T BEGAN with a simple drive to the airport. But, before
long, she started to criticize his
driving. He wasnt aggressive enough; he
wasnt pushing past the speed limit; they would be late and it would
be his fault. He, though, ever patient and peaceful, took it all
They were hardly
speaking by the time they arrived at the airport.
And then something
She got out of
the car in a huff and walked away. He just sat there, watching her. And he
felt nothing. He had no urge to run after her. He didnt care whether
he ever saw her again or not.
Later, when he
remembered this incident in psychotherapy for his depression, he broke into
tears. His apathy that day shocked him.
When I suggested
that he may have been angry with her, he protested, But I love her.
How can I be angry with her?
Poor guy. Little
did he understand love. And little did he understand
Lets face itanger is a fact of life. Our world
is filled with violence, hatred, war, and aggression. Psychologically, many
theories of human development focus on the infants struggle with anger
and frustration and the primitive fantasies of aggression, guilt, and reparation
that result from these feelings. In essence, we grow up with anger right
from the beginning of life.
French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, taught
that aggression results as a psychological defense
against threats of
That is, as infants, we are just a jumble of diverse biological processes
over which we have no authority, and our first task in life is to develop
a coherent identity which pulls together
this fragmented confusion. This identity may give the appearance of a unified
personality, but it really is just a psychological
illusion that hides our essential human vulnerability and weakness. And so,
when anything or anyone threatens us with the truth of our essential
fragmentation, the quickest, easiest, and most common defense availableto
hide the truth of our weakness and to give the illusion that we possess some
sort of poweris aggression.
As a result,
some persons will fly into a rage about almost anything. Some persons, however,
like the man in the story above, dont get any closer to anger than
apathy. And yet apathy really is a veiled form of anger because, like all
angeras will be explained in the text that followsapathy, even
though it achieves its goal through passive indifference, ultimately wishes
harm on another person.
So, given that
anger is a human reality, what help can psychology offer in learning to cope
Even though this might seem like an obviously simple point,
many persons still have a deep reluctance to grasp it: Anger is a common
human experience. We all encounter it. And
we encounter it more often than we like to admit.
going any further, though, we need to make a clear distinction between
anger and feeling hurt or irritated.
We all feel hurt
or irritated when someone or something obstructs our needs or desires. Anger,
though, is not truly an
its psychologically technical sense, anger refers to the desire to get even
withthat is, to take revenge onthe cause of the hurt.
when another car suddenly cuts in front of your car on the road, adrenaline
pumps into your bloodstream. Your heart rate jumps. Your blood pressure surges.
These things, however, are just immediate fight-or-flight physiological
responses to a perceived threat.
Then, in a split
second, as a psychological reaction to those immediate physiological
responses, indignation and animosity toward the other driver overrun your
mind. And then, in split second after these feelings erupt, you fall into
the desire for revenge. You honk your horn. You give a dirty look. You scream
a curse. And there you have it: anger. Anger, therefore, is the wish for
harm or bad or evil to come upon someone or something thatin your
eyeshas injured or obstructed you.
So the psychological
process is clear and simple. When you feel hurt by someone, then, in your
anger, you want to hurt him or her back, just as you have been hurt.
Anger can also
be expressed indirectly. If something like a traffic jam, for example, leaves
you feeling tense and frustrated, then what do you do? Maybe you go home
and find some petty thing out of order and then blow up, just to take out
your frustration on your family. Or maybe you go to a bar, maneuver someone
into offending you, and get into a fight. Either way you vent your frustrations
at the traffic jam by hurting innocent personsafter first manipulating
circumstances so that you can believe in your own mind that these persons
have somehow hurt you and deserve to suffer for it.
is more to the story than this, because there is more to anger than meets
The truth is,
anger may be a naturalthat is, a commonly
occurringsocial reaction to hurt and insult, yet being natural
doesnt make it good for us. Sure, natural foods are commonly
advertised as being healthy and good for us. Poisons, for example, are also
natural, and poisons, by definition, are deadly.
And so there
are far better ways to cope with hurt and insult than with anger, because
anger itself acts like a poison in your own heart that ultimately degrades
the quality of your own life as much as it hurts the life of another
So the FIRST
STEP in learning a healthy response to feelings of hurt and insult is simply
to acknowledge that you feel hurt.
This is not as
easy as it sounds.
when you get angry you dont really allow yourself to feel your inner
vulnerability and hurt. All you can think about in the moment is your desire
to get revenge, to defend your pride, to do somethinganythingto
create the feeling that you have power and importance. In essence, your outbursts
of rage paradoxically hide your inner feelings of vulnerability, so you never
recognize the hurt youre feeling that triggers your hostile
reaction. All the bitterness and hostility is a big puff of smoke, an emotional
fraud. It hardens your heart toward others so that you can seal off your
own emotional pain.
Years ago I became
a very good marksman with a pistol. As I was learning to shoot, I would be
told things like, Youre flinching your wrist just before you
pull the trigger. Yet did this stop me from flinching my wrist? No,
of course not, because at the beginning I didnt have the experience
to discern the subtle muscle actions in my wrist. How could I learn
not to do something unless I had learned how it felt to do
it? So, in order to shoot well, I had to train myself to feel the various
tiny muscles of my hand and arm; once I felt them, I could then direct
Well, that was
all many years ago, and I no longer have much use for guns, but I learned
a good psychological lesson from it. How can you learn not to do something
unless you understand quite clearly how it does feel to do it? How
can you learn not to respond defensively to a feeling of vulnerability
unless you understand quite clearly how it does feel to be vulnerable?
If you are always hiding your hurt feelings behind a protective show of bitter
curses (or guns) you will never catch on to the concept of enlightened emotional
might feel hurt by someone emotionally close to you, and, out of fear that
your immediate impulse to hurt that person in return will cause you to lose
that persons love, you suppress
the awareness of your honest inner experiences. If you do this often enough
you can end up convincing yourself that everything is fine and peaceful.
