Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening, this is Simon Jacobson, and it’s a pleasure to be here with you again.
Last week’s show, “Honoring Parents Who Don’t Seem to Deserve Honor,” addressed a topic that really seemed to hit home with the callers. The barrage of calls that came in were not just predominantly, but exclusively, from people who hadn’t spoken to their mothers or fathers for years. I was desperately searching for somebody to call in and tell us that they do love their parents and that they have some type of healthy relationship with them, but to no avail.
Some people did email me about beautiful relationships that they had with their parents, but I was getting the sense that the only people who listen to the show hate their parents! Though I serve a role, then, to at least fill that niche, it’s also important to know that the teachings that I’m trying to express on the show are not just to heal wounded hearts (even though all of us are wounded) but can also help us all grow and reach greater heights than we’d be able to reach on our own.
That has always been the theme and the most gratifying part of doing this show-along with hearing your responses and receiving your emails and different forms of communications-to look at ourselves as one collective family of souls who are trying to make sense out of life, trying to find deeper meaning, and who are cutting away the weeds so the flowers can emerge.
Unfortunately, we have to spend much of our lives and our time cutting away weeds, dealing with impediments, psychological scars and blockages that don’t allow us to focus on the positive. But the belief that I try to espouse here is that we each have inside of us a flower, and the ultimate goal is not spending the rest of our lives in damage control, but allowing the beauty and inherent dignity of human beings to arise and surface.
In that spirit, I decided to do a topic which deals with another form of “weeds,” and that is the issue of anger.
Who of us has never gotten angry and has not had some type of outburst and often, in retrospect, an unjustified outburst? Some of us are known to have short fuses. Anger is another one of those expressive emotions that are extremely difficult to master precisely because of its force and power. Interestingly, anger is compared in the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism to fire.
We know that when a fire begins to rage (as in “raging anger”), once it’s raging, it’s very difficult to control. Perhaps at the outset, with that initial spark, you can nip it in the bud. But often, when anger becomes a full-blown expression of rage, whatever the cause may be, it burns and consumes both yourself and those around you.
The invisible damage that anger imposes upon ourselves and the people around us has been documented. You hear a lot about children who have grown up in homes where their parents, father or mother, will have uncontrollable fits of rage, and this does great damage, even if it doesn’t express itself in some form of physical abusive or other overt type of harm.
The expression of anger itself is very negative energy, especially because it’s expressed and not controlled. Of course, you always have to begin looking at yourself, the times when you have your own uncontrollable anger, but this is much easier to do when you’re calm.
I’ll begin from a Torah perspective. There’s an interesting statement in the Talmud which states: “One who gets angry is compared to someone who has committed idolatry-an idol worshipper.” Idol worship, of course, in the Bible, is considered to be a cardinal sin.
Now that’s an interesting, seemingly strange parallel. Why would anger be compared to idol worship? Idol worship seems to be a defiance of G-d, whereas anger is clearly, at worst, a defiance of other human beings. Yet the Talmud does compare the two.
There are different explanations given for this, but I want to focus on one, which is actually cited in a classical work of Chassidic thought (another branch of Jewish mysticism) which says that the reason for that is that the person who gets angry, at least for that moment, has forgotten that there’s a G-d in this world. They’ve forgotten that life is run by Divine Providence, not randomly, and therefore when something happens to you; when something provokes you to make you feel angry, you have to realize that even though the person who caused that behavior has free will and is accountable for his or her behavior, there is a reason why it happened to you.
Because there’s a reason for it, by focusing on your reaction to it instead of focusing on the reason, it’s like denying that G-d is the one who ultimately sets the stage and sets the tone.
I have to emphasize that this does not mean that G-d intervenes or in any way suspends our free will, yet, when you’re on the receiving end of certain irritating actions, there is a certain message and a certain lesson to be learned from them.
This is why the Talmud calls anger a form of idol worship, as explained in Tanya, a classical work of Chassidic thought.
Now, this itself needs explanation. He does make some exceptions, for instance, when you get angry at something or someone because they did something wrong. If you see a criminal who has hurt a child or an innocent person, would anyone argue and say you have no right to get angry?
Obviously, there is a place for anger there. So he explains that the reason for anger in a situation like that is that if your anger or your being upset can in some way repair the situation, or can help it, then there is a place for it. However, if the anger is purely a selfish expression of your being hurt rather than bringing about any type of productive result, that’s where it borders on a form of “idolatry.”
It’s a very profound way of looking at anger. It really makes us look at ourselves, because obviously we have to begin with a discussion of it on a somewhat more philosophical and psychological perspective before dealing with the actual issue.
What happens when you are in a fit of rage, what can you do? You can’t say, “Okay, I’m going to open up a Talmud and when I read that it’s idolatry, I’m suddenly going to calm down.”
In a way, we have to train ourselves before we are actually in a situation like that to see how we can tame those fits of rage, tame our energies and channel them in the right direction.
So first I’ll take a call. Angry callers or calm callers are all welcome this evening. We have Andrew on the line.
Caller: Thanks for taking my call. I have a slightly different problem and I’m wondering if you can give me some advice. I don’t have fits of rage, but everything makes me angry, like a pot boiling. Can you address that?
Jacobson: Right now, Andrew?
Caller: No, just in my daily life. I could give you fifty examples, but just in living my life, people annoy me, situations make me angry. How do you deal with that?
Jacobson: Well, let’s see if I can provoke you so we can have a live experiment right on air!
Caller: I’m much too nervous for that.
Jacobson: Well, first of all, I appreciate your call. I don’t mean to be humorous at your expense. Obviously, my first question to you would be, are you aware of it causing direct damage in your life or to the people around you, or is it something that you just carry inside of you?
Caller: I would think that it hurts my relationships, particularly with my girlfriend.
Jacobson: Well, there are short-term solutions and long-term ones.
Caller: Give me a short-term one.
Jacobson: Okay, we’ll start with a short-term one. Long-term ones can take weeks, months, years, millennia! First of all, the single most important thing is to make sure that there’s no one in the line of fire. That when you recognize that you are about to get annoyed to the point of…
Caller: No, I’m not going to pop. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like a simmering thing.
Jacobson: So how does it express itself if you don’t pop? Do you start yelling?
Caller: No. I’m just not nice to people. I’m sarcastic with people; bitter sounding. I become a grumpy old man.
Jacobson: And this is a consistent part of your life?
Caller: Right. Give me some advice.
Jacobson: Listen to me. Do you have any spirituality in your life? Do you have anything that you do that is not focused on your own needs?
Caller: Well, I’m not a super-spiritual person. I was hoping that you could give me some non-spiritual advice.
Jacobson: Okay, I see you really have a menu-you have very specific guidelines. Maybe you should tell me what type of advice I should give you! But I’ll tell you, if you’re not a particularly spiritual type of person, the first thing to focus on is not yourself, because as I pointed out here, anger is an expression of self-focus, which ultimately is a denial of G-d in your life.
Even if someone doesn’t want to have G-d in their life, or they don’t feel a need for it-and Andrew is perhaps testimony for someone who does have a need for it-you have to have something in your life that’s outside of yourself. Because how then can you avoid the inevitable: that things will irritate you and you become so consumed with it that there’s no relief?
Relief comes when you have a certain diversity. Even in investments they say you have to diversify because you may lose in one area. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The same thing is true psychologically. If a person focuses entirely on himself and the way he does things, making sure “my needs are being met,” inevitably there will be situations where a person will be irritated, where a person will be annoyed, because he or she has no relief and there’s nowhere else to turn.
However, when our horizons are somewhat broader, and we can see life from a different perspective, we can say, “Okay, this may not have worked, I’m upset, but I have other eggs in my basket that I can depend on, that I can turn to.” That someway diffuses it.
I often find that when people are really consumed with anger, it’s usually one of two causes: either as children they’ve seen that as a coping mechanism of their parents-it became a “legitimate” way of venting, even though it’s destructive; or, they’re very self-focused, and if it doesn’t work exactly their way, they get completely upset and can’t handle it.
So whether you call it spirituality or whether you call it some form of transcendental experience that allows you to diversify, this allows you to see other horizons.
Look at little children. Little children are very emotional. You give them a toy, keep them distracted, and they can be completely delighted. When they get hurt, they start crying and screaming. They have fits of rage as well.
You can’t compare it to adult rage but you can learn from that. What is causing the child to be so mercurial, so temperamental? Because a child doesn’t yet have, what’s called in Hebrew, “daas.” Daas is not just a form of knowledge; it’s a mature understanding of things, that life is not always black and white. It’s not a matter of either you have it or you don’t have it, sometimes you gain something and you lose.
Often you have to give up something to get something.
Children have narrow perspectives. Their minds are not yet matured. Their horizons are narrow. So if they have what they want, they’re happy. If they don’t have what they want, they get upset.
