An Experimental and Experiential Approach to Curing Anger Sickness
Look into your own experience of what happens to you when you get angry. Think of someone with whom you are presently angry. If you can't think of anyone, then think of someone whom you don't particularly like.
What is it that you don't like about that person? Perhaps you feel that this person is a snob or pushy or dishonest or crude or insensitive. If you contacted that person and told him forthrightly what you didn't like about him and quit there, chances are it would not improve your relationship.
Don't stop with that. The purpose of expressing your anger directly instead of indirectly is to get in touch with the source of your own judgments. By the time a person decides that he doesn't like someone, he is already one step removed from his anger. When asked if we are angry, many of us manifest this being-removed-from the anger, saying, "I'm not angry, I just don't like him (her) very much," or "I just don't feel he's the kind of person that I want to be around." But these judgments are founded on one or more very specific incidents about which we were angry at one time. We may not be consciously lying, because we may not be experiencing that anger right now. The form our anger presently takes is that of judgments, evaluations, and other thoughts. The specific incident may be hard to recall at first, but invariably, judgments are based on something that the person specifically said or did that we resented.
The person didn't necessarily say or do anything obviously offensive.
Maybe he just said "hello" and you didn't like the way he said it. Perhaps what he did reminded you of someone else or of some earlier event in your life you are only partly conscious of. (Remember Sally and Rags from chapter two about the reactive mind?) The rightness or wrongness of what someone said or did is irrelevant. It may be more related to a previously stored record than to current reality anyway. Your anger is unreasonable and unfair. Let it stay that way. Trying to make it seem reasonable—trying to make the resented person wrong is the source of all the judgments.
Strained relations between people are not based on evaluation, "vibes," or "not liking the way they are" as much as on specific events—what they at one time said or did. The evaluations, dislike, and explanations come later.
When you can identify what these specific things are, you are in a better position to express your resentment and heal your relationship with that person. We are all more petty and selfish than we are willing to admit.
When we are willing to admit our petty anger, we get over it faster and we have less of it in the future.
The process of forgiveness involves the following six minimal requirements, none of which may be skipped.
- You have to tell the truth about the specific behavior you resent, to the person, face-to-face;
- You have to be verbally and vocally unrestrained with regard to volume and propriety;
- You have to pay attention to the feelings and sensations in your body and to the other person as you speak;
- You have to express any appreciations for the person that come up in the process, with the same attention to your feelings and to the other person as when you are expressing resentments;
- You have to stay with any feelings that emerge in the process, like tears or laughter, regardless of any evaluations you may have about how it makes you look; and let the tears or laughter or pain or anger not be interrupted by your mind until they go naturally to completion;
- You have to stay with the discussion until you no longer feel resentful of the other person.
Then, and only then, are you ready to talk about the future, make arrangements for the future, or make any agreements. Any lawyer, priest, psychotherapist, or other patrolman who tells you differently about this is full of crap. Any diplomat, bureaucrat, democrat, labor leader, company executive, head of government, husband, wife, son, or daughter who attempts to do other than this is likewise full of it.
Exercises for Getting Into and Getting Over Anger
Exercise One. Close your eyes for a moment, picture a person you don't like, and have an imaginary dialogue with him. Tell him your judgments about him. Tell him what he did that you resent. Then imagine his response and respond back. Pay attention to your body as you engage in this imaginary dialogue. Take a break from reading here and do this exercise.
Exercise Two. Go call that person you just had an imaginary conversation with and make an appointment to tell him your resentments in person. (You may also tell him your appreciations if you have any or if any show up after your expression of resentment.) Tell the person when you call that you want to meet him to tell him what you are mad about and get over it, and get complete with him. Ask him to meet with you as a favor to you.
Exercise Three. Meet your enemy and forgive her or him, not as a favor to her or him, but for your own selfish benefit. Finish reading this chapter before you go to your meeting.
You Are Probably a Coward
You probably didn't do all three of those exercises. Maybe you never will. Now you know why most cowards like to think of themselves as heroes. They do it to hide; they are too afraid of other people to tell them the truth. They would rather be kind to their enemies than forgive them because it requires little courage to fake kindness; it's easier, less risky, less threatening, and less trouble. Don't worry. You are normal.
