If You Are Angry, Own It

If You Are Angry, Own It

Controlling your anger need not mean swallowing it down. Not everyone can be the Dalai Lama. Can that righteous anger be channelled instead?

In a recent Facebook update the Dalai Lama has this to say about controlling your anger:

“The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you think about this and come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, that it is only destructive, you can begin to distance yourself from anger.”

This and other similar statements are the reason why I suck at being a Buddhist.

I have been thinking a lot about anger during past half-year; mainly because I’ve been experiencing a shitload of it. To cut a long story short: Government regulations meant that after almost nine years of living in the U.S. my employer still couldn’t sponsor me for an H1B visa – not without taking radical steps like giving me a promotion or a pay rise. It was too late to apply to grad school and renew my student status. I had two choices: Stay in the U.S. as an illegal alien or leave. The third option, marriage, seemed too horrifying to take into consideration.

So I left and returned to the Czech Republic, leaving many things I held dear behind.

Lisbeth Salander knows all about controlling your anger…

Being cast out of the country where I spent so many years working my ass off and paying taxes was beyond frustrating. I spent six months in a permanent state of anger, alternating briefly with sorrow. I lost all motivation to do things I used to enjoy back ‘home’. I spent days watching American TV shows and drinking Czech rum (one of the few domestic products I considered worthy – and far cheaper than Captain Morgan). I was as moody as if I suffered with permanent PMS. I was not a happy camper.

Friends on both continents kept trying to convince me that I shouldn’t be angry, and that fuelled my anger even more. Had I done more research on my reaction to my loss back then, I could have responded by quoting an American Psychological Association article in which psychogists explore the positive benefits of anger, concluding that in clinical research anger can play a constructive role at home, at work and in the national consciousness. Not having any access to this information yet, I was limited to telling everybody that they had absolutely no clue how it felt to live in exile.

… As does, quite frankly, every character in Fight Club. “I am Jack’s Raging Bile Duct.” Yeah.

I needed that fury. While the constant anger over my situation was certainly no fun, it was also fueling my determination to change it. Or, as Bjorn and Victoria Benedicts (the practising buddhists and founders of the www.zenmasterben.com) point out: Anger has a positive side also. It is an enormous source of energy. And this energy can provide us with the power to do things that we may not be able to do under normal circumstances.

The only problem is that this energy has to be properly channeled in order to become positive. It’s questionable whether drinking rum and making snippy comments about my circumstance on Facebook can be considered a proper channeling, but somewhere between these activities I also found the time and energy to study for my GRE exam, fill out endless grad school applications, pay tons of money on application fees, and write essays aiming to convince various committees how much they needed to choose me over other applicants.

Anger became the force that didn’t allow me to give up. There were, of course, moments when I was tempted to give myself an easy life and forget my American dream. Then the spring came. I woke up one morning and realized that my anger was spent and that I was growing tired from feeling miserable all the time. I had kept going through all the powerful if negative emotions, and by not trying to suppress them, they burned themselves out. Plus I felt much stronger, knowing that I had done (almost) everything in my power to get back to the States and get my interrupted life back, and that now it depended solely one someone else’s decision whether I would be granted admission or not.

It was time to relax and start enjoying life again, wherever I was.

A couple of weeks after this realization a letter turned up in the mail. Opening it, I read that I had been accepted into the program of my choice and that I could start working on processing my new visa.

Well, then. I didn’t feel that my anger helped a truly moral cause, as Harry Mills, Ph.D. describes the positive side of anger, quoting people like Martin Luther King Jn. and Mahatma Ghandi who by getting pissed off helped change history; but it certainly helped me.

I’m sorry if some people think that anger is an emotion so negative that it shouldn’t have a place in our lives. I’m an (imperfect) woman, not an angel; I laugh when I’m happy, cry when I’m sad, and get furious when the American government tells me that marriage is the only legal way to stay in the country. Negative emotions are part of human existence, and going through them and learning how to deal with them is essential for our growth. Yes, I have been feeling a lot of anger, sadness, and negativity, but so what? I had a reason to, and it gave me the strength to change things. Sometimes anger rocks – and I don’t care whether the Dalai Lama agrees with me or not 🙂