In this case the hurt becomes anger anyway, only it
anger: you remain hurt while the desire
to hurt the other person gets pushed into your
unconscious where it stews in bitter resentment. And
so, in reality, you are just deceiving yourself and defiling your relationships
when you deny that you have anything to feel hurt about. And before you know
it youre wondering why youre so
depressed. Depression, after all, is often anger
turned inwardsthat is, you end up despising yourself because
you feel guilty for unconsciously wanting to hurt someone
psychology, acceptance of every persons unique emotional experiences
is commonplace, but many non-Western cultures place a high value on social
conformity. As a way to ensure a childs survival in such a culture,
families teach children that all expressions of anger are forbidden and shameful.
To accomplish this, parents, along with the rest of the culture in general,
tend to suppress all recognition of individual emotions in their children.
As long as the children stay within their culture they can function, but
if they migrate to a Western culture, then emotional conflicts can cause
profound psychological confusion.
in response to slight or insult, however, are universally human. If these
feelings are suppressed in any culture to the point that they never become
recognized or named, they can fuel the ugly cultural darknesses of prejudice,
hatred, paranoia, child abuse, domestic violence, drug addictionsand
all other dark psychological poisons that defile real
loveas well as depression itself, which, sadly, can also feel
then, that a healthy response to feelings of hurt and insult actually leads
to compassion and peace, while the suppression of emotions, in trying to
protect the surface peace, only leads to a psychological undercurrent of
suspicion and cruelty. Thats why people who become social
doormats and let others walk all over them, rather than admit
that they feel hurt about anything, usually have quite a lot of resentment
and dirt underneath their appearance of welcome.
So the SECOND
STEP in learning a healthy response to feelings of hurt and insult is to
follow the hurt back into its roots in the past to all those times and
circumstances when you felt the same way.
You need to do
this because any insult in the present is magnified by similar insults from
the past. Failure to recognize old insults only makes the current insult
seem far larger than it really is.
This entire process
is a bit like what happens when an insect stings you and you feel a pain
way out of proportion to the size of the stinger. First you simply recognize
that it hurts. Then you have to explore the wound to find the stinger. The
stinger represents the insult that hurts you, digging out the stinger represents
the psychological task of realizing how this one insult pierces deep into
your self-esteem, and the venom which spreads into the surrounding tissues
represents the way unconscious resentment about all sorts of old emotional
injuries from the past continues to poison you even in the
the wound and explored it, you will be ready for the healing process to begin.
For healing to take place, though, you must be careful to avoid anything
that irritates, rather than soothes, the wound.
the THIRD STEP in learning a healthy response to feelings of hurt and insult
is to avoid the popular response to feelings of hurt and
move on to discover just what this popular response to feelings of hurt and
insult might be.
Why do we have such a hard time recognizing our feelings
of vulnerability and hurt when we are insulted?
Well, go back
to that image of that car cutting in front of you. Your heart will be pounding,
but, if youre like most persons, you wont be consciously aware
of it. Your first conscious reaction will probably be to mutteror
Well, it all
sinks down into the unconscious where fantasies (that
is, fleeting mental images, often only subliminally perceived) wage their
private wars of revenge.
I once had to
sit through a Rambo movie with some family members. There he was with those
half-asleep Italian eyes, his muscles twitching, taking the insults. Oh,
oh! they said. Hes getting angry. Dont make Rambo
get angry! they all gloated. And then they were slapping themselves
and cheering as he hefted his huge machine gun and took aim.
And this is what
our culture teaches usthrough ready-made fantasies in movies, television,
music, popular literature, and advertising, and acted out in politics, sports,
and even in our legal systemabout responding to insult.
our culture because it permeates the human unconscious. Revenge, therefore,
is what we most commonly experience in our unconscious fantasies when we
feel irritated and frustrated.
It could be the
intellectual frustration of knowing that others are missing the point. It
could be the social irritation of having to tolerate rude behavior. It could
be the humiliating insult of not having our expectations fulfilled. It could
be the traumatic insult of childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
But insult it is, and we feel the urge to pick up weaponswhether physical
(i.e., guns and bombs) or verbal (i.e., sarcasm and curses)and turn
them on others.
urges to get revenge break out of the unconscious into the real world and
become real events such as terrorism, school
Or, in our deepest
hurt and frustration, we will turn those weapons on ourselves as a form of
self-sabotage. This self-sabotage brings
with it the unconscious satisfaction of inflicting
guilt on those around usthat is, we secretly hope that our self-inflicted
suffering will say to others, Look what you made me do
to myself! In this case, our frustrations can stay within us as silent
guilt-inducing fantasies lurking behind our social injuries.
have such deep anger at their parents that they unconsciously desire to keep
themselves dysfunctional as a way to get back at their parents. Thus they
can have the satisfaction of hurting their parents by saying, under their
breath, Look what a mess I am! Its all your
of whether its expressed as overt social aggression or silent
self-sabotage, the popular response to insult is revenge. Thus
all anger is, at its core, a dark and cruel wish for harm to come upon the
person who hurt you. Lets repeat that.
anger is, at its core, a dark and cruel wish for harm to come upon the person
who hurt you.
So, is there
ever such a thing as justifiable anger? No. There is such a thing
as justifiable irritation, because all irritation is an
honest emotional reaction to some insult or
obstruction. When your irritation progresses into anger, however, your desire
to harm another person reduces you to the same level of rudeness as the person
who offended you. Thus you may as well attack yourself for being rude. And,
ultimately, that is exactly what you do, because the anger in your mind becomes
poison in your heart that harms you as much as it hurts anyone
Note that we
can even direct our anger at things. If a tool breaks right in the
middle of an important task, leaving us feeling frustrated and helpless,
we will smash the tool onto the floor and curse it. We know that
damaging the tool wont fix anything, so why do we act with such aggression?
Well, in hurting the toolwhether symbolically (with curses)
or physicallywe receive the satisfaction of feeling more powerful
than something else. Its as if we are thinking, in our
unconscious logic, My plans have been frustrated,
and my pride has been injured, but if I can damage
somethinganythingthen look how powerful I am!
why there is so much actual violence in the world. Despite our common sentimental
claims about the value of peace, our culture teaches us by daily example
that insult merits immediate revenge.