Most people are too ruled by fear to take a stand on telling the truth. In fact, you can start there. Admit it. Tell people. Admit your cowardice—your unwillingness to tell the truth if anything that you judge to be significant is at stake. You lie like crazy when you are scared, and you are scared whenever you are angry. Admit it. It's a start.
Guidelines for Expressing Anger
Just in case you decide to grow beyond being normal, here are some guidelines for you to follow in expressing anger. Reading these guidelines will do you no good if you are unwilling to experiment with this approach to see what will happen. This approach may not "make sense" to you. It works experientially. That is, if you try it to see what it feels like, you may get the experience of forgiving the person you were mad at. You may have to experiment with it several times before you get used to the process. It does work, even though it may not make sense.
These guidelines are not moral rules to be memorized and obeyed. They are strategies. The purpose of these guidelines is to direct your attention to the process of learning how to express yourself in the moment so that something happens to actual feelings in your body at the level of sensation. Something will happen because of your willingness to pay attention to your experience. These guidelines will make you aware of your moment-to-moment experience of anger or of appreciation. They are to help you be able to discover something about the process of expression itself.
You can use these strategies and they still won't work if you are only attending to the rules and not to your experience. The point is to be aware of your experience while experimenting, not to figure out whether you are "good" at following the rules. Your goal is to be willing and able to acknowledge to yourself, and to report to the person with whom you are speaking, each new experience as it emerges, whether or not it is comfortable. If you refuse to quit, and keep talking to the person you're interacting with until you feel complete, you will eventually be complete with him. You'll have no more withheld resentments or appreciations, and you'll be able to experience him newly, as he is, in that moment.
Love is when you let someone be the way she is. When you let up on your judgments of someone, there is a free space in which forgiveness and love occur. Here are the guidelines:
- Whenever possible, talk face-to-face to the person with whom you are angry. It is impossible to do any of this work over the phone. The quality of the interaction is different. You need to look each other in the eye and react to each other moment-to-moment. Over the phone, your contact with the other person is much too limited and you are relating to your concept of him, not to your experience of him as he is. You will miss many of his nonverbal responses. Take the time to see him in person. If he is a long distance away, a phone call is better than nothing, because it can start the process of experiencing the feelings. But don't engage in long conversations on the telephone. To do so is usually a waste of time that increases judgments and displaces feeling. This is the reverse of what is needed when you're mad.
- Start your sentences as often as possible with the words, "I resent you for…" or "I appreciate you for…" The structure of a sentence that starts with those words ensures that the anger or appreciation is personal; that there is an "I" and a "thou." "I resent you" has a much stronger and more personal impact than "I resent the fact that…" In the latter statement you are saying that you are angry at some "fact." The slight difference in the wording may seem insignificant to you; it is not. Most people resist saying, "I resent you for…" because they don't want to get "personal." They are uncomfortable when they are directly expressing their resentment to someone.
While you will feel more comfortable being less direct and saying, "I resent it when…", that approach won't work. You won't be able to completely experience your resentment and have it disappear unless you are willing to tell the truth. You resent people, not facts or vague ""it's".
Substituting something milder for the word "resent" is another approach that doesn't work. "I am annoyed at you for…" and "I am angry with you about…" are introductions to a story about anger. Those phrases deal more with a general description of a state of being than with the active expression of anger. The sentence that begins "I resent you" is different in that it is active and transitive, identifying something you are feeling toward another person in the present moment of speaking while the person is there. If doing this makes you uncomfortable, fine. If you expect to handle your resentment without discomfort, given how you were raised, you can forget it. Make yourself uncomfortable on purpose.
Acting according to what feels comfortable when you are attempting to get over anger is a mistake. It's like drinking Pepto-Bismol to keep from vomiting, staying sick for three hours, and then puking your guts up anyway.
A lot of people are also uncomfortable expressing direct appreciation and have as much difficulty admitting warmth as anger.
Appreciations often emerge right in the middle of expressing resentment. Appreciations are to be handled in the same way and gotten over in the same way. Trying to hold on to appreciations works just as poorly as trying to avoid resentment. New appreciation for a person can only emerge in a clearing created by completing the experience of past appreciations and resentments.
