The Poison of Anger and Contempt
Anger is one of our strongest emotions. By itself, it is neither good nor bad; it just is. In his classic book, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, Dallas Willard defines anger as a warning system that propels us into action. He explains if that were all there was to it, “all would be well.” Unfortunately, people often chose to be angry and use it to injure others or get even for perceived wrongs.
Dr. Willard writes, “We can and usually do choose to be angry. Anger first arises spontaneously. But we can actively receive it and decide to indulge in it, and we usually do.” He further observes that most people “carry a supply of anger around with them,” and that our own anger can contribute to poor health and even death.
Contempt is even more damaging than anger. People who feel our anger are wounded by it. It is the first strike. The death knell, however, is contempt. According to Dr. Willard, “The intent and effect of contempt is always to exclude someone, push them away, leave them out and isolated…. Once contempt is established…it justifies the initial anger and increases it force…. Contemptuous actions and attitudes are a knife in the heart that permanently harms and mutilates people’s souls.”
This is not good news for grievers who become angry, bitter, and contemptuous over losses in their lives. For me, anger and contempt are like “the one ring that rules them all” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Even though the ring bearer treasures and cares for the ring, it eats away at the ring bearer, until the heart is poisoned and the soul withers.
Even more dangerous and damaging is indulged anger and contempt does not sit quietly in our hearts, but often strikes out, very often at those closest to us. Remarkably, our society encourages us to be angry, to blame and to hold those who have harmed us in contempt. Physical violence may not be acceptable, but emotional violence certainly is and is often applauded. The result is relationships are destroyed and we lose hope. As with Gollum, we retreat to our dark, damp caves that our hearts and souls have become to cherish anger and contempt, our one ring.
But all is not lost. It is a well-established cultural myth that all grievers must go through an angry stage as a part of their grieving process. This is not true. Some people may become angry as a result of their loss while others may not. And, if you do become angry, that is okay. You can choose to accept your anger as a natural reaction to what has happened, process those feelings and let them go. You also can choose not to indulge in your anger or let your anger turn into contempt, worship it like Tolkien’s one ring or allow it to consume you. Remember, you are not alone.
The Grief Recovery Method® provides a safe, confidential opportunity to gain a better understanding of grief and the myths and misinformation our society perpetuates about grief and the grieving process. This method teaches specific action steps you can take to say goodbye to the pain and heartache caused by loss. It is an effective way to complete unfinished business, such as coming to terms with the things you wish you would have said or done differently, better or more. It also helps you to let go of negative feelings such as anger and contempt. By doing so, you will be able to move on and be happy once again. The Grief Recovery Method® is not therapy, but an educational program. It is available in an eight-week grief support group or a seven-week one-on-one format.
Please call me at (404) 771-9335. I can help.
Willard, D. (1997). The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. HarperOne. New York, N.Y.
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