Thus, many persons
blindly follow the path of violenceand in so doing, they get
angry to avoid feeling the hurt that holds the acknowledgment
of their own vulnerability.
This also explains
why many persons are so afraid to acknowledge any awareness of their own
anger. They have a good sense of where their unconscious wants to take them,
and they cant bear the thought of killing someone close
to them when they feel hurt. So they will stifle everything, right from the
beginning; the hurt leads to anger, all right, but they just deny they feel
anything, and so they drive the anger deep into the unconscious. They present
themselves to the world as calm and level-headed persons who would never
even hurt a fly.
Have you ever
seen a child, hurt by something said or done, blurt out, I hate you!
I wish you were dead! and then run to her room and throw herself, sobbing,
on her bed? And then, when the tears dry, nothing is ever said again about
the words of her outburst. Maybe her mother or her father will come
in and comfort her, or maybe her sister or brother will just start playing
with her again, and those wordsI hate you, I wish you were
deadjust get swept off into some dark corner of forgotten memories
to collect cobwebs of guilt.
Well, this is
the sort of thing Im talking about when I mention wanting to
kill someone. Its a subtle thingnot the plot of an
egregious crime. Its the confused experience of childlike hurt and
So remember that
just as wanting to kill someone is not necessarily a desire to
commit an actual crime, a fantasy of revenge is not necessarily a desire
to inflict actual hostility. Sometimes it is just a silent mental wish to
see someone get paid back, a wish to feel the satisfaction of knowing that
the one who causes hurt will get hurt in the end. And sometimes revenge is
just a desire to keep your mouth shut when you might be able to redress a
wrong. Again, its all very subtle with roots deep in childhood
In fact, the
proof of all this can be found in Obsessive-Compulsive
Disorder where a person who feels overwhelmingly ashamed of these fantasies
of revenge will construct elaborate rituals to neutralizeor
undothese bad thoughts.
to Lady Macbeth, in Shakespeares play Macbeth, crying, Out,
damned spot! as she tries compulsively to rub the stain of Duncans
murder from her
OK. So we all suffer insult, and we all feel hurt, and
we all tend to sink into fantasies of revenge. Some of us then get
angry and violently act out the fantasies in real life. And some of
us just push everything out of awareness and pretend we are nice
persons. So what honest alternative is
Well, you can
get up the courage to explore the human psyche a bit more deeply than most
persons want to go and discover something about human nature. Something
You will discover
a concept about human psychology that theology and religion have for ages
called sin. I wont offer a theological definition of
sin here, but a psychological understanding of the
concept could describe it as a sort of infatuation with the vanity of
your personal desires and a reliance on knowledge, privilege, and power to
ignore, disrespect, obstruct, or defeat anyone or anything that stands in
the way of your getting what you want. Or, to say it more simply, most
people are narcissistically preoccupied with their immediate desires and
have little, if any, altruistic awareness of anyone or anything else around
them. Psychologically, this behavior allows you to feel good about
yourself (that is, to feel strong and in control) by using, hurting,
or neglecting someone else. Sin therefore leads you away from true love and
compassion, and it sends you right into all the predicaments of self-indulgence.
Sin really does hurt others because sin defiles love.
Personality Disorder refers to a pervasive pattern
of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a need for admiration, and a lack
In its more universal sense, narcissism can be found at the core of
almost all psychological dysfunction, for it represents the way we all, like
the Greek god Narcissus himself, can fall in love with ourselves
to hide our own inadequacy and consequently treat others like objects to
make ourselves feel strong and competent.
Now, if you
understand this psychological fact about human naturethat everyone
is drawn away from essential human goodness by a need to avoid feeling weak
or foolishthen you have a new way to cope with your feelings of hurt
and to overcome your natural, hostile slide into
Instead of taking
all insults personally, you can realize that every insult derives from that
universal tendency in human nature toward selfish, inconsiderate behavior.
Given this ugly reality, no cache of guns or bombs or witty insults or curses
can be sufficient to eradicate its evil effects from the world, so revenge
becomes futile. The only sane response to insult is deep
sorrow for all of humanity and compassion for the misguided
person who gets caught up in the popular way of
the FOURTH STEP in learning a healthy response to feelings of hurt and insult
To forgive someone
means that you consciously make the decision to set aside any desire to see
a person hurt because of the hurt he or she caused you, and instead you wish
that the person will recognize his or her hurtful behavior, feel
sorrow for it, and learn to be a more considerate
This, too, like
the first step, is not as easy as it sounds.
truth of the matter is that you cannot
forgive someone until you have fully felt the pain he or she has caused
the pain into your unconscious, as described earlier, only makes forgiveness
impossible because, as unconscious anger, the dark wish to harm those who
hurt you remains alive but out of
your animosity kept out of sight, its all too easy to present yourself
as a nice person when, deep inside, you really remain an angry
Those who know
true love act with confidence, straightforwardness, and honesty, whereas
those who present themselves as nice are often merely hiding the depths of
their anger behind a show of smiling appeasement.
many persons who, for one reason or another, seek psychotherapy, would likely
endorse the statement, I am a forgiving person. And they will
resist any attempt to explore their unconscious associations for hidden angry
feelings toward their parents, for example, saying that such exploration
is just parent bashing.
however, has nothing to do with blaming
In order to live
honestly and take full responsibility for your own life, you have to learn
in psychotherapy to put your hurt and anger onto the table in
front of you so you can examine your emotions consciously. And then, when
it has been brought to the surface and acknowledged, it can be swept away
in forgiveness. Until this work has been done thoroughly, however, the statement
I am a forgiving person is just an illusion.