As adults, we can grow chronologically into adulthood but still be children; still have those little toys. They may not be Lego’s, or they may not be blocks that you sit on the floor with, but they’re sophisticated toys, adult toys. So we play our games, and when that game is take away from us, we’re left with nothing, so we get angry at ourselves, angry at others, angry at life itself, because we have no relief. There’s nowhere to turn and there are no alternatives.
Okay, we have Billy on the line.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. Actually I’m just driving and I heard your program. It’s very interesting. I agree with a lot of the things you’re saying. I have just a few ideas to add to that. As far as being consumed with anger, it can be very difficult to get out of that at different points in your life. I think part of that probably has to do with coming to understand your past, like you said, the way your parents were or how the dysfunction of your family impacted you. Also, it helps to understand who you are as a person. You may be an intense person with a lot of intensity about how you react to things.
I do think that spirituality for me has been very important in my life to help me put it into perspective. I happen to be Christian, and I know that certain Bible verses and practicing my faith and religion helps me to cope and deal with my issues of anger, otherwise I would be like a loose, rabid dog, taking it out on everyone. So I think that that’s a very important thing.
Also, coming from a physiological or psychological standpoint, I think one has to look at whether or not it’s an illness in someone’s situation. Someone might be depressed or chemically imbalanced, which might cause the person to be very angry about their situation, which then, in turn, physiologically might change the chemistry of the brain and then you might have this anger and constant depression which just keeps evoking itself.
Jacobson: I appreciate your identifying different forms of anger; it’s great to have it clarified. Would you get angry right now, for example, if a cop pulled you over and gave you a ticket for speaking on your cell phone?
Caller: I don’t think so. I think I’d have confidence because I have a retired chief of police and a few police officers in my family to help me with that situation, but I might become a little angry or scared.
Jacobson: I understand. I just mean that sometimes, certain little things happen in life, you’re pulled over and…
Caller: You lose it.
Jacobson: Right. Some people are very good at tolerating big problems in life but when it comes to the little things, they go crazy.
Caller: But I think that that probably has to do, Rabbi, very much with the way you were brought up and your family (some people come from real easy-going situations and some people come from really dysfunctional, hard situations where they’ve seen a lot of anger between their parents and that’s all they know).
Jacobson: Well, I appreciate your call Billy and please call again!
Yes, anger has many causes, and unfortunately it has a negative impact on us and on others around us. Now I think it’s important to distinguish between the things that happen to you in your life and how you address them. Anger is not about whether you get angry, but, in general, it’s about your attitude; your attitude and reactions to phenomena, to experiences in life, and how you see yourself in your community and the world around you.
Things happen to us that are often unpredictable. We can only write a script that goes so far, and even then, it rarely works. So things happen to us that provoke us, that elicit different reactions. When you get angry, it’s also an opportunity to look at yourself and then review and say to yourself, “Why did I get angry?”
So the first thing to do is to look around and identify the causes. What makes you angry? How the government is behaving? How your co-workers are behaving? Family issues? Is it everything? Is it none of the above?
So before I take some calls, let me just take a minute to tell you how you can get in touch with us. You can email us at email@example.com, or write to us at The Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11213, or call us at 1-800-363-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646) or visit us at our website: www.meaningfullife.com.
Okay, back to our subject. One of the expressions of anger in New York City, at least, is the honking of a horn. I don’t know who created that, but I think many people tell me that it’s very therapeutic for them, when they’re traveling, especially when there’s a lot of traffic, even if it doesn’t help. It’s just a way of expressing their anger through that horn-which, of course, is illegal-but on the other hand, it’s just an interesting thing that automobiles have become this type of therapy for some.
However, I don’t really believe it helps anybody; it’s just a good way of physical expression-instead of punching someone you just keep your hands on that horn.
So we have Charles on the line.
Caller: Good evening, Rabbi. It’s a very interesting show that you have. I was thinking about one particular instance of anger. Now when I was younger, I used to have temper tantrums, and through the blessings of maturing to a certain degree, and also it had to be something from Above, thank G-d, that calmed me down, so it no longer exists.
But now that I’m older, even though that sort of trauma doesn’t exist, what I find is that trying to lead a somewhat Christian life, you constantly get attacks. And at times I find myself getting very diabolical in wanting to do things like-not getting mad-but getting even. Now, let me use the example of what happened recently.
