Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King’

Rage is helpless anger.

If anger finds a productive outlet, it can achieve great things (See Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, et al.)  King and Gandhi believed their words could be effective agents for change.  There was a receptive audience somewhere – white Northerners, the British public – who would listen, and perhaps embrace a new direction.

But when you feel no one is listening, you lose a sense of efficacy, of control over your environment.  So you go into a rage.  Instead of turning your anger into words, you go into action on unexamined feelings.

Rage is essentially a temper tantrum.  Just like a frustrated toddler who throws a fit because he can’t have his way.

There is nothing more destructive.  Especially when the phenomenon takes place on a large scale – affecting an entire culture.

Mass rage occurred in China from 1966 to 1976, during the so-called Cultural Revolution.

China was humiliated during the 19th and 20th centuries by the fact that it had somehow slipped a couple hundred years behind the Europeans in terms of technological advancement.  This was a temporary situation – China led the world in technology for eons, and they caught up quickly.  But the humiliation and helplessness of those years led to a feeling of rage that exploded in such bloody events as the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 (a civil war triggered by religious fanaticism) and the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1901 (an outburst of violence by ultraconservative forces against foreigners.)  The ultimate scream of rage was the Cultural Revolution, in which the Chinese, lost in a cult-like worship of Chairman Mao, turned their fury upon themselves, destroying their educational system, smashing their monuments and treasures – and losing an entire generation of human achievement.

It hasn’t only happened in China.  Hitler somehow convinced the German people that they were “humiliated” during WWI, and used it as the trigger for a convulsion of violence against innocents that resulted in the virtual destruction of Germany as a nation.  American Southerners convinced themselves that they’d been “humiliated” during the American Civil War, and used that as the pretext for a bloody outbreak of violence and oppression against innocent African-American citizens during the late 19th century – around the time Mark Twain termed the USA “The United States of Lyncherdom.”

Exactly the same thing is happening today in the Muslim world, and we can only hope they get over it soon.

The pattern is familiar – the “humiliation” of the Muslim nations by foreign occupiers, a deep sense of helplessness and the fall-back into conservatism and reaction, clinging to backward traditions and rejecting anything new that might smack of acculturation.  Then comes the violence – always the violence, officially focused outward on the forces of change, then turned inward, producing cruel persecutions of helpless minorities, and – ultimately – an orgy of self-destruction.

In the end, rage always results in harm to yourself.

The Chinese Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution destroyed their own institutions, persecuted their own intellectuals, dismantled their own universities.

It was a source of amazement, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, that the rioters were burning their own neighborhoods.  They weren’t burning down Hollywood, they were burning down South Central.

Muslim reactionary fanatics – so-called “terrorists” – destroyed the World Trade Center.  But most of their continuing violence seems aimed at other Muslims, mostly within Muslim countries.  If some young man wrapped himself in explosives and blew himself up in a crowd in the USA, it would be a national trauma.  But this awful event appears to occur on a weekly basis in the Muslim world.

The answer?  A familiar one in the world of psychotherapy:  put your feelings into words.  Don’t go into action on unexplored emotion. Contain the feeling, and investigate it.

Humiliation is when someone tells you something true about yourself that you’ve avoided seeing.  It was hard for the Chinese to own up to falling behind in technology, especially when they’d always led the way.  And it was hard for white Southerners to own up to human slavery being a heinous crime, or for Germans to accept that an imperial age had passed Germany by, and that their boundaries would be limited to those of a mid-sized European country – not a world empire.

It must be tough for the Muslim world to realize that it is due for some self-examination and fresh thinking around issues like democracy, freedom of speech, the treatment of women and separation of church and state, where they are clearly falling behind the rest of the world.

These are truths that need to be heard, and processed.  Instead of lashing out in violence, they could put their upset into words, and achieve personal growth.

If only someone in the Muslim world believed we were listening, and would open up – take that risk – and tell us what’s upsetting him. Perhaps he could write an article, or give a speech, or start a movement – a peaceful movement – that would bring attention and understanding to what Muslims are experiencing around the world.  He could answer the question on everyone’s lips after 9/11 – “why do they hate us?”

Then perhaps we could understand what their upset is really about, and bring this horror to an end.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The other day a patient posed a simple, but troubling question:  “What am I supposed to do with all this anger?”

This guy had plenty of good reasons to be angry.  His childhood was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

But that all happened decades ago.  Both his parents were long dead.  He wondered if he was wrong to still feel this way – if it was time to move on – forgive and forget.

I didn’t think so.  I told him what my first therapist, Lena Furgeri, told me years ago when I asked for advice on how to handle my roiling emotions:

“Keep coming,” Lena said,  “and keep talking.”

You can’t just forget your feelings.  And I’m not a great fan of the term “forgiveness” either.  I’m not even sure what it means.

There’s an interesting documentary, from 2006, called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.”   It’s about Eva Mozes Kor, a woman who, as a child, was tortured by Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz, during hideous experiments he performed on prisoners.

Eva Mozes Kor says she “forgives” Mengele for what he did to her.

This statement has triggered controversy and outrage.  You don’t forgive a Nazi.  Mengele was a monster.

Or do you?  This leads us into a metaphysical morass, attempting to chart the contours of sin and forgiveness.  Perhaps the Catholic Church can attempt such a mission, but that’s not my job as a therapist.

My work is comprehending human emotion.  And I know you can’t just forget anger because you decide to “forgive.”

Anger must be metabolized.

