Is Violent Anger “in a Normal Range of Emotions?”

©2008, RK Silipo. All rights reserved.

Recently I happened to meet a psychiatrist who believes that violent anger and violent behaviour are  “in a normal range of emotions.” Her view was that people who do not lash out violently are actually somehow lacking in their range of emotional responses; that the absence of violence is abnormal. As usual in this kind of unexpected encounter, I thought of half a dozen things to say in reply afterward.

I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot since then. I’ve been thinking what an unlivable world we would live in, if what she says were true. People who lash out, hit and kick and stab and shoot and carry out countless angry violent acts would be acceptable. If her assertion were correct, it would be those of us who eschew violence, who try to find other ways of expressing and dissipating anger, who were considered odd, and the wanton bullies who were considered normal. I wonder, would murder be considered normal in this world?

I think she is wrong. I completely reject her premise. To me, any violence is an unacceptable way to express anger. Violence is not only physical, but also verbal and emotional. In fact, the latter are potentially more psychologically damaging, and often have longer-term and more debilitating effects than physical violence.

I felt this way long before I became a Quaker, and it is one of the reasons that Quakerism appealed to me. Quaker faith and practice have become the core of the way I choose to live. My husband isn’t a member of a Quaker meeting, but he learned Quaker ethics when he lived in Friends International Centre (London) while he was a student. In fact, even earlier, in his teens, he had learned the yogic ethical code and chosen to live by it. The yogic code holds the view that violence in any form, physical or otherwise, is proscribed. The Quaker Testimony is that we work to remove all occasion of violence, including anger. So my husband and I put these precepts into practice.

If you know anything about the Religious Society of Friends (doubtful in itself as we do not proselytize much), it would most likely be something about the Testimony of Peace. People generally understand this to be opposition to war. But it is much broader than that. It also encompasses more than the well known passive resistance taught and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. (although both were aware of Quaker thought and practice).

The Peace Testimony is an all-enveloping concept which imbues all aspects of ethical living. It means that we choose in daily life, in every instance, to try to avoid violence. Since Quakerism is a non creedal religion, individuals commit to various levels of living the testimonies, but virtually all Friends commit themselves to live the Peace Testimony.

So screaming matches, door slamming, threats, withdrawal of affection, the silent treatment and other fairly common acts of emotional/psychological manipulation and domestic violence are rare in Quaker homes. Quakers avoid confrontational behavior and instead try to make a habit of simply expressing anger, then moving on to ways to dissipate it.

Expressing anger, that is, saying outright, “This makes me angry,” and then letting go of it, is completely in the spirit of a non violent life choice. It is the way we try to handle anger. Of course we don’t always completely succeed, but neither do we commit frequent acts of violence–verbal, emotional or physical.

Several years ago I learned a method of dealing with anger called the Peace Empowerment Process© (PEP), including the Blueprint of Emotional Wisdom© and can now teach these techniques. This process reveals that anger is virtually always a mask or an outward manifestation of a deeper, hidden emotion. People learn the techniques to look under the anger and identify the underlying emotions: fear, disappointment, grief or guilt. By finding the true emotion and dealing with it, we remove the reason for the anger.

When the process is learned, it can become almost automatic in moments of anger. The PEP demonstrably reduced violence (including bullying) levels in classrooms where it was taught to children, especially ages nine to fourteen, but also through high school age. I practice the PEP whenever I need to deal with anger. (See Creativity in the Lion’s Den: Releasing Our Children from Violence, by Carolyna Marks for more details.)

I have also been interested in forgiveness studies for many years, and before I left  California I completed the intensive forgiveness seminars at Stanford University.  Dr. Fred Luskin, founder of Stanford’s Forgiveness Project, gave me permission to teach Forgive for Good© workshops in the UK.

The catch phrase for his seminars is  “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.” That is, we cannot change the past, and in order to move forward and grow emotionally, we must let go of it. His research shows that holding on to resentment, pain or anger is literally bad for physical as well as psychological and emotional health. (See  www.learningtoforgive.com.)

My personal feeling is that anger is wasted energy; and stewing in anger, resentment or revenge fantasies only serves to make people unhappy.

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