My landlord doesn’t want to fix one of my windows, and mind you, the apartment is a sham. So I told him I wouldn’t sign another lease agreement and that I would be moving out. So I got a cracked bathroom window and I called him and asked him if he’s going to fix it. He says, “No, go to the local hardware store and shell out $48 and pay for it.”
Now, mind you, this is a landlord that I’ve spoken with and we’ve talked political science and he happens to be Albanian. He made me so angry that when I responded to him about not making the repairs, I started speaking to him in Russian out of spite, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t appreciate that. So that was my way of getting back at him.
And that’s not a good thing either.
Jacobson: Well, were you successful?
Caller: Very much so. Because I sensed from his response that he didn’t appreciate me, for one, speaking to him in the Russian language, and my window is still not fixed so I have to go to Housing Preservation Development and file a formal complaint.
Jacobson: Okay, Charles. I hope that this is the worst type of outburst of anger you’ll ever experience. However, I must say that even small forms of anger are unhealthy, generally speaking, because often you can get your message across in a pleasant way, without having to express severe anger.
Now if your anger is calculated, you know, you walk in and say, “There are three or four times already that I’ve addressed this issue, landlord, and you haven’t responded,” sometimes it’s necessary to almost have a pre-planned form of anger, which isn’t really anger but just a way of expressing yourself in a firmer way.
However, uncontrollable outbursts of anger, even in small areas, are ultimately about you, not the other person. It’s how you deal with things. The point I was making before is that it’s really an attitude to life. It doesn’t mean that you’re complacent and blasé-certain people just have a laid-back attitude and never get angry-that’s an entirely different issue, because there you can also not get angry at very unhealthy situations, which is known as co-dependency, or enabling, in psychology.
But there is an element where you have a certain dual approach, where, on the one hand, you do everything possible to remedy the situation. Now, your objective here is not whether I’m angry or whether I’m happy, but how can I remedy the situation? If it takes a smile, that’s what you do. If it takes a little more firm action, that’s what you do. For example, when you’re interacting with your own children, your intention should not be, “Oh, I got upset because my children hurt me,” (I’m using an example which I think most of us can identify with) but rather you have to think: “I know I can get through to my child in a pleasant, loving way. If that doesn’t work-once, twice, three, four times-then you know you have to be firmer and sometimes even show a form of anger. You don’t want to show uncontrollable anger because that’s unhealthy, but you want to show that “I’m really upset with you.” But this should only be used when you’ve tried the other methods.
To remedy a situation, you do everything possible, and sometimes anger is necessary in that context. Then if you cannot remedy the situation because, for whatever reason, this is what G-d sent your way, the beauty of faith is such that you say to yourself, “You know, I did everything I could. There’s nothing to be angry about. Not at myself, not at anyone else. It was not like an opportunity missed. It happened. There’s nothing more that can be done. And at that point you really have to move on, and that’s why anger is a form of idolatry, a fixation on the past, on a need to control that which is beyond your control. It’s about letting go.
Anyway, Charles, thanks for the call. We have Liba on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi Jacobson. My situation is that I’m not sighted, and when I am somewhere where things are not working out, I begin to feel abandoned and helpless, and then I panic. And then that panic leads to anger. What do you suggest?
Jacobson: Does that anger express itself internally or…
Caller: It starts internally, and unfortunately, sometimes it bubbles over.
Jacobson: Well, it’s a difficult situation frankly, Liba, to answer, because the panic is often legitimate as a result of a feeling of helplessness, as you point out, a certain vulnerability. One can’t criticize or in any way challenge that panic. I would say, first of all, it’s important for you to create a support group that you can always reach to.
By building more security in your life, you will minimize and even avoid having too many panic attacks. So getting to the root of it, if you would have less panic, you would have less anger.
And sometimes you have to get to the root of something and just create alternative methods of security, that help preempt panic attacks and the resulting anger. Often anger can be reprogrammed through behavioral change or through change of circumstances to get out of the line of fire so to speak
People often ask me about anger and I say, “If someone is provoking you again and again and again, maybe you shouldn’t get back into that boxing ring. Find yourself another place to go to if possible.”
Caller: I’ve tried.
Jacobson: Well, in this situation it’s important as much as possible to find a friend who can help avoid or minimize the reasons to panic. That’s on a very technical level. On a more emotional level, I would suggest that you have someone to call at a point like that where you can just vent to them. There are some people who are very good to call when you’re angry because either they’re immune or they just have that type of what’s called resilience.