And the illusion
is shown for what it is when many unsuspecting persons say, OK. Ive
talked about my traumas. Ive forgiven everyone. Its all on the
table. But Im still miserable. Whats wrong? Its as
if, after having made what seems to be a simple act of forgiveness, they
walk past that table and say, Whats that odd
smell? And then, as they look more closely, and admit to
themselves all the things they have previously been hiding from themselves,
they find an ugly, moldy mass of unconscious anger that has been growing
secretly underneath the table. So that, too, has to be examined.
after exploring their childhood memories, some persons will say that they
feel sad or lonely but do not feel any anger at their parents. In these cases,
the anger can be recognized not through the emotion of rage but through specific
behaviors of hate.
authority can be expressed through criminal activity; political protest
and terrorism; abortion; shoplifting; speeding;
being late for appointments; living in clutter or filth; etc.
the self can be expressed through the self-sabotage of ones
potential such as by chronic procrastination; the inability to support oneself
by working; overdependence on others; substance
abuse; obesity; codependence (such as marrying
an alcoholic); emotional disability; etc.
Whether the end
result be hatred for authority or hatred for yourself, the underlying cause
is anger at your parents, because of their failures in love.
And then, when
everything has been brought to light, real
forgiveness can be possible.
means simply that you refuse to keep hating someone. In practical terms,
this refusal to hate is a conscious decision, from the depths of your heart,
to give up your desire to feel the satisfaction of knowing that the one who
caused your hurt will get hurt in the end. Notice here that the silent, secret
desire for satisfaction keeps unconscious anger alive and growing
and prevents genuine forgiveness.
There are also
many persons who deny the concept of sin. Psychologically, this
denial serves the defense of protecting these persons from the recognition
of the ugly parts of their own unconscious. They just refuse to admit that
they are fully capable of inflicting their own harmful wishes on another
teachings advocate forgiveness while also denying the reality of sin, saying
that all insult lies in our own perceptions and that in effect we are all
totally free of what we did because nothing really happened.
Ironically, the proof of the reality of sin emerges from within these very
groups who deny it, for they are torn by internal factions that are not only
judgmental of each other but also bitterly refuse to forgive one another.
They may not believe in sin, yet it is breeding right under their
So beware. There
is no escaping the psychological effects of injury and anger; either you
can face up to all of your unconscious anger and learn real forgiveness,
or you can let the deadly poison of revenge become your ugly
national defense? you might ask. How can forgiveness and the
need for self-defense be reconciled? Well, Im not about to try
to tinker with national defense strategy, whether through commentary or through
protest. Psychology concerns the individual, and forgiveness is an individual
act. And for that matter, peace is also a matter of individual will, not
of politics. No government can order you to love, and no government can order
you to hate. So ultimately you have to liveand diewith the destiny
of your own conscience.
In all of this,
there is only one truth: If you want to change the world, begin by changing
yourself. If you want the world to be more fair, treat the world fairly
even when you are treated unfairly. If you want the world to be more kind,
treat the world with kindness and return a blessing for every insult.
Show the world by your good actionsnot by empty protest or
violencethat you are willing to live according to what you profess
According to the principles of geometry, an infinite number
of lines can be drawn through a single point. To define any one particular
line, two points are needed.
The same sort
of principle applies to psychology. The experience of one
trauma does not tell you much about your unconscious,
because any explanation is as good as any other. If you are raped once, or
you get in a car crash, no one has a right to point at you and say, You
did this wrong, or You did that wrong. Its simply
impossible to deduce anything psychological from one event.
If the trauma
is repeated, however, then you have two points to define a line which can
be tracked back into the past and projected into the future. This is the
time to sit up and take notice, because if you dont, there will likely
be a third time. And maybe others again, until you start to look at your
life and ask yourself what is going on.
of psychological repetition, however, has nothing
to do with naturally recurring cycles. If your neighbor wakes you up early
every morning when he goes to work, for example, you might get angry, but
this isnt victim anger.
to an unconscious process by which you essentially
lead yourself into trouble over and over. For some dark, unknown reason,
you so despise yourself that you continually put yourself at risk. And the
failure to accept that this unconscious process has you trapped in its clutches
leads to victim anger.
As trauma after
trauma batters you, you will begin to say, Why me? This isnt
fair! You will blame anyone who gets in your
way. You will feel victimized by the world. You might even become a psychological
terrorist. Because you cant look at your
responsibility in what is happening, you will develop a victim
mentality, and you will have fallen into victim
A careful distinction
must be made here in regard to naturally repeated child abuse
and repetition. When a child is abused, it cannot be claimed that the child
has any responsibility for the abuse. Violence is always the responsibility
of the perpetrator, and, when violence is repeated, the perpetrator is at
fault. This repeated abuse is therefore not a result of the childs
There is, however,
a psychodynamic process called Identification with
the Aggressor in which the abused child, in trying to make sense of something
essentially senseless, comes to believe that the abuse must somehow be justified,
and the child will therefore unconsciously seek to befriend, and even imitate,
the abuser. With this dynamic in place, blame and anger toward the abuser
becomes turned toward the self, thus beginning the repetition of an unconscious,
In fact, scientific
research has shown that adults who were sexually abused as children tend
to have a high risk for being sexually assaulted (e.g., rape) as adults.
Moreover, the research shows that adults who are sexually assaulted and who
were also abused as children tend to have even lower levels of mental health
functioning than those persons who were sexually abused as children but never
sexually assaulted as
going on here? Well, its largely a matter of misdirected blame.
Heres how it works, in common-sense language:
As a result of
abuse, the child experiences painful fear and hatred of the
Because the child
feels essentially powerless to stop the abuse or to convince anyone to help,
the child begins to perceive the whole world as
The child blames
the world for being unfair, and, at the same time, begins to blame
himself or herself for not being good enough to put up a successful
fight against the world.
The child learns
that blaming the world does not provide any immediate gratification, and
that punishing the world is not an easy task, but that blaming the selfand
punishing the selfcan provide immediate and controlled
self-destructive behavior is unconsciously directed against the world, not
the self, the child cannot see, let alone accept consciously, that he or
she is now causing most of his or her own pain.