The focus is not on the person who caused your anger, or his actions.

It’s about you – and your emotions.

To metabolize anger you must not fear it.  You must contain it – feel it, study it, learn from it – but not succumb to the temptation to go unconscious and act on it.

When you act unconsciously on anger you “act out” – discharge aggression.  Or you act in – shutting down and refusing to act.

It is tempting to act out (or in) because discharging aggression feels good.

We don’t often own this truth.  But pay attention when you hear that something bad happened to someone you don’t like.  You’ll catch the corners of your mouth pulling up.  You are smiling – a primitive simian indicator of pleasure.  Unconscious sadism is a powerful force. Smashing things is fun.  Violent movies are fun, too.  Most of us are angry most of the time, about something.  Anger co-exists with other emotions, and it doesn’t have to have a logical explanation – it just is, and it gratifies you.

There is a good evolutionary reason why discharging anger feels good .  It’s the same reason sex feels good:  because the animals who were aggressive (and enjoyed sex) lived to reproduce and pass on their genes.

But in the modern world, discharging anger can get you into trouble.  “Losing your temper” – a euphemism for acting out unconsciously by discharging aggression – is like getting drunk.  It might feel good at first, but there’s always a hang-over.  We all know how easy it is to vent anger at the person who happens to be nearest to you, usually the one who cares the most and least deserves this treatment.

The mass unconscious discharge of aggression is commonly known as war.  At some level, it feels good too.  And leads to untold horrors.

That’s why metabolizing anger is a better strategy.  You put the anger into words, and start to understand it.  This process converts raw emotion into communication.

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote,  “Let life happen to you.  Believe me: life is in the right, always.”

Feelings are like that – even anger.  You  have to trust them.  Let them in.  Let them happen.

No one can say when you will be ready to move past these feelings – that is up to you.  But the organic process – the metabolizing of feeling – is necessary and unavoidable.

Eva Mozes Kor may or may not have forgiven the horrid Dr. Mengele, but she has metabolized her anger, turning it into words that achieve good for mankind.  She has devoted her life to speaking publicly on the events of the Holocaust, teaching the importance of tolerance and understanding.

In this regard, she resembles another angry person who metabolized his anger to make the world a better place:  Martin Luther King.

Dr. King felt a passionate anger at the injustice of racial segregation.  Like Eva Mozes Kor, he chose not to act unconsciously and discharge his anger in violence.  But he didn’t forgive and forget either.

He metabolized his anger into words.

Inspiring words.

Don’t fear anger.

 

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

Dr. King would have turned 81 this week – an excellent opportunity to discuss ageism, an insidious form of  discrimination.

The starting point in any discussion of discrimination is why difference is an issue at all.

Some of your discomfort with difference derives from sheer inexperience.  It has been proven that a witness in a courtroom will more  accurately identify a defendant of his own ethnic background.  Most of us are used to seeing faces that look like our own.  Faces that are different tend to blur into sameness.

Another basis for discrimination is what psychotherapists call “transference.”   That’s when you transfer an expectation based on an earlier encounter into a prediction about future encounters.  If you are used to seeing Asian men deliver restaurant food and spot an Asian man carrying a bag from a Chinese restaurant, you might assume he’s delivering it.  That happened to one of my patients last week when he showed up at a friend’s place with take-out.  The doorman called up a delivery.  My patient was a guest, not a delivery man – and he felt insulted.

Transferences can crop up anywhere.  If you grew up in a world where African-American people, or Jews, or Muslims, or any other group, were supposed to be dangerous, violent, money-grubbing, untrustworthy or whatever, you might carry an unconscious assumption from that early programming.

Some of the worst discrimination arises from what you fear in yourself.  Think of the “straight-appearing” gay man who disdains the effeminate gay man.  Or the “bourgeois” African-American who looks down on the “ghetto” African-American.

Seniors face all three sources of discrimination.  They are unfamiliar, since our society tends to shunt them aside, separating them from the mainstream of younger people.  There is also transference – the images of older people in the popular media are often misguided and condescending, leading you to make assumptions about older people you meet in the real world.  And finally, you fear old people because you fear growing old yourself.

A few years ago I introduced a new member to one of my psychotherapy groups.  She was 77 years old.  No one else was over 50. The new member’s arrival triggered discomfort, especially in the youngest members, who expressed it by becoming flustered and telling her over and over again how terrific it was to have her join us.  Their response felt out of place and condescending – like it was all about her age.  Instead of the bright, prickly, opinionated, vain, complicated person in front of them, they seemed to be seeing a small child.

Over time, the group confronted this issue and explored unconscious feelings.

But their initial – and bizarre – reaction was all too familiar to the 77 year-old.

She shared powerful examples with us of ageism in her daily life:

  • If she went to a restaurant with younger girlfriends, a waitress always seemed to ask “oh, is this your mother?”
  • If she went out to shop for clothes with younger friends, the clerk told the younger people they looked great in their outfits, then, if she even noticed her, added, “even you look great!”
  • When she went to President Obama’s inauguration, a man chased her down and insisted on asking her age, then exclaimed “You’re terrific!” for no apparent reason.  This was typical – people are always telling her they “love” her  for no apparent reason.

Enough.  Let’s listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the man we’re honoring on his birthday.  I hope, if he were still with us, he would be treated at the age of 81 as the man he truly was – not some crazy stereotype about older people based on ignorance, misguided assumptions, and fears of death and dying.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »