Plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness

All of us — whatever our natural serotonin level — look around us and see plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness. A child dies, a woman is abused, a schoolyard becomes a killing field, a typhoon sweeps away the innocent. If we knew or felt the whole of human suffering, we would drown in despair. By all objective evidence, we are arrogant animals, headed for the extinction that is the way of all things. We imagine that we are like gods, and still drop dead like flies on the windowsill.

The answer to the temptation of nihilism is not an argument — though philosophy can clear away a lot of intellectual foolishness. It is the experience of transcendence we cannot explain, or explain away. It is the fragments of love and meaning that arrive out of the blue — in beauty that leaves a lump in your throat, in the peace and ordered complexity of nature, in the shadow and shimmer of a cathedral, in the unexplained wonder of existence itself. 

Michael Gerson, published in the Washington Post 

The irrational ideas behind anger

According to Albert Ellis, the most common irrational ideas behind anger are the following:

1. I must do well and win the approval of others or else I will rate as a rotten person.

2. Others must treat me considerately and kindly and in precisely the way I want them to treat me.

3. The world and the people in it must arrange conditions under which I live, so that I get everything I want when I want it.

As their anger slows down, people should challenge irrational thoughts with statements such as:

What evidence exists for this? Why can't I stand this noise or this unfairness?

Gary Collins, Counseling and Anger

Kindness in Anger

The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.

“Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” psychologist Julie Gottman explained, “but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

anger in relationships

No one in a relationship problem is ever totally innocent or totally guilty. With this belief, people can always keep the door open to their own faults without engaging in excessive, guilt-provoking self-incrimination. Holding back anger for even a short time and engaging in self-analysis in private has the effect of tempering the expression of anger. Confession altars our goals from changing others to changing the relationship.

Gary Collins, Counseling and Anger

5 internal contributions to anger


People who try to be self-sufficient are easily frustrated and angered when they see evidence of their dependence on others. They get angry at themselves for needing others and they get angry at other people for “keeping” them in this weakness.

2-Desire for Power in Relationships

Some people feel threatened by the need to give up power in love relationships. For instance, a batterer may use anger to intimidate others in a quest for power. It’s a way to caution the abused person against using their own power. To avoid rousing their anger, spouses end up tiptoeing around the other to avoid confrontation because the price is too high to pay.

3-Desire to be Perfect

Unrealistic standards must be met for the person to feel worthwhile and accepted.

Whenever there is a perceived loss of perfection, the person becomes depressed (angry with themselves) for small failures. The student who gets a B-plus instead of an A, etc. These people also set up high standards for others to achieve and are quickly judgmental. They are hurt by others who do not join them in the quest for perfection. Even though they may be chronic confessors, but growth comes slow because they don’t want to accept their limitations.


Unresolved guilt can lead to irritability. People have trouble admitting their faults.


Rejection leaves people feeling hurt and worthless. When significant others disdain our contributions or act as if we are inferior and unimportant we bolster self-esteem by rejecting others ourselves, using the weapons of anger and hostility.  Since it does not heal the relationship or self-esteem, it is a temporary fix. 

Living in Opposition

I've never been around an activist group that didn't turn into an endless series of petty purity tests. I was raised in a church where everyone was looking for more and more inconsequential things to judge each other by..  The natural evolution is toward tighter and tighter criteria for what behavior gets you shunned from the group. The end result is that the central cause can be as pure as the driven snow, and yet the tone will get more and more toxic over time, the members becoming less and less charitable with each other.

You hear experts talk about how extremists get "radicalized." But it really isn't a mystery, and we all form less-murderous versions of this. All it takes is a closed like-minded social circle in which it's considered unacceptable to disagree with the group, and then devote that group to hating something. It doesn't even matter if the thing truly deserves hating -- it still turns toxic. In fact, it works better if it does. "How can you criticize any flaw in our group's behavior when the other side is Nazis! That's literally saying that both sides are the same! The mere existence of pure evil on the other side mathematically means our side is pure good!"

At that point, no criticism is possible and there is nothing to moderate the rage. The rhetoric ratchets higher and higher as each member tries to top each other (to prove their own righteousness by demonstrating they hate the target most), and there is no method for reining it in. Anyone from the inside who takes a moderate tone can be shouted down with accusations of being an enemy sympathizer.

Living purely in opposition to something, rather than for something, hollows you out inside. To be a whole human being, you have to spend your life building something good. 

David Wong writing for Cracked

No one to blame but themselves

The “No one to blame but themselves” rule “implies that once someone breaks a rule, you can do whatever you want to them and you cannot be blamed. We need that one mortal sin which will let us revoke a person's status as a human worthy of dignity, respect, empathy or anything else.

