Dealing with Anger, part 2
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Dealing with Anger, part 2

Last week, I discussed how it is important to recognize our anger, to take responsibility for the angry feeling (though not necessary for the events which precipitated the anger), and then to learn about what makes us angry and why. In the next three essays, I will examine three things that tend to make us angry: People who do things that damage our self-esteem, situations in which we feel powerless, and injustice.
For reasons that I have discussed in previous essays, people tend to care greatly about self-esteem. We often seek vengeance when someone has damaged our self-esteem, though occasionally we take out our anger on innocent individuals if we are unable to “get even” with the perpetrator of the original offense. Vengeance promotes reciprocal vengeance, and the cycle can easily lead to broken relationships or even violence.
I think it can be helpful to try to envision how the person who offended us sees the situation. The fascinating book Mistakes Were Made, but Not By Me relates a study in which people were asked to recall a situation in which they harmed someone else and a situation in which they were harmed. Almost universally, when relating the story in which they were the perpetrator, they expressed remorse, but they emphasized that they were not entirely at fault and they believed that the victim had probably had no lasting adverse effects. In contrast, when they were the victim, nearly everyone could think of no valid reasons for why they had been harmed, and they related that they still felt deeply wounded by what had happened. If we remember that those who harm us are struggling to gain much-needed self-esteem and that there is a good chance that their actions reflect wounds they have suffered in life, we can have compassion for them. Such an attitude is not excusing their behavior, but it helps reduce any thirst for vengeance.
When possible, an open, honest, respectful discussion about how we and the other person perceived the situation can help mend relationships. If we say, “You made me angry,” there is an implicit accusation that the other person intended to make us angry, and the other person might strongly deny this accusation. If we say, “I felt angry when…” we are expressing our own feelings, and the reality of feelings (whether justified or not) cannot be denied. By the same token, if we say something like, “You were trying to belittle me,” the other person might (perhaps very reasonably) disagree. On the other hand, I think it is respectful and helpful to say something like, “It seemed to me that you were trying to belittle me. Was my impression accurate?” The bottom line is that clarification often helps avoid conflict. “What I’m hearing is…” allows the other person the opportunity to clarify their position.
Many animal advocates end up in conflict with each other, undermining their important work for justice. Often, these conflicts among well-meaning people could be avoided, particularly if they were to engage in respectful communication about their feelings and impressions.

Go on to: Dealing with Anger, part 3
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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