Caller: That’s an emotional answer. Now give me the spiritual answer.
Jacobson: On a spiritual level, no one is perfect in his or her faith. We all have fits of anger. We all have tantrums. We all have different ways we express anger. The fact is that the Talmud says it’s a form of idolatry. And I think that if one is looking to grow towards spirituality, toward G-d, which is a journey, the more you have G-d in your life, the less a person should panic and the less a person should be angry.
The story that I’m very fond of repeating is a very powerful story about one of the Rebbes when he was arrested in the former Soviet Union; he was not willing to cooperate with the authorities and someone pointed a pistol to his head and said, “Rebbe, this pistol has changed many people’s minds to corroborate with us.”
The Rebbe looked at them calmly, with almost no feelings, and said, “This little toy can frighten a person who has one world and many gods, but not someone who has One G-d and two worlds.”
So in other words, the real embrace of G-d, and the test of G-d in your life, is not when things are going well but when things aren’t; when we have that reason to panic, or when we have that reason to be upset at ourselves or at G-d or the universe.
Caller: It’s when I feel abandoned.
Jacobson: Well, ultimately, it comes down to embracing G-d for all you’re worth, for all your life itself at that time, because that’s ultimately the only real source of solace when everything else seems to have abandoned you. But I do believe that you need to create a human support system as well.
Caller: That’s a good idea. Thank you, Rabbi.
Jacobson: Okay, we have Susan on the line.
Caller: Hello, Rabbi. I just had to tune in tonight. I listen every once in a while, and the show and the discussions are phenomenal. It happens coincidentally that I was very, very angry yesterday. My mother is in a nursing home and she needed me to bring her a remote control, because the aides in the nursing home constantly just push it over and it falls on the floor. So I did bring it up but I’m not mechanical, and I didn’t realize that I needed to do other things with it, like punching numbers, and I called my daughter but she couldn’t help me over the phone.
It goes back further than that because my husband (who’s deceased now) was in the line of radio equipment and he always knew how to handle these kinds of things, but the idea that I had to go back into the store where he worked and get the item and then bring it up… The anger was starting before I got to my mother-in-law, and I took it out on her and I took it out on the nurses by saying to them, “I didn’t want to be here; I had other plans.” I do have some psychological problems (I have a doctor that I see), and I apologized to my mother-in-law in the evening, but I have to talk to my doctor about how to control my anger. Perhaps you have an idea?
Jacobson: Thank you Susan for the call. I’ll respond briefly. You yourself acknowledged that it’s not always the circumstance that’s causing you to be angry-it’s yourself and how you react to it. Of course, we can justify many reasons for us to get angry, but there are many other ways to deal with it. I do think Susan, as I was suggesting to some of the other callers, each of us has our own case by case situation, yet each of us has to embrace some form of soul and spirituality, something that transcends our own immediate needs, our own space. And that’s ultimately the place of relief, the place of rescue, an oasis, that becomes the place you can run to, or go to, when what is happening in your life is being taken away and you have every reason in your own mind to be angry.
That may mean going out for a walk, it may mean calling a friend as I mentioned. There are friends who are very good at this; they can absorb a lot, and it’s important not to focus on the circumstances because then you consume yourself with all the external details (“This is making me angry, and this one did this to me”). You become a victim and trap yourself, and then your anger ultimately consumes you.
Okay, we have Rachel on the line.
Caller: When you say that anger is like idol worship because you’re not seeing G-d in the situation … I wish it were that easy. I have deep faith that Hashem runs the world and is behind everything that happens, so when things happen to me I don’t say, “How could this happen to me” as a form of idol worship, I say, “Why is Hashem doing this to me?”
So if the neighbors’ kids are running around upstairs, I don’t get angry with my neighbor, I say, “Hashem, why did you put me in the situation that I should be up all night with kids running over my head?”
If I could say anger is idol worship, then I would just have to realize that Hashem is behind everything and then my anger would go away. But that’s not the case, because now I get angry at Hashem.
Jacobson: That’s a very good question. I would say that in a situation like that, G-d (“Hashem” for those of our listeners who don’t know that that’s a Hebrew way of referring to G-d), in that case, often becomes a form of an idol as well, if anger is directed at Him, because the whole concept of G-d is not just a force that is causing things to happen, it’s also a higher wisdom and a larger picture.
It’s like getting really upset in the middle of watching a film and running out of the room, and someone tells you later that there was a happy ending. So basically, you got upset at a certain segment of it and didn’t see the entire picture.
