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It will probably not be a surprise that, as an abuse survivor, I have often struggled with anger. After so many years, I consider myself practically an expert on both what not to do and on finding ways to put anger in its place.

I am often bothered by the bad rap anger has received in recent years. We are regularly told it is unhealthy, it is negative, and clichés, like “anger only destroys its container”. But, let’s be clear. There are different kinds of anger, and how a person copes with it is largely what determines whether or not it is unhealthy.  Anger might destroy its container, but perhaps that is because anger isn’t meant to be contained.

Anger is a natural response to some situations. It is one of the things that tells us something is wrong. Of course, it can also be (or result in) an overreaction, masking the true issue that lies beneath.

When experiencing anger, it is important to pause and ask one’s self if the anger is justified. Is the level of anger the reasonable response to this current situation? Is it due to the current situation, or is it due to an accumulation of past events? Is it a response to the actual circumstances, or is it based on misunderstanding or misinterpretation of circumstances?

What is the real reason for the anger?

It may take some time and careful consideration, but once the real reason for the anger has been determined, it then becomes a matter of directing it appropriately, in the most constructive way possible.

For example, the Civil Rights Movement would probably not have happened if there had not been a large group of people who were angry about the injustices of the status quo. However, if the movement had not been mostly calculated and methodical, and had instead been allowed to deteriorate entirely into violence and profanity-laden rants, it might not have resulted in so many of the desired changes.

Generalized, misguided, misdirected rage is unhealthy, and often results in undesired consequences. It is destructive, and while you might feel better for a moment, it will eventually come back to bite you. Sure, you might be taken seriously if you are shouting and cursing at everyone in your general vicinity, but only to the extent that people will be wondering if they should call someone with tranquilizer darts. Your meltdown will be what they remember, not so much what caused it– unless it was caused by something ridiculously petty; then they will remember you for being an ass– and they will probably wonder about your mental stability.  Moreover, very few of the right people will be interested in helping you with whatever the situation is, if you are constantly lashing out at innocent bystanders.

So, once you figure out the root cause of the anger, it is important to properly address the issue. If you are angry because your boss treats you unfairly, calmly discuss it with your boss and explain your side, or get a new job. If you are angry because a law is unfair, work to have the law changed. If you are angry because someone did something awful to you 30 years ago, work to help others in that situation or work to prevent it from happening to someone else.

If you find that you are carrying around generalized anger from things you cannot change, accept that you cannot change those things, and find a constructive outlet for the pent up frustration. Put your anger into something productive, like exercise or art.

There is no need to stifle anger, or to pretend it doesn’t exist, or to attempt to drown it in disingenuous platitudes. There is a need to identify it, recognize it and its causes, and direct it to make a positive change.

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As someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, I decided to write some articles in the hope of building understanding and dispelling a few misconceptions about depression.  If you missed the first 2 parts, you can find them here and here.

This time, I’ve decided to address some of those “positive thinking” clichés which might help some people, but since most depressed people will overthink them and they will probably not stand up to scrutiny, they’re not so helpful to us, and make a lot of us wonder if a lot of people are boneheads.

Positive thinking has it’s place, and it feels better than doom and gloom, but perhaps what would benefit more people is realistic thinking.  The glass isn’t half full or half empty.  It’s 4 ounces of whatever was put in there.

One of the clichés making the internet rounds recently is “If you think positive, positive things will happen”. Sure they will.  Also, negative things will happen.  And, if you think negative, negative things will happen.  Also, positive things will happen.  Because, to counter one cliché with another, “the rain falls on the good and wicked alike”.

One of the reasons these things bother me is that many of the clichés are a bit condescending and imply that people are depressed or have unpleasant things happening because they are doing something wrong.  Some of these clichés incorrectly imply that we have total control of our situations, whatever they may be.

Most people do have some control over their circumstances.  Some have more control than others, for a variety of reasons.  If someone was born and raised in poverty in an inner city ghetto, and subsequently became mired in all the problems that go with it, and you tell them “If you don’t like where you are, move! You’re not a tree”, without offering any real, viable solutions or giving them any of the resources they need to move.. you might only piss them off, because what you have just unwittingly told them is “I don’t really fully understand your circumstances, and am blaming you for sticking around, so am not really going to help you. So, I’ll just stand here looking smug and wagging my finger at you.”

When my mother was ill, some of the so-called positive thinkers I knew actually suggested abandoning her, in order to protect my own interests.  Naturally, I did not.  I dropped out of college, which also meant giving up my position as a student employee at the university.  I gave up a lot of other things, too.  It was depressing, to say the least.  And, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  What happened to all those positive thinkers?  They mostly moved on to “happier” things, because my very real circumstances didn’t make them feel good enough. Thanks, positive thinkers.

It’s another issue with all these positive thinking clichés.  In our culture of instant gratification, some of these clichés encourage even more magical thinking and the idea that if we are unhappy, we should immediately abandon ship.  It causes people to fail each other, and that’s pretty darned depressing.

Here is one more: “Grateful people are happy people.”  While I cannot speak for all depressed people everywhere, I can tell you that my issue is not a lack of gratitude, and it’s not the issue of any depressed person I have encountered.  In fact, the depressed people I have encountered have often been some of the most grateful, because we have to be.

If we didn’t count our blessings regularly, we’d lose our fricking minds.  In fact, I think I will go count mine again right now.

 

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