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The Annihilation of Anger in Western Civilization
This article will address cultural and psychospiritual issues regarding the ability to express anger. An understanding of man’s search for “self” and “meaning” will be explored, including what this might mean, how these views might vary, how individuals try to achieve this insight, and how ancient cultures used different avenues to understand the “self” and the daimonic. This paper will also explore early attachments and “fight or flight” mechanisms that form affect, cognitive models, and social constructs. The meaning of entertainment and how that might provide a cathartic release will be elucidated. There will be questions asked throughout the paper to elicit thoughts from the reader and for him or her to come up with his or her own hypothesis.
As the culture in the United States becomes technologically advanced, man’s need for meaning remains primitive and ambiguous. Violence is at a record high. Anthropologists have discovered that the more advanced (e.g., government, socio-economic classes) cultures are, the more cultures are predisposed to violence, crime, and war. However, more advanced countries view these primitive cultures as being uncivilized and barbaric. We need to diminish our ethnocentric beliefs regarding primitive cultures.
Less crime has been demonstrated in many of these primitive cultures for various reasons. Could this because many indigenous people provide rituals such as rites of passage to puberty or adulthood? Do smaller communities provide healthier attachments to foster stronger bonds between caregivers and their children? Could sharing tasks within the community such as taking care of the young, preparing foods, or making political choices, create less tension and equal opportunities? Are there fewer rapes because sexuality is not tabooed?
In our culture today, individuals are either controlled by the daimonic or using it to transform themselves in constructive ways. When an individual is out of control, they can become either neurotic or psychotic. Being able to tap into the daimonic could allow an individual to access his demons, anger, or confusion. This process could be conscious and/or unconscious. The more repressed/oppressed a culture is, the more daimonic possession seems to lurk. What is this encapsulated psychic energy that becomes blocked and repressed? Does an individual’s dualistic belief about himself (e.g., I am good or bad) produce splitting of the personality causing character traits such as devaluation, idealization, and denial?
When I was growing up, I witnessed my father going through rage, pain, and confusion. He would become disoriented and become verbally and physically abusive. Even at a young age, I could depict helplessness and loneliness in him when he would become remorseful and apologetic. My father is a very passionate, dramatic, and angry man. As I became more erudite in the world of clinical psychology, my father appeared to me to act more like an impetuous child rather than a functional adult. His father died when he was two and his mother died when he was fifteen. He entered the Marines at seventeen and fought in World War ll, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He did not experience flashbacks or any signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Three years ago, I asked him why he was always so angry. He said that he had demons that I would not understand and that he was going to take the demons to his grave. My father preferred to isolate himself in his own nebulous labyrinth. There was a possible chance that he feared unleashing the beast within.
What arrested development precipitated my father’s inability to let out his demons from his psychic reservoir? Does our culture provide support for boys to be able to cry or to express themselves so they do not feel emasculated? Because we are so influenced by our culture and peers, do we sacrifice our internal integrity in order not to be ostracized? How do we find ways to transcend our human experiences fully and to be able to cradle our plethora of emotions? Maybe if our culture was not so fixated on dualistic perspectives and could judge experiences as just “is”, rather than good or bad, this might foster avenues of healthy expression.
What I am proposing here is that if we are raised in a culture where a person were shunned for being different, on a primal level, would he both unconsciously and consciously fear annihilation, isolation, and alienation? Imagine being a little infant and being dependent on your parent’s attunement for the care of your basic needs: food, shelter, and protection. However, our emotional needs and intelligence help sooth and comfort us during stressful life experiences. We depend on the affect of our caregivers to help comfort us and self-regulate. The capriciousness of a parent’s mood could determine whether or not we receive love, food, or support. We experience love and attunement when mommy is happy. When mommy is happy we are happy. When mommy is not happy we are not happy. Repetitive interactions of miscommunication could form defense and survival mechanisms where we might suppress our true internal needs to prevent future feelings of alienation and isolation.
In our innate process of demarcation, wanting something different or disagreeing with our caregivers creates a possible injurious risk in us feeling invalidated or misunderstood. If we upset our caregivers that we depend upon for survival, we might experience alienation, vulnerability, and helplessness. By compromising and bargaining our needs because of our fear of alienation, what happens to the energy that is associated to our unmet expectation? If we are denied hydration after an arduous walk in the Sahara Desert because someone does not believe we are thirsty, we might agree with our minds but thirst and frustration in our bodies narrate a different story. We are left feeling stranded with dry throats and suffering from heat exhaustion.
What about our unmet emotional needs? These invalidations deter our natural expression and feelings because we will more than likely choose the scenario that fosters the feelings of connectiveness rather than separateness. Even the village idiot would prostitute his internal needs to not be thrown into the fire pit. How much are we willing to sacrifice to be fed, sheltered, and loved. What anger, madness, and daimonia fester in our bodies waiting to be discharged or transformed into meaning and understanding? What spiritual container do we have in a fast paced, technological society that values perfectionism and performance? When we experience inescapable stress because of job security, driving in traffic, health problems, and interpersonal relationship issues, what happens to our bodies biochemically? If our brain senses potential danger just like a caged animal, would our innate response be to fight or retreat?
Our reptilian brain (the limbic system) still performs functions in order for us to survive much as it did for earlier primates and other creatures that preceded us millions of years ago. Our primal security system is neither concerned nor discriminating with what incoming stimuli or experience is life threatening and that which is benign. If we live in a militant, oppressed culture or a sexually repressed society, what demons lurk inside us only wanting to be liberated? Violence and rape would be seemingly inevitable. “Rage, in its purest and most primitive form, is an instinctual, defensive reaction to severe stress or physical threat, an autonomic reflex which we humans share with common “lower” animals” (Diamond, 1996, p. 9).
