The True Face of Anger

“You are not angry.”

It was a lofty claim, even from Guan-Yin, whose wisdom I had come so to admire. Lofty, indeed, considering that I was red-faced, teeth bared, shouting, and threatening her with a kitchen knife. That seemed pretty ‘angry’ to me.

“You are afraid. Do not mistake me, Sandrijn – I am not saying that you don’t feel what you think you feel. You are angry. But what we call anger is simply a manifestation of fear. Anger is terror in disguise.

When we feel anger, it is because we are afraid. That fear makes us feel weak and vulnerable — feelings that are almost universally despised by mankind. And so we transform our fear into rage and indignation, and we lash out against the cause of our fear — or, if it is too mighty to face, we lash out at a proxy, a vulnerable target, who acts as our voodoo doll, our effigy, to burn in the place of the monster we cannot vanquish. This is anger’s true face: the grown-up version of hiding beneath our covers.

When you are angry at a person who is acting against you, this may make sense. Someone threatens you harm; you become angry. What lies underneath? The fear that you may be hurt. Someone insults you. What lies beneath? The fear that they may be right. Our more ‘righteous’ anger — anger against an injustice done to another person, not ourselves — would seem to be an exception to this… but do not be led astray by a different color mask. If you are angry at how the rich treat the poor, is it not that you are afraid either that one day you will be among the poor yourself, or perhaps that you are no different than their exploiters? If rage boils your blood at the thought of violence against women, are you not afraid that someone will treat you that same way, because you are a woman? Or your mother, your wife, or your daughter, if you were a man?

This is the essence of anger, and this is the key to not just understanding it, but controlling it. Do not speak of keeping your temper; it is not your temper than must be kept. It is your courage. It is your presence. Understand what makes you angry and why, and you will have more insight than the great masses of mankind, then and now. Understand that the heat in your soul isn’t righteousness but cowardice; it is the ‘fight’ of ‘fight or flight’, because you — for whatever reason — do not see ‘flight’ as option.

Do not address your opponent, because they are not your true foe. Your enemy is yourself. You must be willing to face your fear, face your shame, face your lack of strength. Face that you are vulnerable, and that pain is a real and true possibility. Face all this and accept it. Acknowledge your fear and own it. Say to it, ‘I know you. I know you. And I drag you now into the light where your visage is clear.’

You fear always the unknown. The possibility. The uncertainty. Know what will happen, and you can prepare for it. Know only what might happen, and you stand upon quicksand. Make the unknown known. Accept that there will be loss, that there will be suffering, that there will be pain. Accept it, embrace it, and it can do you no harm.

When you have mastered your fear, you will master your anger.”

And by this time I was crying, sobbing, and shaking, because I knew that I was no master. Not of anything, most especially not myself. And she took me in her arms and embraced me, and pressed her lips to my forehead.

“Sandrijn? It is okay to be afraid.”

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