[Note: While this is not a discussion of egoic development, we can not stress enough the foundational necessity of true esteem for the self for emotional freedom. So many upsets, be they anger upsets, shame, fear, etc., can be traced to a lack of esteem for the self—that is pre-rational or early-rational egoic development. From anger to shame, the variable of one’s egoic developmental stage is undeniably an important factor. But that is another discussion for another time. I have written briefly about egoic stage development and will occasionally refer to these distinctions in this discussion.]
Be sure to see parts one and two here
Now that we have covered interpretations and extrapolated meanings, what of specific dynamics within each emotion? What of anger? Resentment? Guilt? Shame? What other variables lead to negative emotions aside from lower egoic development? For it is through this knowledge, using our self-reflexive awareness and meta-cognition, that we can notice these dynamics as they are happening, and choose a different path.
Anger. Anger has at least two components.
- Indicator of a crossed boundary
Often anger is “just-ified”. That is, with respect to justice, we are “right” in being angry. Maybe someone has violated our person or property. Perhaps they have broken an agreement. Perhaps they have deceived us intentionally. We have little choice around the action of others. They will do what they do, as we are all on our own path. However, when we are angry, often we are blaming them for what they have done. This is different and separate from holding them accountable, which is appropriate, but goes further into a game of pre-rational ego.
Let’s say that I had my car stereo stolen. I come out in the morning and I notice it gone and the dashboard area around where it was previously installed is damaged. I call the police and I wait seething in my anger. “what a low-life thief”, I say to myself along with numerous other colorful expletives.
Once the police come they ask me a few questions: “Do you have a car alarm?” Yes, I tell them. “did you hear it go off last night?” No, I tell them, regrettably I did not set it last night. “Were the car locks damaged?” No, I tell them…the car was unlocked…
We can quickly see where this is going. While the crime of the stolen stereo is indeed a crime and may be punished and is an unfortunate violation of my person by the extension of my property, the responsibility is mine to lock my vehicle, set my alarm, and care that my car is secured. Once I begin to take responsibility by asking the two key questions:
- How am I responsible
- What can I learn or gain from this that will allow me to release the anger completely?
The blame will dissolve and the anger will begin to fade away.
The truth is, no matter what has happened to us: assault, theft, harsh words thrown at us, fraudulent deception, broken agreements, or unrequited love--no matter what has happened, there is something we can take responsibility for and something, or many things, we can learn that once learned will release the anger entirely. And no, learning that “all men are jerks” is not the kind of learning I am referring to. It must be something insightful or positive and empowering about yourself or about the world.
There are times when we get angry with others for not meeting or violating one of our expectations. Often, these are implicit, unstated expectations. In this case, the only responsible thing to do is notice this, take responsibility for it, and make a request of the other person so they are more fully informed of your expectations. [For a fuller treatment of the ideas of rules and fair play see relationdancing
We must stress, however, that no matter how “just”-ified the anger is, it is still not useful for anything other than dynamics of control and dominance. In fact, one must get through the anger first to see things clearly anyway, to see through to justice, rather than demand vengeance and retribution. Again, the way to accelerate the process until one is emotionally free is to ask the two key questions above—and we do it for ourselves. Not for the Other.
The first question, “how am I responsible?”, shifts the focus from blaming Other to a more responsible “I” and as a result, assists in building true esteem for the self as any responsibility-taking action does. It builds our sense of self. The second question, “what can I learn?”, turns the event into a learning experience and a gift and the conditional clause “that will allow me to release the anger completely” assures that our mind will give us a deep learning. The deeper the learning, the more fortunate we are to have unfortunate events occur to us. I know this from an abundance of first hand experience.
In the case of anger—and indeed in the case of all unpleasant emotions—the Evolutionary uses their self-reflexive awareness [which we have all been practicing daily] to notice when the anger arises. They observe the sensations and then ask the two key anger questions and notice the internal shift in their sensations after answering the questions. The idea is not to never experience anger [although you will find after daily practice and rigorous application that fewer and fewer things will anger you]. The goal here is to simply shorten the duration for which you experience the anger. Shortening and shortening and shortening the duration until it is mere minutes and then mere seconds rather than hours, or days, or for some of us still in an emotional prison: weeks and months…or longer.
Resentment is a little different. Resentment still requires blame, as anger does, however it has an interesting residuary element. It builds and builds even after anger is experienced and expressed or released. I like to think of it this way—it is an indicator that the person I resent is overdrawn on their emotional bank account with me. Not that they are to blame—it just is so.
Where then can we take responsibility such that we can release the resentment? What is usually the case with this residue we call resentment? It did not happen overnight. It built over time. What else can we say about resentment? There were perhaps [and probably] many points along the way in our dealings or interactions with the person we feel resentment towards when we wanted to say no, and we chose to say yes for various reasons. In other words, we failed to honor our internal voice, knowing, instinct, or intuition—our inner desires or wisdom. We failed to honor ourselves. In doing so we were irresponsible indeed. Over time we built resentments, and then we blame them—essentially—for our inability to honor ourselves and say no when we knew it was best for us.
The madness continues.
[In part 4 we will explore guilt and shame]