Self-Righteous Anger – or how to deal with life when everyone around you is losing their shit

I don’t know about you, but it is hard for me to make it through a day without seeing someone lose their shit. Maybe someone goes on a rant about how everyone should wear a mask while someone else goes on a rant how they will never be forced to wear a mask. This post is not to debate who is right, who is wrong, or how both may have some truth. What I would like to discuss is how do we deal with a world – and our friends, family and loved ones – that are all breaking apart at the seams.

For some time, we have seen that the institutions we came to rely on as never-changing beacons of truth, going through a transformation – changing, morphing and in some cases being torn apart. All the things mom always said never to talk about – religion, politics, and money – are collapsing, along with the social constructs of gender and race. The guidebook we had all been given for how things are and how they should be, has been thrown out the window.

Some of us are doing ok with this shift. We know that the way things were, was not ideal. The systems and institutions need an overhaul. I, for one, wish that it could be a peaceful and easy transition, but transition – death and rebirth – are hardly ever easy-peasy. So instead we are seeing protests, long-held secrets revealed, and collapse from the inside out.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Some of us are not doing ok in this time. Some do not want things to change. Even if they don’t like how things were, changing to the new is too terrifying for them. Instead of seeing that all of life transforms and continuously grows, some people want to blame others or create elaborate conspiracies to explain why the world they knew is falling apart. John Oliver had a great piece on this recently. To explain proportionality bias or the “tendency to assume that big events have big causes,” he compared the JFK assassination to that of the shooting of President Ronald Reagan. When President Kennedy was shot, it was too much of a shock and unbelievable that one random man could kill a sitting United States president, so a more complex theory was created to explain something of such great significance. When President Reagan was shot – and survived – no such theories were created. We didn’t need them because the impact was not as strong.

Whether those around you are buying into conspiracy theories or just being angry at this group or that group for trying to change the system (or not changing the system quickly enough), everyone is a bit on edge. Anna Madrigal from the Tales of the City series on Netflix said, “Anger is the tip of the iceberg, but it is not the whole story.” The anger-iceberg concept is what I try to use to make sense of others’ and my own anger.

Don’t Squash the Anger

Being a peace lover, I often want everyone to be free from negative emotions. My knee-jerk reaction is to try to minimize the anger. However, not acknowledging the anger or trying to minimize someone’s anger never works. The anger is a symptom, it is the tip of the iceberg not the real problem. Instead of reacting to someone’s anger, focus on the fact that a person is in pain. Don’t try to remove the anger. Just hold space for them and respect that they feel the way they feel.

Uncover the Story

What you can help someone (or yourself with) is to uncover why they feel the anger. This past week, I witnessed a few events where loved ones experienced self-righteous anger. They were incised that someone accused them of being in the wrong and proceeded to provide a litany of reasons why they should be the one accusing the other as wrong. A wise woman once told me that “everything someone says or does is all and only about them.” We shouldn’t and can’t prove someone else as wrong because they are seeing the world through their own eyes, experiences, and preferences. That will not change until they want to change. What I can find relief in is uncovering why they, or I, am feeling so much emotion around an issue. When I can identify that, I have something tangible to address or at least just understand.

Discern When to Act

The Serenity Prayer has become a mainstay for me lately. This prayer teaches us to not accept everything as it is, nor to always take righteous action to change others, but to discern what needs to be said and done – and by who. If you are triggered by someone else’s actions or their anger, decide if what you want to say is true, necessary, kind, and helpful.  Lately I have been really trying to pause before I say or do anything. I ask if anything should be said and done, and I also ask if I am the best person to do so. If everyone took a pause before they reposted on social media, I think we would see a lot less negativity out there.

I wish I could tell you that the transition the world is going through right now will be over quickly and smoothly, but I don’t think so. Welcome to the new normal. Be open to new ways of thinking and being. Respect the opinion and struggles of others. Create good boundaries to protect yourself. And have hope that what is on the other side will be better for all.

2 comments

  1. How insightful and full of perspective.
    The Serenity Prayer has been tremendously helpful to me since March. Thank you for describing a new way to apply it.

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