And so the child
grows into an adult who harbors an aching bitterness against the world for
its unpunished abuses. At every disappointment he or she will find some
convenient, secret means of self-sabotageand will then feel justified
in saying, Look what they did to me! Its not
And what strange
satisfaction maintains all this self-destruction? Well, its the
satisfaction of unconsciously hoping to show the world how wrong it
is. Like Hamlet holding a mirror up to his
the person trapped in victim anger will hold up his own destruction as
evidence that, he hopes, will condemn the world.
Thus you might
hear someone saying, So what if I get cancer from smoking? Maybe it
will serve them right. Then they will see how much I had to suffer.
And so this unfortunate life will end, just like Hamlet, cluttered
with death and destruction.
Unlike a martyr,
though, who lays down his or her life out of pure love, this self-destruction
has its deep motivation in bitterness and hatred, and an obstinate rejection
with the victim anger of repetition, therefore, your only hope
is to first resolve the repetition that traps you. You cant forgive
others if the real problem is yourself. How can you accept the ugly part
of human nature if you cant see it in yourself and if you cant
accept your personal responsibility for constantly placing yourself at risk?
If you dont recognize the repetition, all the kings horses and
all the kings menand all the anger management classes in the
worldwont save you from your own unconscious efforts to destroy
yourself as you remain locked in the dark identity of
being a victim.
When a father is absentwhether physically or
emotionallyfrom a family, his lack causes a personal lack in the children.
Lacking understanding of how the world works, lacking trust in others, and
lacking trust in themselves, childrenwhether they be boys or
girlsbecome lost, insecure, and confused. They lack confidence. They
lack a meaningful future. They lack life. All because their fathers were
that all of this lack resulting from the lack of a father is, in many
cases, largely unconscious.
Yes, some persons
are truly crippledboth emotionally and sociallyby the lack of
a father, and their lives become dysfunctional and stuck.
But other persons
are able to keep up a surface appearance of functionality; they hold jobs,
they get married, and they have children. Yet under the surface of normality
a deep secret of anger and victimization is
buried. Here are the dark roots of symptom after symptom of secret resentment
for the father.
In the unconscious,
however, the anger gets distorted because it is difficult for children to
be angry with a father from whom they still desire a sign
of love. To protect themselves from this dilemma, their unconscious finds
an ingenious solution to raw, dangerous anger: do
Addictions (alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, junk foods, video
games, gambling, pornography, etc.) allow them to feel filled when they
are really empty; thus they feel nothing.
Argumentativeness prevents them from accepting truth, which includes
the truth that their father has failed them; thus they accept
late for appointments and meetings
prevents them from having to wait; thus they wait for
Immodesty (dressing so as to reveal the body rather than clothe
it with dignity; or making the body into an object with tattoos, piercings, and
unnatural hair styles and colorings) prevents them from respecting their own bodies;
thus they respect nothing.
disorders prevent them from discovering
a world that seems hidden from them; thus they discover
confusion (often expressed by forgetting
things or as difficulty with math) prevents them from engaging with the signs
and symbols of life; thus they engage with nothing.
Procrastination prevents them from stepping out into the world they
dont know how to negotiate in the first place; thus they accomplish
preoccupation (whether as self-created
mental fantasies, pornography, lust, or sexual acts) prevents them from
experiencing emotional intimacy; thus they are intimate with
Suspiciousness prevents them from having to trust a world they fear;
thus they trust nothing.
In the end, all
these nothings, taken together, lead to the nothingness of
death. On the one hand, the death is symbolic death,
which keeps a child emotionally disabled as punishment for his or her anger. On
the other hand, the death is real deaththrough slow self-sabotage or through
outright suicideby which the child, in making herself or himself the
missing one, draws attention away from the truth that the father
has been missing from the childs life all along.
There is no current
psychiatric diagnosis for this collection of symptoms, so I have named a
psychoanalytic diagnosis: Ira Patrem Latebrosa (hidden anger at the
father). This is an anger at the father that so cloaks itself in invisibility
that a person afflicted with it will deny that it even exists. Yet it does
exist, and the evidence above proves it, like tracks in the snow that reveal
the presence of an animal lurking nearby.
Remember that anger is not something you can ever get
rid of. As long as you are alive there will be times when you are insulted
and feel hurt. And, as long as there are times when you feel hurt, you will
be pulled down into unconscious fantasies of revenge.
Once you notice
that you feel hurt, however, you have a choice. You dont have
to accept blindly the unconscious slide into revenge.
On the one hand,
you dont have to get angry. That is, you dont have
to become abusive or violent. If you tell yourself, Yes, I hurt. But
it is not so much another person as human nature itself hurting me,
and theres nothing I can do about it, except refuse to return hurt
for hurt, sin for sin, then you can feel compassion for the person
who hurt you, and you can be forgiving.
all, is nothing more than a fear of love. And
when you fear love, where do you turn? To pride.
The pride of your own self-defense.
a great secret here that philosophers have known for ages. And its
a secret only because its so obvious that no one bothers to notice
it. Consider the nature of water, a weak and lowly substance that flows freely
around all obstacles. If you live a life of the same humility
as water, even the jaws of hell cannot bite into you. But the more solid
you become in the pride of your own strength to avenge yourself against insult,
the more those jaws have to grasp ontoand once they have you, you
cant fight free, no matter how many bandoliers you have draped over
So the more you
let go of your identitythe more you die to yourself in
perfect humilitythe less you have to defend; and the less you have
to defend, the less reason you have for anger.
On the other
hand, all of this does not preclude the possibility that there may be times
when you have to stand upto defend yourself or to defend othersand
say something about the ugliness that everyone wants to ignore or deny. To
be quietto stifle your feeling offendedis also a fear of love
and a slide into revenge.
situationswhether in your family, among friends, or at workwhen
you experience feelings about anything, you need only express those feelings
The key to all
this, however, is that you speak up as soon as you feel the first inkling
of injuryand this means that you have to be very good at recognizing
the feeling of hurt in the first place. You must speak up well before the
hurt turns to anger and has a chance to build into anything destructive.
