Anger

Below I share some ideas about anger and non-violence. Neither piece is written by me. I have scourging anger in my system, but I hope to be able to move into a more loving acceptance of life, reality and humanity. I don’t want to hate the people who hurt me.

See Sally Clay’s homepage with a link to all her essays too. She is a well seasoned psychiatric survivor.

SPIRITUALITY AND ANGER
by Sally Clay

When anger comes, remind yourself: “This is the enemy, this is the ultimate enemy, this is the true enemy.” An external enemy may, the next day, become a good friend. But anger, this inner enemy, is always the enemy. – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Harvard University, September 10, 1995

The mental patient liberation movement is now nearly 25 years old. The results of our advocacy can be seen everywhere, from better treatment of people in hospitals, to consumer-run programs in the community, to systems changes through offices of consumer affairs.

I am proud to have worked with many people, such as Howie the Harp and Gayle Bluebird, who have dedicated their lives to this work. I have seen how advocacy can not only help others, but also contribute to one’s own recovery. At the same time, despite the gains we have made, the consumer/survivor movement has never really gotten off the ground.

After years of struggle, where is the public recognition and political power that our cause merits? Why is it that people in this country listen to NAMI but have never even heard of us? Why is it that, even with the sympathy of many professionals, most of our peers (other mental health clients) avoid us like the plague?

Why — with all of our advocacy for treatment based on kindness and compassion — are our user-run organizations rife with anger, jealously, and conflict? After all these years, why are there still so few coherent programs, consumer-run or otherwise, that consistently produce real recovery from emotional and mental suffering?

The answer is clear to me.

The Dream Again Journal was founded a few months ago on the principle, as stated by founder Ed Cooper, that “we are more than mere mechanical beings and that spirituality is the basic pathway to healing from madness.”

Yet in both of the first issues of this Journal, I was troubled by the presence of the same kneejerk attitude that has characterized our movement from the beginning — words of hurt expressed with the rhetoric of anger. Over and over again, we excite ourselves into a polarization of roles such as poor victims (“us”) vs. cruel oppressors (“them”). When this kind of argument gets going, we find ourselves cast into a pitched battle that allows no solution short of extermination of “Them.” This is, to me, about as far from spirituality as you can get.

This negative attitude is illustrated by Ron Thompson’s article, “Seventy-five percent Twice” in the fall issue of the Journal. Here I recognized the rage that is all too prevalent in the consumer/survivor movement. This kind of anger is nurtured by rhetoric such as the proposal to cut out the jobs of most mental health professionals. “In other words,” the author states, “by statute fire 75% of them.”

To me, this is a “Gingrich approach” to reforming a system. The sweeping dismissal of most mental health workers (including c/s/x’s!) sounds no less arbitrary than the statement for which the author later condemns professionals: “Clients have a broken brain which will require psychiatric drugs for the rest of their lives.”

Even if intended tongue-in-cheek, the “seventy-five percent” proposal is hardly a call for respectful dialogue. It is not, as the author claims, a possible solution — it is the problem. Such an approach is destructive, for it just creates more of its own. It incites our anger, and it drives away our allies. If implemented, such a policy would damage clients and professionals alike, both of whom are human beings.

I sent an e-mail message to Ed, objecting to this kind of material. He answered:

“Since the Journal is both Spirituality and Madness, I am not sure I want to leave out all mention of problems and anger. I am not sure anger is all separate from spiritual growth. This is not the gospel, but it is where my head is now.”

Well, I respect Ed’s point of view. I know that many consumer/survivors accept, and even extol, anger as an appropriate tool for both spiritual and social change. I don’t reject all forms of anger. Anger that is briefly focused can sometimes be effective, when it is used with compassion. Anger can be personally cathartic when we allow ourselves to feel it, then learn to let it go — without hurting other people.

But I, for one, find confrontation to be a disturbing tactic. The polarizing effect of proposals such as the “75% solution” lead us down a dead end, and makes enemies of those we want to persuade. Such militancy stunts the growth of our movement. More than that, anger and its cohort, fear, prevent us from getting beyond madness and into true spirituality.

Nihilism never heals. As long as consumer/survivors remain entranced with their victimhood and negative in their expression of it, the c/s/x movement will get no further than the fragile and often temporary improvements we have seen thus far. Mental illness may not be a disease; but contempt is a poison.