The ancient Greeks used tragedies to teach morals, ethics, and as a form of psychodrama. Human drama was acted out with the attempt to stage “right from wrong” and for the audience to experience catharsis. There were tensions amongst the people for many factors such as drastic socio-economic differences. Tragedies were an attempt to control the tension between masters, servants, and family members. In these plays, if a boy were to be insubordinate toward his father or master, he might be punished or executed. This was to instill in the minds of the laypeople, ” this is what happens to you when you speak up against authority or display deviant behavior”.
The Romans built gigantic coliseums to contain and entertain the people. Prisoners of war, slaves, thieves, and the innocent were exploited as examples in order to control the people and to possibly entertain their shadows of sin and guilt. This could be viewed in the same way as our modern day Super bowl, selling beer, hotdogs, violence, and provocative cheerleaders. Men can become extremely emotional watching sports. Our culture might not be as oppressed as some other cultures or ancient Rome. However, Americans thrive off of watching violence, drama, gore, and sex scandals as a means to be entertained, to connect, to release, to fantasize, to avoid, and to feel better about themselves. Reality TV is not really reality but is dominating the television networks because it supposedly portrays true blood, sweat, and tears. The television show “Survivor” and “Fear Factor” push individuals to test their limits, strengths, and affect tolerance by presenting them with excruciating tasks. Television viewers might resonate with the participants and feel the opportunity to awake the hero within – having the ability to break constraints, fears, frustration, alienation, and isolation by winning the prize money and receiving recognition. Becoming the warrior to slay dragons and rescue damsels in distress might be an attempt to liberate ourselves from the vicissitudes of life.
Deida, (2004) believes that there are darker and lighter sides to masculine and feminine energy. There is a spectrum of energy (libido) that creates tension and the search for freedom or a release. On the lighter side of this energy, a person might experience freedom through meditation. The death of his/her ego and the ability to break constraints of the mind and to surrender boundaries of the “self” might alleviate tensions that engender the feelings of enslavement and pressure. On the darker side of the spectrum, a woman might act out by being sexually promiscuous. A man might commit a crime such as rape. The darker side of this energy is not considered to be bad or negative. However, it needs to be released in constructive and creative ways so the energy is not destructive or pathological.
War can be transformed into love and positive energy through martial arts. Underneath many wars, the unconscious desire might be to seek freedom. Whether it is to liberate people for religious and political rights, or to reclaim their land, the existential and intrapsychic goal is to breakdown boundaries and constraints so they can feel liberated and free. This psychological and intrapsychic experience could happen when individuals think that their lives will improve, or when they experience the freedom from more money, a better job, an intimate partner, the resolution of a perpetual problem, the recovery from a chronic health issue, or a move to a new location. However, when expectations are unmet and an individual does not have healthy outlets to channel his frustration, anger and rage can develop by this static and repressed energy.
The words of Nietzesche, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” was possibly the mantra that kept Viktor Frankl alive in the several Nazi prisons, including Auschwitz. Frankl felt that man’s search for “self” and “meaning” is what keeps our species alive. Through his suffering and degradations in the Nazi prisons, Frankl resurrected himself to experience enlightenment in the grimmest hell and in the face of death. It was common amongst Native Americans to perform religious rituals that involved inflicting intentional pain through forms of self-flagellation, barefoot pilgrimages, extreme fasting, sleepless nights in prayer vigils, piercing the body, and wearing coarse and irritating garments for the sake of the soul. Through these excruciating rituals, an individual might experience insight, epiphanies, the relief of sorrow or pain; they might hallucinate and be guided by a sacred animal or be spoken to by a deceased ancestor.
Many Individuals have had spontaneous epiphanies through existential suffering and life experiences such as losing a loved one, breaking an addiction, surviving a car accident, battling cancer, and going through a divorce. Do we have to experience arduous tasks, abusive relationships, insidious addictions, chronic pain, or perpetual feelings of betrayal to test our psychic muscles in order for our souls to evolve? When our natural states of being and feeling in this world become stagnant, do we unconsciously create sickness, distractions, or constraints to find meaning and freedom from the experiences? Are neurotic and psychotic forms of anxiety, hostility, and aggression due to an individual not being able to accept “his” way of being and feeling in his world? Are anger, rage, and violence a byproduct of repressed energy that has not found a healthy conduit to be released?
Maybe what we need to understand is that inappropriate or ignorant behaviors do not make us bad or unlovable. Our differences simply make us more human. Our culture is deluded with religious idealism and perfectionism that no human being could ever live up to. When we see and sell ourselves as commodities in this performance driven culture, how much of our soul do we compromise? Sacrificing our “selves” in order to be loved, to fit in, and to survive has destructive repercussions. Many individuals who were considered outcasts and did not live up to the “norm” have acted out most heinous, violent crimes. Maybe we need to reevaluate our values and provide more spiritual containers. Taking time to explore the indigenous peoples and their customs might teach us how to treat each other better. If we found constructive, creative, and ritualistic forms to welcome and transmute the daimonic, we might experience more peace in our lives or understanding even in the face of adversaries. Psychologist’s offices are filled with successful men and women who feel depressed, isolated, and disconnected from the meaning of life and spirit.
A Dakota Indian once told me that “white men” are never satisfied. They are always wanting more for their bellies or their minds but never for their heart. They never enjoy the simple things of life such as nature, a good meal, great conversation, or the tranquility of silence. The Indian was not a shaman or sage. Nonetheless, he seemed to be insightful about the core of our culture’s problems, including ethnocentrism.
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