I think the reason so many racists could pass an ‘Are you a racist?’ polygraph test is that they don't think minorities are inhuman due to their color, but rather their supposed criminality.. The single hint of a single minor crime meant absolutely anything done in response is justified.. They all think their daily cruelty is in response to some extreme provocation.

If cruelty wears justice as a disguise, then anyone who believes in justice is at risk.”

David Wong writing for Cracked

If you go to bed angry

If you go to sleep after a fight with someone, you may “preserve” those emotions. That’s the finding of researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Scientists showed images (some positive, some negative) to more than 100 people and checked 12 hours later to see which pictures stuck with them. There was a different response depending on whether the person had slept during the 12 hour break or not. Sleeping seemed to protect the emotional response. You can read the details in The Journal of Neuroscience. Other studies also support the idea that sleep enhances emotional memories. If you have trouble sleeping after an upsetting day, it could be your mind’s way of trying to avoid storing that memory. In any case, these findings explain the value of the Bible verse that says, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).

Stephen Goforth

Both Tough and Tender

In many parts of American society it is considered inappropriate for men to express any emotion save one--anger. When a man learns to express other feelings and not be so concerned whether as to whether others think he is strong or “manly” he takes a major step forward.

Sure, there’s a time and place to "come on strong and take no prisoners." But it's a denial of your humanity to oversimplify, hiding behind a narrow definition of manhood. Men must be both tough and tender. Maturity comes when when we understand which one is appropriate at what time.

Stephen Goforth

Angry Thoughts

Problems of anger begin as seed thoughts of self-pity, discouragement, jealousy, or some other negative thought. One’s thought life is the key ingredient in behavioral and emotional control; therefore, thoughts prior to and during times of anger are important. Thoughts give emotional feelings prolonged existence and strength, and lend interpretation to vague emotions.

When anger feelings begin, people should “listen” to themselves think. Their minds are constantly making value judgments, decisions, and comparisons. Therefore, there always exists the opportunity to intercept anger by changing these thoughts.

Mark Cosgrove, Counseling for Anger

What's behind anger?

According to Albert Ellis, the most common irrational ideas behind anger are the following.

1. I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances, or else I will rate as a rotten person.

2. Others must treat me considerately and kindly and in precisely the way I want them to treat me.

3. The world (and the people in it) must arrange conditions under which I live, so that I get everything that I want when I want it.

Mark Cosgrove, Counseling for Anger

Dealing with a moody man

Men are rewarded in our society for ignoring their feelings, except for anger. When emotions overwhelm a man and tightly wrap around his gut, he certainly knows something is wrong--but he will struggle if he attempts to label those feelings or articulate the cause--especially when the emotions are still in play. Lacking control, he looks down on himself with disdain because he believes it's a flaw to be a man without control. As that tight ball of emotion begins to uncurl and subside, as he feels that he's gaining mastery of himself once again, he has the opportunity to gain a handle on defining the emotion he is experiencing.

But if a partner puts a spotlight on those emotions, while he's in that uncomfortable place, the man may try to hide even more. He's not in control of himself and thinks he should be. The spotlight makes that all the more obvious.  If she can restrain herself, it's possible to slowly draw the emotion-averse man out of his cave by building his confidence... by encouraging him to believe that he is able to handle the uncertainty. The passage of time, emotional space, and distractions often provide healing for him... and perspective.

Before the man moves completely away from that raw sensation in his gut, there's a brief period of realization where he can catch an authentic glimpse of himself and his emotional limitations. In that moment he can catch a glimpse of who he is--or go right back to repeat the cycle.

Stephen Goforth

Justified Anger

To be “angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way -that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.” The Greek philosopher Aristotle offered that observation more than 2000 years ago.

Some of us have a problem holding onto anger when we need it the most. Justified anger revolves around boundary violations, but sometimes a proper boundary is never put in place or maintained. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, in their book Boundaries, write about how a person’s skin is our first boundary. People who are sexually abused as children, for instance, are often confused about maintaining that boundary, not realizing that it is appropriate for them to claim ownership over it.

There are other psychological boundaries we fail to set for the other reasons. Regular violations of that psychological marker make it hard for us to see things for what they are. One way to gain clarity is to think about your children (whether you actually have children or not). We can ask ourselves, if a boyfriend, boss, etc, treated our child the way they are treating us, how would we respond? Looking at the situation from a different angle by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes helps us to work around our distorted boundaries and more clearly see the situation for what it really is.

Stephen Goforth