But I’m right!
When I think about justified anger I remember my first full-time graduate job.
The job was a good opportunity and pleasant enough….until the manager introduced a kind of tracking form to be filled out each week. We had to indicate tasks undertaken, time spent on each and for which projects. It was poorly designed, inaccurate and time consuming. We all whinged.
I met with the manager. Voices were raised. I didn’t back down.
I had imagined that I would simply explain how problematic and useless it was and that she’d agree.
I was 22 and cocky. I was so sure I was right. That she dared to disagree and stood her ground seemed outrageous to me. I was furious.
Karen Horney, in her incisive book, Neurosis and Human Growth explains this type of anger:
“This anger is of a peculiar kind. Since the claims are…felt as fair and just, the frustrations are experienced as unfair and unjust. The ensuing anger has therefore the character of righteous indignation. The person feels…not only angry but the right to be angry….” (1970)
So true. With the manager and her dogged defense of that form, I felt like I had the right to be angry. I couldn’t believe the injustice. I was right and my honour was worth fighting for!
Right? Really? What about my job? My dignity? My stress levels? A pleasant workplace?
It goes without saying, I behaved unprofessionally, childish even.
I like to think that these days I would try first to understand the purpose of the tracking form and perhaps query it or suggest alternatives. Maybe in the end I would have to learn to live with it – either let it go, or myself go and find another job.
As it was back then I essentially created enormous stress for myself. There was tension and awkwardness in the office. I dreaded going there everyday…until my contract ended and they didn’t renew it.
Justified Anger and Stress
It is worth being wary of this particular kind of anger – the kind that feels justified.
It is different to the understandable anger that arises when we, or those we care for, are hurt or disappointed.
Justified anger is alluring. We don’t just feel it, express it, let it go. We hold on to it. We act out our anger.
This kind of anger is somehow cheap and easy. Other kinds of anger are more complex, sometimes confusing and anxiety provoking. They involve the intricacies of relationship dynamics and often we do not feel so certain or confident about how we feel, how we ought to express ourselves and how another will respond.
So, when justified anger shows up, we go for it – “you’re wrong” or “this isn’t fair” is easy and straightforward. We feel sure of ourselves. Such an opportunity can feel like a terrific outlet! All of sudden we don’t need to work through any complex anger, we can just let it fly at an easy target.
How easy it is is to shout abuse at an unknown driver whose just cut you off. Much harder to think about how snappy you’ve been lately. And to ponder that niggling resentment that might have to do with your partner’s work hours or your mother’s drinking.
I think we know instinctively that justified anger is not good for us – think stress hormones and increased blood pressure, not to mention the impact on those around us and our relationships with them. (click here for “3 Quick Response Tools to Help Manage Stress, Anxiety & Strong Emotions”)
Healthy anger can motivate us to stand up for ourselves or an important cause. Handled well it can be expressed and communicated and make for closer, stronger relationships.
Justified anger on the other hand is unproductive and feeds stress. Angrily thinking that ‘I’m right’ or ‘it’s not fair‘ is neither rational nor helpful. Yet it is seductive and for many of us, it pervades our lives.
You can experience justified anger in relation to anything, from the printer breaking down to a cancer diagnosis. This type of anger adds to the stress and pain of such situations.
Worst still, it is counter-productive. For all the energy we expend in yelling, crying or determined silence, we go nowhere.
Justified anger blinds us in a fog of fury and negative stress.
Justified anger is the enemy of hope.
Thankfully, hope can sometimes win. When you are stuck with your justified anger, you need a good dose of insight or some stern words from someone who cares.
It maybe as simple as pulling yourself together after you’ve just kicked the printer. Or when you’ve had some bad news and you go on a bender, a friend might tell you to ‘get a grip’.
It also might be more complex. If justified anger is less of an occasional occurrence for you, and more of a constant companion then it will be difficult to beat. But of course worth the time and effort.
With self-discipline and maybe some help, you can let go of being ‘right’ or being ‘wronged’ and get on with life as best you can…with less pain and stress.
What’s your poison? Is it the traffic? Or is your lazy co-worker paid more than you? In what instances in your daily life do you suffer the crazy anger that comes with thinking that you’re right or it’s not fair? I welcome your thoughts below.