- Speak in the present tense. Just because you are talking about something he did in the past, don't say, "I resented you." You still resent that person, right now, for what he did or said in the past, so state the feeling in the present tense. In the past tense, resentments are only descriptions or stories about what happened or how you were. They won't change the nature of your relationship—of how you are now. When resentments are stated in the present tense, you get the chance to feel angry again and to experience the anger. When you can experience the feeling, it disappears. As I have said over and over, when you avoid the experience of anger, it persists in the form of apparently reasonable thoughts. The thoughts are poisonous and not constructive. They are destructive, because they distance you from the other person. They allow you to avoid contact with the other person and your experience and to maintain your righteousness rather than express the anger and get off your pose.
- Eventually, get specific. Even though you can't always identify the particulars, you probably resent the person for what he specifically did or said. For example, if you say to someone, "I resent you for being a snob," or "I resent you for acting snobbish toward me," he won't be clear about what you resent—although he may imagine he understands. He'll probably just say, "I'm not a snob." You haven't told him what he actually did or said that you resented—what led you to the conclusion that he was snobbish. You are demanding that the person "buy in" to your judgment of him. You might begin by expressing a judgment, but you must eventually get specific. If you haven't gotten down to the specifics yet, you aren't finished. Look closer into what the person actually did that made you conclude that he was snobbish, and say that. In this example, the real resentment might be expressed by, "I resent you for turning your head and not answering me when I said 'Hi' to you at the grocery store." Or, "I resent you for saying, 'Only hicks like country music' the other day."
- Don't stop with general descriptions of behavior or general judgments. When you throw in the words "always" or "never," the person won't get what you're talking about and you won't get over the resentment.
He doesn't have to get it. It isn't true. He hears only that you're trying to make him wrong. "I resent you for constantly complaining," isn't specific.
Report the specific incident(s) that you remember: "I resent you for saying I bought the wrong groceries last Thursday, and I resent you for saying, 'I guess I'll have to buy groceries' yesterday." Similarly, "I resent you for never appreciating me," or, "I resent you for not being romantic," are both too vague and too global to be gotten over. Remember, you are doing this to get over your grudge, rather than to provide a case against your enemy. This resentment must be expressed more specifically, such as, "I resent you for getting drunk and falling asleep on our anniversary."
If you are too mad, at first, to interrupt your own mind by being more specific, go ahead and be general, but do so as loudly as possible.
What you get from intensity will compensate, in the beginning, for what you lack in specificity. Just remember to go back over the same ground in a more specific way after you blow out the vents.
- Focus as much as you can on what did happen instead of what didn't happen. When you resent someone for what he didn't do—that is, for violating your expectations—look back to what he said or did to create that expectation. Express your resentment to him for what he said or did. Lousy as the idea may seem, you are the only one who is responsible for all your expectations, disappointment, and anger. You can, however, get over the misery you create for yourself by expressing your anger out loud, instead of living in a little hut of poison thoughts.
- Stay in touch with your experience as you talk. If you just present someone with a rehearsed, carefully-worded statement about your resentment, you probably won't have much of an experience of your anger dissipating. I recommend you express your feelings as they come up during the interaction. For instance, suppose your spouse reminds you of an obligation and you get mad. You might say, "I resent you for asking me if I remembered to get Grandma a birthday present." You probably already felt guilty about forgetting Grandma's present. You resent your spouse for asking you the question. When you pursue the experience further, you may resent your spouse for telling you to get a present in the first place. You may resent Grandma for having a birthday. You may resent having a grandmother, having to buy her a present, being told to get her a present, being asked if you got it, the tone of voice of the questioner, the look on the face of the questioner, or the smell in the room when the question was asked. You may resent the clerk at the store where you went for the present, who said they were out of Grandma's brand. What you need to do to tell the truth and have the resentment disappear is this: First, notice the bodily sensations
associated with what you have called guilt (feeling constricted in your breathing, cowering, feeling tense, frowning) and state your resentment clearly. Start with, "I resent you for saying, 'Did you remember to get something for Grandma for her birthday?'" Then, "I resent you for your innocent, phony tone of voice" (abstract). "I resent you for your tone of voice when you asked me that question" (more specific). "I resent you for looking at me now." "I resent you for frowning." "I resent you for mentioning Grandma at all." This may sound ridiculous and unfair. Clearly your spouse is not at fault and is being blamed.