You dont have to understand why youre feeling what
youre feeling in the moment; just communicate what youre
feeling in the moment.
When you do speak
up, keep in mind an important psychological-social fact: You cannot control
the behavior of others.
saying things such as, Whats wrong with you? or How
could you be so insensitive? or You shouldnt do that!
Talk like this derives from a frustration that the other person is not doing
what you want him to do, and it does two things, both unproductive
to peace and harmony: it causes stress that raises
your blood pressure, and it makes the other person resistant and
So, when you
feel the urge to say something, ask yourself what you want to happen as a
If your answer
is anything like, I want her to . . . then you probably have
the wrong motive.
But if your answer
is more like, I just want to clear my conscience. What she does thereafter
is up to her, then you are probably on the right track.
do not like to hear the truth about themselves, and they will
often try to defend themselves by going on the attack. They might accuse
you of being judgmental, for example, even if you keep your statements focused
on your own feelings.
It really hurts me to hear you break promises to your children.
Children need to trust their parents, and if you don’t keep your promises it
will most likely make your children insecure and rebellious.
Dont be judgmental! Who are you to tell me how to
raise my children?
So, despite the
opposition, keep in mind that it’s not judgmental
to state the facts in such a way that you do not tell the other person what
you want him to do. When you speak up, do so for the sake of your
conscience, because you believe something is not right; what the other person
does with the information is up to him.
A lot of anger,
therefore, can come back at you for being blunt and
honest, and you might feel the urge to back
In keeping your
mouth shut, however, you will be trapped in the vindictive satisfaction of
watching others suffer in their own misbehavior. So, if you resist the pull
to shrink back, then you will find freedom. You will discover a part of yourself
which you can trust to guide you through disputes without injuring yourself
or othersbecause you will be motivated not with unconscious anger and
revenge to defend your identity but with love for the good of
So there you
have it. Someone insults you, you feel the pain, you speak up if necessary,
and you forgive. Still, after all this, you might be feeling some lingering
emotional arousal. What do you do? Endeavor to let that last bit of hurt
melt into deep sorrow for the entire world.
Note here that,
although sorrow is different from blame, a healthy response
to insult and irritation really does require you to feel the pain that others
cause you. Feel the pain for the sake of emotional
honesty. Feel the pain for the sake of your sanity.
Be careful not to deny the facts about what has happened. But also be careful
not to point your finger at others in blame, because you, too, are as
psychologically capable of harming them as they have harmed you. Sorrow for
humanity includes sorrow for your own capacity for aggression and cruelty
Finally, note that
even if you forgive someone for hurting you, this does not automatically mean
that you are also reconciled with that person.
Reconciliation—which means that the relationship between
you and the other person has been repaired—requires three things in addition to
your forgiveness. First, it requires that the other person recognize the injury
inflicted on you and admit that it was wrong. Second, it requires that the other
person repent that injury—that is, feel sorry for it. Third, it requires that the
other person make reparation to you—that is, do something to repair the
concept of “praying for your enemies” can therefore be expressed psychologically
as simply hoping that the person who injured you will ultimately recognize his
or her destructive behavior and repent it, so as to be saved from the ultimate
harmful consequences of his or her anger—as opposed to your wishing for that
person’s destruction by saying, “Go to hell!”
Saint Teresa of Avila once had a vision of hell; the place was so horrifying, she
said, that she wouldnt wish it on her worst
Think about that.
Throughout the world, various cultures have their own specific
terms to describe unhealthy responses to anger. Below are some
of these culture-bound syndromes as described in the
amok, in Malaysia, is precipitated by a perceived slight or insult
and refers to a period of brooding followed by an outburst of violent or
aggressive behavior. Similar patterns are found in Laos, Philippines, Polynesia
(cafard or cathard), Papua New Guinea, Puerto Rico (mal
de pelea), and among the Navajo
& cólera (or muina), among
Latinos, describe syndromes whose underlying cause is considered to be anger
or rage. Symptoms can include tension, headache, screaming, trembling, stomach
disturbances, and even chronic fatigue.
hwa-byung is a Korean syndrome attributed to a suppression
of anger. Its symptoms can include insomnia, fatigue, panic, fear of impending
death, indigestion, labored breathing, and generalized aches and
illustrate one basic point: no matter what language you speak, unless you
also understand the language of forgiveness, anger
will lead you straight into psychopathology.
Many individuals who need help with anger management have
no interest in the psychodynamics of anger, and they are put off by anything
suggestive of philosophy or religion. So, because anger is such a large problem
in the world today, here is some advice about anger management, reduced to
its most basic
anger does not work. Even though it might
give some immediate satisfaction, venting anger (called
catharsis)whether by yelling obscenities, making obscene gestures,
honking the horn of your car, throwing or breaking things, or screaming
insultsdoes nothing to dispel anger. More often than not, it actually
pumps up your emotional arousal and may even prolong
So, as I say
above, recognize the temptation to get angry, yet dont act on it.
Instead, do the following.
down. Remember the old, stereotypical advice
about counting to ten before saying or doing anything when you first feel
hurt? Well, its still good advice. Thats because the first reaction
to hurt is purely physiological: you receive a rush of adrenaline to prepare
you to take action in real danger. But when the hurt comes from an event
that poses only a short-term threatsuch as when a car cuts in front
of youor threatens your pride far more than your life and safety, then
all that adrenaline surging through your body isnt serving any meaningful
If youre prone to violence, then walk away
from the provocation as soon as you feel the pressure building.
In most cases, simply taking a few moments to practice
some simple relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing,
can allow your sympathetic nervous systems
arousal to calm down and dissipate by itself. Deep, slow breathing is an
automatic physiological effect of being at peace, so when you deliberately
take slow, deep breaths you are indirectly telling your body that all danger
has now passed; as a consequence, your body will stop producing adrenaline
and your arousal will cease.
use this cooling off period to dwell on negative thoughts or you will make
matters even worse. In fact, this leads to the next step.
yourself what youre really feeling.