So there’s definitely room for broadening our perspectives, which will help in lessening the anger we have. Now, I’m not putting myself in a position where I would like children running on top of my head, or some other provocative thing-I have my own fits of anger myself-yet, I think when you say ” G-d,” what you really want to say is not just another scapegoat to blame, but G-d meaning also that I’ve done what I could in a given situation, and there’s nothing else that I can do.
Now in any other particular circumstance, where you have specific items that make you angry, there are always things you can do. Either you get yourself out of the situation, or tell the person that’s causing you that pain, “Please, I can’t handle it anymore.”
If the circumstances are such that no matter what you’ve done, you can’t get yourself out of the line of fire, then ultimately that bitachon, that faith, that trust in G-d, is not just another punching bag, but it leads you to understand that maybe there’s some deeper thing going on here and you have to, I wouldn’t say smile about it, but in some way learn what the message is.
Now it’s a little difficult when you’re talking about children running around on the floor upstairs, because I don’t see what spiritual message is there-that’s like a technical thing that I’d wrack my brain to find some solution to. On this show I’m trying to show different forms and different causes, and some of them are easier to solve and some are more difficult to solve. But I appreciate your call.
So we go to Norman on the line.
Caller: Good evening. I’m listening and agreeing with just about all that you’re saying.
Jacobson: Well, what are you not agreeing with?…That’s what I’d like to know!
Caller: I’m not even sure that there’s anything that I disagree with…
Jacobson: Norman, you’re making me angry now because radio means some type of tension.
Caller: Well, I don’t see anything I disagree with; I’m going to retract that! I see everything being very valid, and I just devised something which I’m going to see if it helps me. It is true that the opposite of anger is love: suitable, correct love. So therefore, I’m going to try to say to myself and remember this: When I’m angry, I’m going to remember to say, “G-d’s Love Always Delivers” which is G-L-A-D.
If I remember this, it may help, because I agree with you that anger is putting the other person at a lower rung and making myself more important. I need to remember that the other person’s feelings are very important. If they did something wrong, they could be told correctly and suitably and politely. And that’s our challenge.
By the way, I did have a situation where I had people over my head, and you know how I somehow placated myself? I said, “You know, it could be worse. They’re my neighbors, they’re upstairs, they’re banging. I could be in a concentration camp. That’s really a bad situation.”
Jacobson: That’s true. Maybe we should create some type of support group for people who get angry at upstairs neighbors who have children running around and maybe get some suggestions of how to pad the floors or some other type of solution.
Caller: That’s a big challenge, but it is a challenge and it can be overcome. I always say to myself, “If this is so irritating, what am I supposed to learn from this?” And often I get some lesson.
Jacobson: Okay, Norman, thank you for your call, and your vote of confidence.
We have Leah on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. I think I’m pretty well calm. I don’t get angry with people, really, I have other mechanisms for dealing with that, including my faith. But I’m talking about anger against groups; for instance, I think there’s a lot of hate and anger against minority groups, let’s say, towards Jews, or I don’t like the Arabs, I’m angry at what they’re trying to do in Israel. I’m angry at what’s going on in Austria right now. I’m angry at the causes for the Holocaust. I cannot forgive certain people.
So that’s what I’m talking about: group anger. For instance, many, many people have this hate and anger even toward our President and our own government. And they are constantly talking hate on the other side of the dial with 24-hour diatribes against certain people running for office. There’s real anger and hate there all the time, and I think this is what we listen to. My question is: how can I not be angry at things that really affect me in the world?
Jacobson: Well, it’s legitimate to be angry at injustices and crimes that have been perpetrated on innocent people. There’s legitimacy to that because it means we’re not indifferent. However, I wouldn’t call that anger, I would call it a healthy reaction to things that are inappropriate, particularly if that anger can help you avoid situations like that, or teach your children, or your community that there are certain things that shouldn’t be tolerated. In those cases, anger has a role, but not as an expression or an indulgence of your own feelings, but rather a very deliberate and specific form of expression that’s showing that things are not right; particularly in a case where anger can help correct the situation, repair it, and also learn for the future.
However, anger that is an expression of your own indulgent feelings and one that is directed at others-as a defense or a lashing out-that is destructive both to yourself and to others. That’s how I would make the distinction. And how one travels from one type of anger to the other requires introspection, requires that spirituality we’re talking about. It also requires having outlets and channeling that anger.