But note this: the unfair blaming is being done out loud. It is in the public domain where it can get cleared up, not in your secretive mind.
People outside of you can be depended on to fight back and take care of themselves. You can count on it. You don't need to protect your spouse from your irrationality. You will get set straight in a minute. Try it. What you want is the feeling of completion and wholeness that comes when you have told the truth about your petty, selfish mind and raised the roof out loud like a fool. What a relief! You don't have to feel guilty now. You and your spouse now live in a new space.
You may have some withheld appreciation to express as well. You can appreciate someone for the same thing you resented her for, and often do. You and Grandma can also have a more alive relationship if you tell each other the truth about your anger and guilt and sense of obligation. Go see Grandma and tell her the truth. What you put out there relieves you. What you withhold will kill you.
- Stay there with the person beyond the time it takes to exchange resentments. If you are willing to state your resentments, and keep stating them as they come up, and allow the other person to resent you for resenting him, eventually you won't have anything left to resent each other for. At that point, you're still not finished. If you can't think of how to end the sentence, "I appreciate you for…," you are probably still angry and haven't finished expressing your resentments—so keep going. Don't rush to forgive someone because you are uncomfortable about having so many resentments. Be honest about whether you really feel complete with the person. Be willing to have the process take as long as it takes. It probably won't take as long as you fear. It will probably take longer than you like.
- After you both have fully expressed your specific resentments, state your appreciation the same way. Say, "I appreciate you for…," not, "I appreciate the fact that…". Keep checking your body to see how you feel. Are your shoulders tense? Are your arms crossed? Are your lips compressed? Do you feel like you want to get away from this situation as soon as possible? If the latter is true, there is more that you are withholding.
Tell the truth of your experience even if it's, "I still feel uncomfortable sitting here with you," or, "I appreciate you for staying here and listening to me."
When you feel warmth in your chest and a smile on your face, express your appreciation in a clear way: "I appreciate you for the way you look right now," or, "I appreciate you for agreeing to do this experiment with me." After some appreciations are expressed, some more resentments may emerge. If that happens, express those resentments and go on. Eventually you will just be sitting in a room looking at a person. You will see clearer. You will be willing to live and let live. You will be grateful to her for having stuck with you through another fight.
- Keep it up. After an emotional exchange in which two people tell the truth, they often retreat into superficiality. People notice that even though they felt loving and inspired after they talked, weeks may go by before they see each other again. This is not an accident. After we release our withheld anger, we discover our appreciation. More often than not we realize that we really love this person. People are scared of feeling anger, but they are terrified of experiencing love. It's no wonder that when an authentic exchange occurs, the next time the two people meet, they will talk about anything but their real feelings. One may say as an aside, "You know, I'm so glad we had that talk last time. It meant so much to me." Then they'll switch the subject to something trivial.
Once you have broken through to another person by telling the truth, you have an incredible opportunity to have a real, alive relationship. The two of you can support each other to continue to tell the truth. It takes practice. You will tend to withhold your feelings on later occasions because you have practiced that for years, but you can always get clear with the person as soon as you realize that you are withholding.
To diminish the amount of anger you have and the degree to which that anger runs your life, you can transform your relationship to anger by agreement, and change your experience of anger through awareness.
Awareness is what causes change, not a moral resolve to be better. Earlier in this chapter, I gave you some exercises and you probably chickened out. Here is another chance. These exercises are just suggestions. You don't have to do them and they may be useful just at certain times when you are stuck on how to get over your anger.
Make an Agreement to Experiment with Anger
Get together with some friends or your spouse and members of your family old enough to read this chapter. Read this chapter. Meet afterward and make an agreement to experiment for ten days with telling the truth about your resentments to each other, as a method of support for each other. Agree that for ten days, all resentments may legitimately be expressed. That doesn't mean they all have to be acted on. For example, if one of you says, "I resent you for parking in front of the driveway and I demand that you move your car," the offender doesn't have to move the car. All he has to do is hear the resentment. If the going gets rough, keep in mind that the exercise is to go on for ten days.
Have a Conversation in a Group About Anger
Get a group of friends together and start an ongoing group to support each other for a while in learning about how to handle anger. Start by asking them to read this chapter and talk about it in the group.