I believe in a more radical approach, one that has been called ahimsa (or non-violence). This is a strategy based on the subtle power of “loving your enemy.” It produces more lasting social change, and is the only path to true recovery. I hope that, in the future, the pages of this Journal will express satyagraha (truth-force) rather than the force of vengeance and hate.

Let me point out that, although I may be using strong words here, I respect Ron Thompson and much of the work he has done. I do not intend my words as a personal attack. I simply think that bitterness and polarizing anger have no place in a publication about spirituality. I still hope that the Dream Again Journal will follow Ed Cooper’s statement of purpose: that it will present spirituality as a real force in healing and empowerment.

*** Sharewrite 1996 Sally Clay ***
Published in the Dream Again Journal,
Volume 2, Number 1, January-February 1996.
Permission is granted for personal distribution of this document
as long as it is unchanged in any way and this notice is included.
For permission to reprint it for general publication, contact me at
zangmo@sallyclay.net.

From Ghandi’s Non-Violence:

Elements of Gandhi’s philosophy were rooted in the Indian religions of Jainism and Buddhism. Both of these advocate ahimsa (non-violence), which is “absence of the desire to kill or harm” (Chapple 10). The Acaranga Sutra, a Jainist text, describes the fundamental need for non-violence: “All beings are fond of life; they like pleasure and hate pain, shun destruction and like to live, they long to live. To all, life is dear” (Chapple 11). Ahimsa is a way of living and thinking which respects this deeply.

Gandhi was both religious (he was Hindu) and open-minded, and saw the different religions as paths to the same goal. He was inspired by the teachings of Jesus, in particular the emphasis on love for everyone, even one’s enemies, and the need to strive for justice. He also took from Hinduism the importance of action in one’s life, without concern for success; the Hindu text Bhagavad-Gita says, “On action alone be thy interest, / Never on its fruits / Abiding in discipline perform actions, / Abandoning attachment / Being indifferent to success or failure” (Wolpert 71).

For Gandhi, ahimsa was the expression of the deepest love for all humans, including one’s opponents; this non-violence therefore included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill-will towards them. Gandhi rejected the traditional dichotomy between one’s own side and the “enemy;” he believed in the need to convince opponents of their injustice, not to punish them, and in this way one could win their friendship and one’s own freedom. If need be, one might need to suffer or die in order that they may be converted to love (Shepard 4).

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

47 Responses

  1. …extol, anger as an appropriate tool for both spiritual and social change

    Anger is not a tool, it’s an emotion. Seems to me we have enough real and imagined psychopathology to deal with as it is without adding on a fundamental human emotion to the list.

    If this has something to do with the constant question of people with mental health issues about “what normal is” rest assured normal people feel angry many times a day.

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  2. thememoryartist

    “After all these years, why are there still so few coherent programs, consumer-run or otherwise, that consistently produce real recovery from emotional and mental suffering?”

    It’s not because we’re angry. It’s because our anger is invalidated consistently. Psychiatric survivors and abuse survivors of any kind have legitimate reasons for anger, but of course our emotions are always on trial, seen as pathological.

    That NAMI is so much more successful doesn’t have a stinking thing to do with their spirituality, and their rhetoric is deceitful, one of supposed concern. NAMI isn’t and never has been an advocacy movement by consumers for consumers. They sprung entirely from several support groups by parents of those with severe and persistent mental illness. They began from a place of power and have support financially and otherwise from TAC. Their anger has political clout. Everyone wants to see “the mentally ill” under control.

    I think framing anger as the enemy is a poor place to start if the spiritual goal is one of acceptance. It sets up resistance which is the opposite of embrace. If you feel something, but tell yourself that you don’t want to feel it, then you’re already not accepting that emotion. You’re making a judgment that you want to be somewhere else, somewhere better, somewhere that you are not, and the goal of getting to that other place is the very same thing as resistance. That is not a mindful approach to anger. The power is right here in the acceptance of the anger, not in the acceptance of those who have harmed you, although, that is likely to follow.