If something that is legitimately unjust is making you angry but you express it in a way that is destructive, then you have to have objectives friends who can help you channel it in a constructive way.
Now sometimes I’ll get upset at something, and I’ll call a friend and tell him what happened, and he’ll say to me, “Well, why don’t you try this and this.” And in a way this can free us because it releases us; we feel we have another outlet.
Sometimes it is a form of panic as Liba said earlier, and you feel anger is your only recourse. When you find another way, when someone says, “Why don’t you try this and that,” you feel that there is an outlet, a solution, and the anger will dissipate because you have another way of dealing with the problem. And that’s critical in channeling it.
I’d like to also address the issue, if time allows, of “Is it healthier to express your anger when you feel it simmering inside of you, and just get it out of your system, or is it healthier to repress it and try to keep it under control?”
But let’s go back to the calls; maybe someone will have an answer. We have Leah on line 2.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. I think you may have answered this comment, but I’ll go ahead with it anyway. How can you control anger that you feel was programmed into you from infancy, from childhood, in a volatile household (to put it mildly)? I think it’s the cause of my free-floating anxiety, guilt, and hair-trigger responses which almost seem involuntary and immobilizing. I admire people who play it cool but I’m not one of them. I think it’s because of that early exposure to anger.
And then when you talk about anger being like idol worship, it’s hard to relate to that when you feel you had no input into this kind of feeling; it didn’t develop by itself.
Jacobson: Right. That’s an important aspect of the topic. I know many people have that unhealthy coping mechanism that they picked up early on, ingrained in them as you just put it. I think, first of all-and I must commend you on this-that just having the awareness of the cause and not trying to justify it is an important step. It’s like many people who have anger in their blood from their childhood. Instead of recognizing that, they just always blame others. They say, “It’s not me. People are out to get me, etc.”
So first of all, the fact that you’re aware is already half a cure. The next step would be what you can do about it. Though I’ve said it several times on the air, I must reiterate that it’s ultimately diversification. You have to find other outlets. You have to find other ways of communicating and when there’s a real outburst, you should try to find a situation where there’s no one around-let yourself go to the ocean, listen to some music-something that keeps you away from others when you’re having that type of outburst.
Because this happens to all of us at some point or another, we can’t always stop it. And any responsible adult can be accountable for and asked to vent his or her anger in private, where it will not hurt others.
When dealing with anger, it’s important to find other outlets and know that just because this is the way your father and mother dealt with issues, you don’t have to (or want to) be that way.
So when something causes you to be angry, you literally, constantly have to speak to someone and say, “What else can I do in this situation? What are my alternatives? I always have that outburst.”
Now, are there any panaceas, are there any magic tricks? I can’t state any on air here because I don’t have them. However, I think it’s a process of awareness, of constantly monitoring yourself, turning to others for help, not thinking you can solve it on your own, because anger is deep-rooted, and ultimately prayer, spiritual communion, study, anything that broadens your horizons, pulls you into another space that’s outside of yourself, and can ultimately diffuse it. Much more can be said on the topic, but we then need to get into a lengthier discussion to address this particular case.
We go to David on line 3.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. You said so much. I was getting angry with you in the beginning, at the program, at the callers, angry at myself. I reserved time because I wanted to listen to you and then I wasn’t getting any messages. And of course, then when you talked about anger being equal to fire, I remember you also said fire can be either self-consuming or it can be enlightening. And I said to myself, as you’ve been saying, we have to look at what anger is trying to teach us by what we’re angry at: the bad programming that we’ve had from childhood that makes us act this way. And then you asked the question whether it’s a good idea to repress your anger until maybe you can find a padded room to go into and knock your head against the wall when it’s more appropriate instead of in public or someplace else.
In my case it was bad role modeling from my childhood. When I saw my son running around with a baseball bat expressing his anger, I said, he learned this from me being a rageaholic. But if I can use the anger as enlightenment, I guess it will help us to learn why we’re acting that way, to enlighten us and learn how we can improve ourselves and turn to the power of tefillah (prayer).
I think it does help a lot. I want to thank you for that.
Jacobson: Thank you David. I’m glad…this was a perfect example. Someone who was angry at the show, at myself, at everyone, and it somehow dissipated. Maybe if you’re on hold long enough, anger does dissipate.
Okay, we have Elisha on the line.
Caller: No actually this is Danielle, his Mom. I’m calling for my son who happens to be six years old. He’s a very good boy, in fact, tonight he reminded me, he said, “Mommy, Rabbi Jacobson is on, are we listening tonight?”