Ask for Help from Friends
If you are stuck at not being able to make the arrangements to meet someone to express and get over your anger because you are too cowardly or the person won't meet with you, or if you get stuck during the meeting, ask a third party in. Get a mutual friend to mediate. Ask both of your friends, the one you resent and the one you asked to help, to read this chapter.
For further exercises, read John O. Stevens' book, Awareness: Exploring, Experimenting, Experiencing, particularly the three exercises entitled Guilt, Resentment, and Demand. (John Stevens' name is now Steve Andreas.)
Those situations in our lives when we experience that terrible feeling of having done something bad and been caught, of having made a real mistake and feeling bad about it, don't seem to be related to anger at all.
You just feel bad. When you feel your way through the experience by facing it, anger will show up, and your power to get over the guilt comes from facing every detail and every imagined catastrophe.
Anger shows up when you examine your guilt feelingly, because guilt, when it was first learned, came from instances of what Fritz Perls called "projected resentment." When you were a child, you were powerless, and you sometimes got mad at the adults who made you do some things and wouldn't let you do other things. When you were mad at them and you made a mistake you knew they would get you for, you felt very bad. If you were mad at the big person who was going to be mad at you, and you had to deny your anger or else make things even worse, you felt even guiltier.
You imagined they would be very mad at you, based on denying that you were mad at them, and as an attempt to keep them from punishing you too bad, you punished yourself. If you were hard enough on yourself, you might have escaped some of their wrath, and if you learned to control your terrible self so your anger toward them didn't show, you might likewise have avoided their wrath. Better to be punished by yourself than by them.
So when you feel guilty, check to see if some of the anger you imagine on the part of the offended party is, in fact, your anger toward them. Mistakes are often made out of anger in the first place. People who are perennial screwups are usually angry people.
If you are willing to confront your anger in all the ways I have discussed, and if you are not using meditation to avoid acknowledging and expressing anger, then meditation works. Meditation can increase your satisfaction and decrease your anger. If you want your anger to decrease noticeably in a relatively short time, and if you are willing to do all of what I have discussed so far, meditate regularly. You will gradually become noticeably less angry as who you consider yourself to be changes to
include your experience of just sitting quietly. You will become more familiar with yourself as the noticer. You will gradually become less attached to yourself as a personality. I recommend Transcendental Meditation (TM). TM instructors are great at teaching meditation. (Don't take any of their advice about anger.)
Review and Summary
These exercises and guidelines for expressing resentment and appreciation are for your use in discovering how to let the experience of anger work itself out. These guidelines are suggested as substitutes for your usual methods of controlling anger. They are intended to assist you in experiencing your anger more intensely and publicly so you will have a better chance of getting over being angry. You may get angry at me because, after following the guidelines, you will feel like you are more angry than you used to be. When this occurs, consider the possibility that you are not angrier but are simply experiencing more. Then see for yourself if you get a result that works better than your former methods of control. If not, you don't get your money back. Here is a quick review of the guidelines about anger:
- Whenever possible, talk face-to-face to the person with whom you are angry.
- Start your sentences as often as possible with the words, "I resent you for…" or, "I appreciate you for…"
- Speak in the present tense.
- Eventually, get specific.
- Don't stop with general descriptions of behavior or general judgments.
- Focus as much as you can on what did happen instead of what didn't happen.
- Stay in touch with your experience as you talk.
- Stay there with the person beyond the time it takes to exchange resentments.
- After you both have fully expressed your specific resentments, state your appreciations the same way.
- Keep it up.
Why Do All of This?
Being honest about anger puts you on the road back home to being alive like you were as a child instead of mind-deadened by what you have learned to lie about. Telling the truth about your anger is a way to get back to your experience of being, where you love yourself and therefore have something left over with which to love someone else. Revealing the withheld judgments and feelings you have hidden, out of politeness and your protection racket, is the difference between a life lived in hate and a life lived in love. Coming forth with your anger will give you your life back.
It is a way to feel complete and not be in need of someone else to make you be whole. It is one of the ways back to the path of the "light that enlightens the light," that light of being that first clicked on in the womb and which still is humming right along now, even as we speak. That is one reason. Here is one more. The survival of humankind depends on it.
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