The Allure of Self-righteous Anger- A choice not a condition
On my way to an early morning acupuncture appointment I was keenly aware of being filled with anger- self-righteous anger. My anger was righteous because it was right and legitimate as I had been wronged. I was also aware that my acupuncturist too would know this information soon after I arrived since any attempts of concealment would quickly be revealed by my rapid pulse she would surely examine.
My first thought was one of embarrassment. I wanted to present as my calm self not my elevated angry self. Now this falls along the same lines as doing your hair before seeing the stylist, cleaning your house before the housekeeper, or maybe even crying it all out before seeing the therapist. Despite the irony, my desire to avoid embarrassment was the catalyst for some powerful self-awareness.
At first I believed it impossible to relax or diminish this feeling within the 5 minute car ride. Even if I had a longer time frame I couldn’t. It was just not feasible. Then I realized it wasn’t that I could not release my anger, I did not want to. How could I? I was justified and if I just dropped my anger then my justifiable position may never be heard, justice may never be served. The urge was to continue with my feeling of anger so that I may develop a good argument, a good strategy to rectify the situation. Then the bell of clarity rang and with that came the realization that my odds of losing my dignity while hanging onto my self-righteous anger were high, my odds of presenting a rational and reasonable argument in an attempt to be heard (my true goal) were quite low. I realized that my feelings were not an involuntary condition thrust upon me; I had been choosing to keep them for fear of losing my respected position of rightness. Now I had to choose to release them in order to keep my self-respect and a chance at resolution.
With 3 sets of inhaling to the count of 5 and exhaling to the count of 5 my body relaxed and my anger subsided. Where did my legitimate gripe go? Well it was still there. However, with my executive functioning no longer hijacked by physiological arousal I could now engage in rational thought and decision making. The chances of saying things I would regret or exacerbating the situation now low, the chances for a respectful and productive conversation high.
Self-righteous anger is seductive. Keeping it can feel like the only option for justice. Unfortunately, this is where I see many of my couple clients getting stuck and what prevents them from forming peaceful resolutions. Rather than obtaining a sense of justice they are met with continued caustic conflict that can erode the loving foundations of a relationship. Though it can be difficult to pull away from the seduction of self-righteous anger, letting go can lead to the harmony we seek.