Jacobson: Six years old?
Caller: Yes, and he’s very good, he listens very well. He goes to yeshivah and he’s very good with his middos, but sometimes all of a sudden his mood will change and he’ll say, “I’m angry. I’m angry with everybody. I’m angry with you. You’re annoying me.”
It happened actually this morning and I really didn’t know what to do, and I’d like to have you give some input for a parent for a child.
Jacobson: I’m glad to hear we have audiences of different age groups! Briefly, children’s anger is completely different from adult anger because, as I mentioned earlier, children have a propensity to be emotional. But if there is a continuing pattern of anger, not just sporadic instances, but a continued pattern, there may be other things bothering the child that we are not aware of, something in school, for example.
Children are often ashamed or bashful because they think they may be punished or hurt. Often they have a friend at school who’s really badgering them and they may think that if that friend is a relative of or close to the principal or the teacher, they may not want to share it.
That’s just an example. There are things that often bother children that express themselves in anger and I think it’s important to look at what’s going on in the child’s life that you may not be aware of as a parent. That’s if it’s a continuing pattern.
If it isn’t, then a child having an outburst or a tantrum is quite natural because it’s the way the child learns to grow and learns to express itself. Then there’s an issue of how the child sees the parents address that. Obviously, it should never be returned in kind. When children see how parents deal with a problem, it teaches them greatly how to approach a problem; that anger is not necessarily the only way to address a problem.
In a way, you’re dealing with a blessing here. Many of the calls this evening came from adults who have already been shaped. But a child can be taught. There are many things you can do. You can say, “Elisha, there are many ways to express ourselves when we don’t like something.” You can first try pleasantly, and then be more firm. And I think by setting an example and communicating it, Elisha and any child can really learn from that.
So we go to Irving on line 1.
Caller: Yes, hello. I have to fix my hearing aid. I wanted to know about anger. You see, anger is something which is not premeditated. It’s spontaneous. How do you cope with something that’s spontaneous? You can’t. I’m “pooh-pooh” 90 years old and I know for a lifetime that it’s very hard because you don’t know when to expect it-it’s not something you think out logically, it’s something that just pops out!
Jacobson: Irving, coming from an experienced person like you, I think we all can appreciate that. I would say very briefly that spontaneous reactions are influenced by how we prepare ourselves before we’ve begun to have those emotional feelings. Much of what I was saying this evening is how in general you can change your attitude-but not when the provocation is occurring, because that’s very difficult. Once the storm strikes, you can’t start building strong foundations.
So you have to wait and see how your attitude is in more peaceful times when you’re not being provoked, and being aware that when you have angry expressions, you should just prepare the ground that you should have different outlets. It’s like the rush of water in a river. If you have only one direction, when it really begins to explode, when it really begins to intensify, the water starts rushing to the point of complete eruption.
However, if you create different channels and the river can run off before you get angry, then when something will provoke you, you’ve prepared yourself. That is, I believe, the best type of solution in that area which is preventive medicine. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a way of approaching life, of creating diversification by way of different options.
Thank you for the call, Irving, and I’m glad to hear that we have many different age groups listening to the show; it’s really very encouraging. You’ve been listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. We’re on the air every Sunday from 6-7pm on WEVD 1050AM. This show is brought to you by the Meaningful Life Center which I have the honor to direct, an organization dedicated to bringing teachings that can empower us all with the tools that can help us live more meaningful lives: dealing with anger and other negative emotions, not annihilating yourself but channeling them into expressions and seeing your bouts of anger or different emotional expressions as signposts-you can even say “red flags”-that G-d puts in front of you to give you a way of looking at yourself. When things are just smooth, you often don’t look at yourself.
When you have strong reactions to things, including anger, it makes you look at yourself, your place in this world, and your attitude toward life in general. So if we see it that way, as a caller put it earlier, that anger can be a fire that illuminates instead of a fire that consumes, then it can be put to use, and channeled properly. It can be productive when it’s directed and controlled and not focused as your own indulgent feelings, and at the same time, it can also teach us how to be more pleasant and more loving in areas of our lives.
This show is sponsored by listeners such as yourself, and we welcome any type of pledge. I would also like to invite all our listeners to my weekly class at 8:00pm on Wednesday nights, at 346 West 89th St., corner of Riverside Drive, in Manhattan.
So until next time, this has been Toward a Meaningful Life. Thank you very much.