IN OUR CULTURE TODAY, there is an emphasis on having a “positive attitude.” We are told that negative emotions are detrimental to our functioning in society and that it is imperative to put on a “happy face” at all times. This insistence that we must stay positive surrounds us on all sides:
- The corporate sector — Conform to the business identity. Be a team player.
- The government — Don’t let the terrorists win. Be patriotic.
- Our families — Because it’s tradition. Be loyal.
- Our peers — Losers never win. Compete or be left behind.
- Religion and Spirituality — Keep the faith. Believe.
Many books have been written about how anyone can be happy if they choose to be. When you choose to be happy, you will be rewarded, gain trust, and earn regard. However, if that were true, no one would suffer from depression. Depression is cited as a mental illness, a dysfunction, because someone cannot conform enough to portray an image of happiness.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” — Buddha
It has been said that depression is anger turned inward. We are taught that the best way to manage anger is to simply calm down, breathe, go for a walk, gain perspective, and let it go. However, more often than not, the root cause of one’s anger is never addressed. Because of this, it may seem as if nothing ever changes — we get in the habit of turning the other cheek. This is the slippery slope that leads to depression and a sense of helplessness, because the underlying message is: If you are angry, you are the one with an erroneous perspective. Another term for this mentality is called “gaslighting.”
Wikipedia tells us that gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intention of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity. The popular idea that thoughts manifest reality fits nicely into this paradigm. Your thoughts created the conflict, therefore all you need to do is change the way you think about it. Control your thoughts and your positive affirmations will manifest the desired outcome. The problem always seems to lie with the affronted person and his or her point of view. In this way, tyrants go unchecked and massive problems get ignored.
“The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.” — Bede Jarrett
In general, we are taught that anger makes people act impulsively to varying degrees of inappropriate violence, causes more harm than good, and indulging it is a waste of energy. In my opinion, the danger lies in dismissing an emotion as irrelevant or unproductive. All “negative” emotions (i.e. fear, sadness, depression, frustration, and anger) arise from an unresolvable dissonance. Our internal perception and external reality do not match. We know something is wrong, but our Culture of Positivity has crippled our ability to act on it.
“Anger is one letter away from danger.” — Unknown
All emotions serve a purpose, and anger is no exception. But by labeling certain aspects of our psyche as wrong, baser, or less than, we create a breeding ground for the shadow self. The shadow self runs rampant in our culture by way of violence, abuse of power, and apathy. Nobody wants conflict, but surely there is a middle ground between inappropriate outbursts and silent visualization. To find it, we must sort through the misinformation about positivity and come to a place that balances thought, action and accountability.
“If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” — Unknown
The lesson is in cultivating a culture that allows for the safe expression of negative emotions while holding all parties accountable. Everyone needs to learn how to take responsibility for the repercussions of their thoughts, words and actions. Everyone has a role to play. But until our entire culture finds a way to accept and act on that, emotions like anger will always hold us hostage in a prison of forced positive thinking.