Many persons have such a limited knowledge of their emotional life that they
tend to lump everything together into anger. If you look closely, though,
you might find that behind the anger are more pertinent feelings, such as
disappointment, sadness, fear, and so on.
Click on the link for a list of
emotions that can help you identify
what you are actually experiencing.
your negative thoughts. The way we think
has a lot to do with the way we feel, so changing your
thoughts from a hateful, negative orientation to
a calm, positive orientation becomes essential in managing feelings of hurt
[Expletive!] What a piece of [expletive] junk! Now were going
to be [expletive] late!
OK. Its a flat tire. There was nothing we could have done to
prevent it. Lets forget about being on time and just see about getting
the tire changed. One thing at a time.
Or look for a
[Expletive!] What a [expletive] jerk! He knew this was an important
[expletive] meeting! So why is he [expletive] late?
Maybe there was a traffic accident. Maybe they had a flat tire. Who
knows? Well find out in due time.
around the obstacle. Most persons feel
frustrated when someone or something obstructs them in some way. And most
persons respond to the feeling of frustration by immediately wanting the
satisfaction of forcing the obstacle to get out of the wayor,
if it wont move, to curse it and insult it.
The healthy response
to frustration, however, requires a different psychological attitude than
frustrated, sit back, relax, and wait. Say to yourself the
As things develop, I will,
through listening to guidance from my unconscious, adapt to changing
circumstances and grow with them.
I may not get what I want
when I want it; I trust that things will work out in their own good time,
for my ultimate benefit, as long as I remain calm and
I may not get what I want
at all, and yet, in remaining calm and attentive, I may discover something
else that I need even more than what I thought I
at things from the other persons
perspective. Have you ever casually stepped
off the curb to cross a street when a driver turning the corner almost hits
you? It can be enough to make you swear and bang on his car, right? Now imagine
yourself as a driver, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, a bit confused,
traffic everywhere. You stop at a corner, about to turn right. You look all
around, left, right, left again. It looks clear. You start to move. And
thenwhere did he come from?! A pedestrian just stepped right in front
of you and you barely saw him!
So, think about
it. Which person is in the wrongthe driver of the car or
the pedestrian? Hmm . . . maybe both? It depends on whether
youre in the car or out of it, doesnt it?
thats the point about perspective. Although some persons are truly
selfish and inconsiderate, sometimes a person is simply distracted or confused,
not maliciously trying to get in your way. Looking at the other side
and it can go a long way to calming yourself down, keeping the peace, and
fostering simple courtesy.
way, when persons have difficulty understanding emotions and therefore lack
the capacity for empathy, its called
questionsthat is, when the situation
involves someone you know and with whom you have a continuing relationship.
Once you understand how to do it, it can be relatively simple to
forgive a stranger because you dont even
have to say anything. You have an added responsibility, though, when someone
you know hurts you. You must ask questions that get to the psychological
cause of the problem; if you dont ask, then the
hurt will keep repeating itself, and before long you will become seriously
questions (So, youre late again! Youre seeing someone
else, arent you?). Ask open-ended questions that cant
be brushed off with a simple Yes or No, and let them be
non-judgmental questions that bring out true
emotions. Here are a few examples:
What do you need?
What are you disappointed about?
What are you worried about?
What do you want?
How can I help?
allow yourself to dwell upon resentment.
Letting go of resentment and thoughts of revenge after an insult can be very
difficult because thoughts of revenge are natural. Yet, as was said previously,
even poisons are naturaland thoughts of revenge act like poisons in
your mind and heart that hurt yourself more than anyone
when you find yourself reeling from an insult, endeavor to drive away vengeful
thoughts with positive thoughts. Repeat a mantra (Stay calm.
Justice will be done eventually. Peace.) or recite
a prayer over and over. Your mind will want to keep coming back to the wound,
and you may have to ward off vengeful thoughts for several hours following
the insult. Otherwise, your entire mental and physical equilibrium will be
disrupted; you will be distracted, unable to concentrate, prone to lapses
of judgment, and vulnerable to accidents.
is justice? Developing a philosophical belief
in justice plays a large role in being able to not dwell upon resentment.
Individuals who believe that justice must come from their own hands will
always have their hands full and are in grave danger of getting stuck in
depressive victimization. If, however, you believe that justice has its being
in something other than yousuch as karma or divine
judgmentthen you can trust that your offenders will sooner or later
pay for their offenses; this act of trust in a justice greater than yourself
will set you free from unconscious slavery to a life of unending resentment
the alternatives. Well, besides the practical
alternative of prison, with its loss of freedom, there is one major psychological
alternative to managing feelings of hurt and insult in a healthy manner:
illness. Medical research and psychoanalytic theory have long recognized
that chronic hostility and anger, whether unrecognized, suppressed, or vented
in rage, can be causative factors in asthma, autoimmune dysfunction, coronary
artery disease, cysts, depression, headaches, heart attacks, high blood pressure,
insomnia, intestinal disorders, low back pain, sexual dysfunction,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoia, and ulcers.
you might want to think of anger as just a lot of hot
That initial rush in response to an insult is adrenaline. Nothing
Identify what is really happening, how much of a threat it really is, and
why it is happening.
Choose a reaction that is compassionate and fair, rather than fall headlong
into hostility and revenge.
was taught that anger is a bad thing. Ive had an abusive childhood
but it is hard to feel any anger about it because I feel guilty and afraid
about offending God or blaming my parents. My therapist says I have to feel
angry feelings to get better. How can I show these feelings without freaking
out myself or the therapist so he will tell me to
Anger is always a reaction to some sort of hurt or insult.
But when you look at this reaction more closely, you can see that anger does
not have to be the only reaction to hurt.
The most immediate
and primary response to hurt or insult is a physiological arousal of the
sympathetic nervous system. Your heart rate jumps. Your blood pressure surges.
These things, however, are just immediate self-defensive reactions that prepare
us to take some sort of action to respond to the threat.
