I’m so angry, it’s time to change

Ever since the 2000 elections I've been angry -- not just at the government but at all of us Americans.

Topics: 2000 Elections, Since You Asked, Mental Illness,

Dear Cary,

The past few years my personal life has taken a nosedive. I think the biggest factor is this anger I’ve got inside, which frequently prevents me from socializing and meeting new people (or just having a good time with people). Basically I’ve become a very grumpy middle-aged man.

This all basically started after the 2000 election. By now, I feel justifiably disgusted by the Bush administration and his supporters of course, but it’s bigger than this. I also feel my fellow Americans the past two decades or so have been awash in gleefully/mindlessly practicing the seven deadly sins, of which I believe ignorance should be added as the eighth.

Anyway, I know some people go to anger management therapy but I’m not sure that is for me. You associate that type of therapy with people who have snapped, people who have abused people physically as well as verbally. My anger is merely my own; I don’t lash out; I just despair, because I know lashing out would cost me (my job, family, friends).

BTW, I have been on Prozac for about 15 years for mild chronic depression. Normally I feel like Prozac has been good for me, keeping away the blue days and making my skin thicker. I also exercise a lot, running three times a week and playing soccer, but lately I’m pissed off even after a good workout! I eat pretty well and drink moderately. But lately I’m thinking my chemistry is not right (though dropping the antidepressant sounds very risky).

Can you or Salon readers offer any advice? I fear I am on a path to becoming an urban hermit, joylessly working toward retirement, and maybe not giving a toss when I get there.

Anger Issues

Dear Anger Issues,

Some of us who think of ourselves as liberal, rational, freethinking, freedom-loving patriots have a special problem with anger. We are deeply affected by what we see going on in our country. We see a symphony of outrage heaped upon outrage; we see the brazenness of it, its roots in years of secret plotting; we perceive intricate patterns in its serpentine, many-tentacled, conspiratorial vastness; we see our sacred precepts violated, sacred vows trashed; we jeer the garishly painted faces of evil as they trot onstage, and our jeers do not seem to be heard and this compounds our outrage; we join our compatriots in outrage, and our righteous anger grows.

We think our anger is justified. The abuses are so obvious, the perpetrators so shameless, the crimes so awful and historic. Who would not be angry? How could anger be our problem?

But our anger is our problem. At historic moments like this, we are called to come up with something better than anger.

If you are not sure whether anger management classes are for you, then the intelligent thing to do is to go to a few sessions and see what methods are being used. Fearlessly investigate and make an honest assessment. If it appears that others have benefited from these methods, consider how you might adapt those methods to your own situation. Your situation may not be as dire as theirs. Use what is useful. Leave the rest. Participants in the workshop are likely to be at different stages in their anger. Some may have lashed out physically. Some may have suffered legal and financial consequences. Others may just be curious, or feel that they are not skillful enough in their management of anger. You may learn from all of them. And you may have things to teach them as well.

By beginning in this individual way, we have a chance to demonstrate the collective superiority of another approach. The country’s response to 9/11 was a response of anger, as if anger would suffice. The country responded to a cunning, devastating blow with brute anger and was led into a trap. We responded as the enemy expected, with blind, misguided, disproportionate violence, like the one-eyed Cyclops stumbling with rage, outwitted in the cave by a nimble Ulysses. If Enlightenment ideals are to prevail over religious tyranny once again, anger will not suffice. We must be more cunning, more devastating, wiser, more full of resolve, better controlled, more far-thinking, more strategic. We must be better statesmen, better orators, better historians.

When angry we cling to what we feel will shield us and we drop what we sense is a burden or an encumbrance. Collectively, as a nation, in response to the 9/11 attacks, it could be said that we clung to our pride, our feelings of masculine superiority and our addiction to ease and consumption; we held on to our simplicity of feeling, our belief in our goodness, our woundedness. And we dropped our love of ideas, our belief in ideas, our faith in a future of law and reason, our reliance on intelligent pragmatism, our unshakable reliance on constitutional principle.

We dropped what we needed and clung to what was useless. Now we are in a pickle.

Those of us who saw this happen feel a sputtering rage. But we must not fall into the trap again. We must work as individuals to let go of our anger so that collectively we can think more clearly and see what is before us.

Letting go of anger is hard. It’s like letting go of money. We give up, we pay, we sacrifice what we have held dear, but we bring home peace of mind in a big shiny box with a bow on it. What could be more American than that?

But seriously, in seeking peace of mind, it can be most difficult to let go of the anger we think is justified.

So I do hope you will look into these anger management sessions. But you can go far beyond that. You have much to gain by working with your anger. It may be the doorway to a new way of thinking and living.

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