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  3. thememoryartist

    I think it’s frightening when people, especially religious leaders attempt to separate anger from the spiritual path, which, if one believes in a creator, is a God-given emotion that is essential to living fully. Who is angrier than God? He’s pissed all of the time, and loaded with threats. LOL. Seriously though, I think anger is such a core emotion that it arises from the deepest most spiritual places within us. Anger does not = hatred or violence. Repression of anger through religion in by the words of a so-called spiritual leader is not about spirituality, it’s about social control and manipulation from my perspective.

    When the rage eats at us, it’s because it’s being denied on some level, and I don’t mean that we don’t recognize that it’s there. I mean we have judged it as bad and undesirable. It feels so overwhelming and powerful, and so we fear it. That resistance is what keeps it there to eat at us. It’s there for a reason. It wants a voice. It can’t move on.

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  4. I respect Sally Clay, but I don’t agree with her about why we have not succeeded as a movement. TAC uses anger all the time and has been remarkably successful in less than a decade in achieving their goals. What they have that we don’t are 1. Money, lots of it 2. Connections with the media and thought leaders and politicians and 3. Respectablity/respect from the general public

    The powers that be always tell oppressed groups they would get farther if they were just less angry and it’s never true.

    Anger to me can be spiritual. Anger transformed into action and resistance is a spiritual act in my opinion.

    Infighting is a separate issue but try and find a small group that is oppressed that doesn’t have that issue and I’ll eat my hat.

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  5. thememoryartist

    G, You posted one piece about anger and one about non-violence. It would seem that you have a connection going on for yourself between anger and violence. While violence almost always includes an aspect of anger, anger much more rarely leads to violence. The two are not a boxed set.

    You asked about the concept of ahisma, which is defined above as: “absence of the desire to kill or harm”. How often does anger create the desire to kill or harm? It happens, but when it has no sufficient outlet. Violence is not the necessary result of anger. Loving my enemies is not a goal, acceptance that we must all reside here on earth together for a time-yes, but love- that takes a lot of energy and commitment and even mutuality. Are we to be martyrs like Christ? I don’t think so. He also spoke of “turning the other cheek”. In other words, when someone abuses you, sit there and let them do it…but that’s my interpretation. There’s nothing noble or spiritual or healing in being a silent victim. That’s a spirit-denying, soul-killing position in most circumstances. I agree with Alison:
    “Anger transformed into action and resistance is a spiritual act”.

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  6. Denise

    Hey, Thanks Gianna for telling me about Sally Clay. Great website. She has some very good essays on a lot of different subjects. It’s similar to Elizabeth Richter’s wriitings – Songs of teh Captive. you sure are in touch with the survivor movement! ~ D

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  7. thememoryartist

    hmmm, well, love itself does not necessarily mean that one won’t feel anger and/or ill will (feelings of hostility) towards a person(s). Hatred and ill will are related to anger,yes, but even war itself is not always driven by anger. It can be driven by an intense desire to obtain something that one is being denied- like freedom. The desire to harm or the feelings of hatred and ill will may play little or no role in such things. All the love in the world wasn’t going to make the slave owners free their human captives or make the Nazi’s set loose their prisoners. All the love in the world isn’t going to make TAC or NAMI stop and listen to the voices of patients. They’re there to assert their will.

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  8. I have been enjoying this conversation! I would be the first to agree that anger can be a clean and even empowering emotion, at least when it is experienced “in the moment” and then let go of before it becomes damaging. It can be useful to express anger when one experiences it that way, and when it is not attached to hate or resentment toward another person. What has bothered me in the csx movement is that anger is extolled as a sort of weapon in the battle between “us and them,” and to me that leads to a dualistic dead end, especially when the anger is fed and allowed to fester.
    I learned a powerful lesson in that regard when I led a demonstration against psychiatric treatment at the local ER in Portland, Maine. In the days before the demonstration, we freely vented all of our anger and all of our complaints to whomever would listen, and especially to the press. On the day when we actually marched to the ER, carrying our signs and slogans, we found that all of the psychiatric staff of Maine Medical Center were standing there waiting for us. To my horror, one of my colleagues ran up to the Chief of Psychiatry and started yelling in his face. I stepped back from this scene and waited until I could approach the doctor. When I did, I thanked him for being there, and suggested that we all sit down and discuss the issues. He agreed, and our meeting turned into the first of regular monthly meetings that resulted in some real improvements in psychiatric policy at the hospital.
    This strategy proved effective in other events in the future: First, get their attention, by anger if necessary. Then let go of your anger and pursue your legitimate agenda with firmness and courtesy. I wrote about it my essay, “Schlepping With the Enemy,” which is also on my web site.