Now, to be
technically precise here, anger does not refer to the feeling of
physiological arousal itself; anger is a particular response to that arousal
that is grounded in hostility and hatred. In essence, anger is a wish to
hurt someone because someone has hurt you. Anger does not even have to be
experienced as the strong emotion of rage; it can just as well be a
thought or a wish to hurt someone. In this sense, then, anger
is a bad thing because it is an offense against love, for
love is a matter of willing the good of others, not a matter of wishing
When you are
told to feel your anger in psychotherapy, however, you are not being told
to do something that is morally wrong. Nor are you being encouraged to get
angry, such as by yelling, cursing, throwing things, breaking things,
or hitting someone. Instead, you are being told to recognize something
that is already within you, so that you can stop deceiving yourself about
your own reality.
see what that something might be.
abuse always provokes feelings of hurt and insult in the child, and almost
inevitably that hurt leads to an experience of hate and a desire for revenge.
In fact, even many ordinary, non-abusive frustrations of childhood will provoke
feelings of hurt that can lead to anger. But because children are not usually
taught to express hostile feelings in any healthy way (and because they
arent taught the psychological meaning of anger, and because they
arent taught the psychological meaning of
reparation), children quickly learn, through
guilt, to hide
their true feelings from their parents.
psychological problem, however, is that these unexpressed feelingsthe
bad angerget pushed into the
they continue to grow in darkness, like mold on the walls. It may be hidden
from conscious sight, and it may be hidden from public view. But it cant
be hidden from your unconscious.
That is, unconscious
anger, no matter how much you try to deny it, will continue to stain all
your interpersonal relationships. With this anger festering inside of you,
it becomes almost impossible to give
true love to
anyone. Right now, when difficult things happen to you, you fall kersplash!
right into the swamp of childhood anger.
The whole point
of psychotherapy is to learn that there are very
specific environmental triggers for your feelings. Recognize the triggers,
first, and then recognize the emotional bridge that goes back
to childhood wounds. Learn to look for the actual events (notice the plural)
that have been bothering you recently. Take each one separately. What are
all the feelings
about that event? Frustration? Helplessness? Abandonment? Betrayal? Fear?
(It wont be just anger, because anger is the final, hostile reaction
to all the other feelings.)
When you have
these emotions all separated out, then you have an idea of what is really
happening to you, apart from the anger. Then you can deal with each event
separately, according to the emotions specific to that event. And its
your choice. Do something constructive and creative about each problem
individually, or, well, get angry about everything and stew in it.
Up till now you
have been stewing in it, and thats why everything seems so oppressive
and foul underneath the surface of a nice social demeanor. If Im wrong,
then why are you in psychotherapy in the first place? Most likely, everything
in your life is all caught up in a big snarl of childhood hurt.
So, if you go
through this healing process, you will learn to free your hidden anger from
its dark, silent prison. Having thus set it free, and having thus cleansed
yourself of its stains, you will also be free of something else. You will
be free of feeling like a
victim and free
of secretly blaming
your parents, because as long as you keep your anger hidden, you remain
emotionally disabled, and as long as you remain emotionally disabled, you
are throwing your disability in your parents faces to accuse them of
Once you acknowledge
the core of your anger, and understand it, and stop unconsciously wishing
harm on your parents, you can
forgive your parents.
Then you will be healed, and then you can turn to the whole world with true
love in your heart.
Shows how to turn the emotional wounds
of daily life into psychological growth. Available as a paperback book or
as an e-book.
Has this web page been helpful? Then please help support this
website in gratitude, as a down-payment on the success of your
hopes and dreams!
Jacques Lacan, Aggressivity in psychoanalysis. In Écrits:
A selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), pp.
2. The ancient Greek
philosopher Aristotle defined love as “to wish the good of another”
(Rhetoric ii, 4). With this definition, Aristotle made it clear that
love is a desire and not an emotion. Similarly, because hate is the opposite
of love, and because anger is a form of hate, anger is best understood as a desire
(that is, a wish for the harm of another) and not an emotion. This explains why so
many persons are blind to their own anger; such persons commonly say that because they
do not feel angry they must not be angry. Yet their hearts are churning
with anger, even though they deny it.
Note that this definition of anger contradicts the prevailing attitude
toward anger in popular culture, but it’s all because popular culture lacks an
understanding of the psychology of the unconscious.
3. William Shakespeare,
Macbeth, Act V, Scene I.
4. In ancient times,
the term victim referred to an animal offered in sacrifice. But in
popular modern usage, the term victim refers to someone who (a) loses
something against his will or (b) is cheated or duped. Thus, when we lose
our possessions in a flood, for example, or are attacked by a robber, we
are, in being called a victim, imputed feelings of
5. Maker, A. H.,
Kemmelmeier, M., & Peterson, C. (2001). Child sexual abuse, peer sexual
abuse, and sexual assault in adulthood: A multi-risk model of revictimization.
Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14, 351368.
6. William Shakespeare,
Hamlet, Act III, Scene IV.
7. St. Teresa of
Avila, The Book of Her Life. In The Collected Works of St.
Teresa of Avila, Volume Two, trans. K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez
(Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1980). See ch. 32, no. 6:
From this experience [the vision of hell] also flow the great impulses
to help souls and the extraordinary pain that is caused me by the many that
are condemned. . . . It seems certain to me that in order
to free one alone from such appalling torments I would suffer many deaths
8. American Psychiatric
Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994, Appendix
9. Geen R.G., Stonner
D., & Shope G.L. (1975) The facilitation of aggression by aggression:
evidence against the catharsis hypothesis. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 31(4):721-6.
Mallick, S. K. & McCandless, B. R. (1966). A study
of catharsis aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
Tavris, C. (1984). Feeling angry? Letting off steam may
not help. Nursing Life, 4(5):59-61.
The Lacanian School
of Psychoanalysis in the San Francisco Bay area, offers training
in Lacanian psychoanalysis.
The San Francisco Society
for Lacanian Studies provides lectures and information about Lacanian
Teresa of Avila:
pages within A Guide to Psychology and its
Deathand the Seduction
Questions and Answers
INDEX of all subjects
on this website