Anger: Our Own Worst Enemy
"Anger is the real destroyer of our good human qualities; an enemy with a weapon cannot destroy these qualities, but anger can. Anger is our real enemy."
- His Holiness the DalaiLama
We have a lot to be angry about. Doctors mislead us, drug companies rip us off, colleagues shun us, families disown us. The list goes on and on.
Feeling angry right now? Beware. There is a whole industry built on anger. Just turn on any talk radio station or cable news show. Politicians feed on it, and so do unscrupulous religious leaders. People get rich and famous exploiting our emotions. They build up their own cult followings. They sign big book deals.
Still angry? Be very careful. There are people who claim to speak for you, to give voice to your concerns. They’re not rich and famous. Far from it. Who knows what motivates them? The sound of their own voices? The tingling sensation in their spleens? Some of these people call themselves mental health advocates. Others fancy themselves as crusading bloggers. They want to turn you against your doctors. They want to scare you off your meds.
They are winning the battle. Most of us aren’t getting proper treatment. Most of us are not adherent with the treatments we are getting. One result is our prisons and jails are by far our largest de facto mental institutions. It is a national disgrace, and some of the people who claim to be on your side must share the blame. Do you think they care? Do you think they hold themselves accountable?
It’s very easy to go into the anti-everything anger business. The media always has a story about a drug company behaving badly or vital services being slashed or one of us being treated worse than a dog. Recycle some of these stories, channel Tom Cruise, cite as a mantra stop drugging our kids, cheap-shot every organization and everyone who is actually working at accomplishing something, and some fringe group is bound to put you up for an award.
If you are angry, this sort of rhetoric will resonate with your own bitter experiences. Like any short-term fix, you may feel good for a little while. Indeed, you may find a cathartic release. But eventually, for your own sake, you will have to move on. You cannot afford to remain stuck.
Our real objective is our own healing, and for that to happen we need to move past our anger. This is not the same as saying that you shouldn’t be angry or must learn to forgive. None of us are that perfect. But eventually, we have to learn how not to allow our anger to influencecritical decisions we need to be making. Teed-off at your psychiatrist? Fine. Just don’t punish him or her by going off your meds. Hate your boss? Understood. But think first before you stick it to the man.
Somehow, seemingly against all odds, in a world rife with injustice, we have to learn to work our way toward our own peace of mind and some modicum of happiness. We have a choice. Our suffering can imbue us with wisdom and insight, and bring us closer in touch with our own humanity and divinity. We can learn to understand the suffering of others. We can become better people. Or we can go the other way. We can become embittered and self-centered. We can revel in our own stupidity and develop a sense of victimhood… We can turn our backs on others.
Personal healing is a long and difficult, but eventually rewarding journey. But our own anger is by far our own worst enemy. Nothing else comes close. Get your quick fix off the anger-mongers if you have to, but learn to appreciate that these people will not be by your side for long. That is because you will be making headway in your journey while they most assuredly will remain in the private little hells of their own making. Maybe you can spare them a kind thought. Unfortunately, I cannot. Their antics have resulted in far more hardship and suffering in our population than any injustices in the system they love talking about. And I’m a bit angry about that.
John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.