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  9. thememoryartist

    Like flawedplan said at the beginning, “anger is not a tool, it’s an emotion.” It’s a motivating force at times. You used your voices and your actions to get their attention, not your anger.

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  10. ama

    wow. fantastic conversation. i have nothing really to add to the points people are making about anger etc. — everyone is so articulate and effective! you guys rock. but i want to say two things.

    first, gianna, i hear you when you say that you are feeling very raw and in the middle of pretty powerful emotions. it must be a VERY INTENSE place to be. take heart. the stinking withdrawal will come to an end. but, as far as i am concerned, you come across very clear and very forceful in all your points, and also in your “moderation” of this conversation. well done.

    secondly, in answer to your question at no. 11, i do share the ideal of loving my enemies. it’s damn hard, but, i find, very true and valid and beautiful. not that i succeed very often, but it is one of my ideals. i read once in an anthology of taoist quotes that it is useful to think of everyone, including our “enemies,” as people who are dying.

    i don’t know, though, that i could really endeavor to love my enemies if i didn’t believe in god. there are things that for me make sense only in the light of transcendence and the existence of another whose very essence is love for me and for everyone else as well. this, i suspect, is a shortcoming of mine. also, i’ve never tried not believing in god, so what i say is to be taken for what it is, a very partial statement.

    and by the way, tma, loving one’s enemies is not the same as aiding our enemies in the pursuit of wrong! you’ve got to love in the truth, not in hypocrisy.

    the only way i know to love my enemies is concretely in the present. i don’t know how to love my enemies in the abstract. when my husband and i fight, i feel very angry towards him. on our last fight, i thought he had been petty. because of the ideal of loving my enemies, and since in that moment he was my enemy, i apologized about my part without remarking on his part at all. he said, “okay,” also without remarking on his part. it would not have served any purpose to say, “but you also should acknowledge…” it wasn’t important. i would have said it only to score points. so i let it go, out of love. that felt damn good.

    we don’t frequently encounter real, out-to-kill-us enemies. most of us are not in combat or other similar situations. but we have little enemies every day. people who cut in front of us in line, family members who they fail to be generous or just, a snappy shopkeeper. those are the enemies to love, so that when we encounter real, more serious enemies, we will know what it means to love.

    my husband, who’s not a believer, always says, if we can’t be decent to each other on day-to-day occurrences, how can we expect to be decent to each other on the last train out of prague? it’s a powerful image. it works for me.

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  11. thememoryartist

    “and by the way, tma, loving one’s enemies is not the same as aiding our enemies in the pursuit of wrong!”

    Did I suggest that it is AMA?

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  12. thememoryartist

    But is he an true enemy, or a partner with his own interests as well ? When I think of enemies, they certainly don’t fall under the categories of “people who cut in front of us in line, family members who they fail to be generous or just, a snappy shopkeeper”. I think of enemies as real, legitimate threats to safety and well-being. For example, groups like NAMI and TAC who profess love and concern while refusing to hear the voices of c/s/x.

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  13. thememoryartist

    “And I want to understand them as human beings too. With all the same emotions and many of the same desires I have too.”

    That’s a beautiful and very spiritual desire that I share. It’s one of the things that has helped me in my healing process, particularly with regards to the abuse inflicted by my mother.
    But while I think understanding is crucial to acceptance, I wouldn’t say that love is a necessary part of either of those things. I have compassion for my abusers, who were enemies, but I don’t have love for them, including my mother. I understand where their behaviors came from and what purposes they may have served, but my understanding and acceptance of those things changes nothing about the actions that they have committed and in my mother’s case, continues to commit. Acceptance and love are not always key ingredients for creating change in others. That’s for ourselves most of the time. True threats, real enemies are not likely to be concerned about our affections or swayed by them.

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  14. ama

    tma, sorry if i misunderstood your point about hitler and… someone/something else, can’t go through all the thread to find them now cuz i’ll exhaust myself!.

    well, NAMI and TAC are not people, of course, that’s why i said one should love one’s enemies concretely and in the present. in the abstract, i feel much the same burning rage gianna talks about towards too many entities and also individuals to list in this here little comment.

    and i know you are a better man than i, tma, but, as for me, i feel burning rage, nothing less, quite regularly in my interactions with people — stupid therapists who ruin my dreams (the literal kind), friends who don’t give a shit, sisters who don’t ever call… i could go on. so i take that gospel sentence about loving one’s enemies not to mean only those Enemies that wish us ill (how many people, really, wish me ill? i think no one, really), but the individuals who arouse our burning rage (love this phrase) in daily interactions. and trust me, my burning rage is so easily aroused…

    as for organizations and entities like NAMI or, for that matter, the republican party, the christian right, the KKK, etc., well, i suppose we can hate them, we can hate their ideas and principles and battles. but i think of the individuals, you know, the individuals who knock at your door and ask for a glass of water. would you give it to them? i think you would.

    but this is besides the point — and that is my point — because no one from NAMI is likely to knock at your door tomorrow, but maybe someone from class will say something really, really offensive, and a second later ask you to borrow your notes, and that will be the enemy to love.

    i guess the way i see love is not as some lofty feeling but as a concrete set of actions that express kindness and tenderness even when the heart beats fast against the burning rage. and then one day, if we are lucky, the heart will start following the actions, and peace will descend upon us amen etc. etc.

    sorry if i can’t explain myself better.

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  15. ama

    just read your new comment, tma. i guess that what you call acceptance i call love. same difference. or maybe one difference is that love goes the extra mile, is active rather than just accepting. but maybe acceptance is too, i dunno.

    but definitely by love i don’t mean feeling love, cuz you can’t make yourself do that, plus, as you say, i’m not sure anyone would really care.

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  16. ama

    and gianna, concerning husbands, well, i’m not really the silent type either, just so you know. poor J gets shouted at enough. but that time, well, that time i was able to let it go.

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  17. thememoryartist

    No, AMA NAMI and TAC are just organizations made up of individuals who share a common goal that is opposed to mine, But yes, when my neighbor, who belongs to NAMI, whose mom is the president of our local chapter, knocks on my door, I give him a glass of water and a bowl of water for his dogs too. But his life is greatly influenced by his mom’s work, and even though he trusts and believes in her and supports it, he is being harmed by it (without going into personal details here).

    Damn, I’m no better or no worse. Of course, I also feel angered and even enraged by some of the things you mention that set you off, but those people are easy to accept- eventually, unlike those that do pose a serious threat. Sometimes there is already love in place there. I just don’t look at love and acceptance as being the same thing.

    So definitions, well that may make a big difference in our understanding of what we’re discussing- so NO!!! don’t shut the fuck up, pleeeeease don’t, never.

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  18. thememoryartist

    “I think we may be talking past each other about the same thing some of the time.”

    Probably.

    Can we talk about empathy and compassion for abusers, especially the ones who are deemed to have good intentions?

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  19. thememoryartist

    Well, that’s just it with regards to closeness. It’s easy to step back and look objectively at the intentions of an abuser when you are not suffering at their hands. If we’re talking here about feeling compassion for the people who hurt us personally, that’s very different. If we empathize with the abusers of others, such as children who are being drugged by well-intentioned parents to the point where we take no social action to prevent or end such things, that’s not spiritual growth. It’s more like rationalization.

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  20. thememoryartist

    No empathy doesn’t preclude taking action when injustice is being committed, but there’s a finite amount of emotion and energy that we have to commit to a cause. Focusing on compassion for an abuser as a spiritual ideal is a lofty. I just don’t know that it helps in any concrete way to direct attention and energy in that direction when the safety of another human being is at stake.

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  21. thememoryartist

    So, we aren’t talking here about not wanting to feel hatred towards the people who have hurt us ? You’re losing me G. Compassion as a way of being… I’ll have to think about that. I don’t know that it applies at all to the original post.

    One definition of compassion is : sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it

    So where does this compassionate stance fit with understanding and “loving” those who have harmed us? Who’s distress do you want to alleviate?

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  22. ama

    gee weez, i open a new window to watch a movie (two halves of two different movies) and when i come back i find that you guys are doing pyrotechnics with your amazing hearts and minds. you two are amazing, gianna and tma. i agree with both of you, wholeheartedly, compassionate stance and glasses of water and everything.

    get some rest, gianna. tomorrow we are going to cover tolerance and forgiveness.

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