Ask if the experience of raging is worth the psychological fallout

Some people simply need something to be furious at.

Their rage is not about emotion, it’s about identity. Saying that they hate things is what makes them happy. It’s the pellet that makes the rat feel like themselves. They’re defined by what they don’t like.

This behavior, foul as it may be, is psychologically understandable.

Who doesn’t love yanking that pressure release valve to let the all their steam escape?

But from a practical standpoint, the economics of hate doesn’t compute. Not that we need a clinical reason not to rage, but it’s an interesting way to think about it.

Because putting aside our own peace of mind and potential for joy, just to feel those hateful feelings, isn’t worth the effort.

Reminds me of the popular productivity study that found it took an average of twenty three minutes for employees to get back to the task after a coworker interrupted them.

A similar reaction happens when we distract ourselves with our vitriolic feelings. Our frontal cortex lights up. It’s like introducing sulfuric acid into our system, and allowing the reside left behind to wear down the machine.

Nepo, my current favorite philosopher, says that the reward for loving is being the carrier of it. Which also means that the opposite is true.

The punishment for hate is being the messenger of it. Every time we show that kind of feeling towards someone or something, it’s recorded in our body.

Point being, if we find ourselves trying to gain power and authority by putting things down, we should ask ourselves if the person or thing we are hating is really worth it.

Probably not.

We should ask ourselves who we would be without any of our resentments.

Probably a lot.

We should ask ourselves if the experience of raging is worth the psychological fallout.

Probably not.

Carlin’s immortal words come to mind. The comedian once wrote:

All of your chanting, marching, voting, picketing, boycotting and letter writing will not change a thing. You will never right the wrongs of this world. The only thing your activity will accomplish is to make some of you feel better. Such activity makes powerless people feel useful, and provides them the illusion that they’re making a difference. If you think there’s a solution, you’re part of the problem.

We may be attached our fury because it’s fashionable, but that doesn’t mean we have to revamp our entire wardrobe around it.

I’m not saying we have to love everything, but let’s not waste any more time hating it either.

Who would you be without any of your resentments?

Blinded by the peaks and valleys of wins and losses

How good are you at loving your stress?

That was the most powerful question my therapist ever asked me.

Because our goal is not to be free from stress, but to learn to live with it differently. To change our relationship to it. To meet stress as a product of our own mind, not as something that just magically materialized from people and events in our environment.

Without that kind of loving posture, we will continue to treat stress as an external enemy that we have to battle, rather than an internal messenger that has come to teach us something very important about ourselves.

And it’s funny, psychologists have been telling us for years that there is good stress, aka, eustress; and bad stress, aka, distress, and our distinction of the two is the secret to feeling better.

Biologically, that’s true and probably useful. But the problem with binary terms like good or bad and right or wrong is that they’re deeply judgmental. And although we love using these dichotomies to validate our ego and categorize and control everything, it’s mostly a false distinction that causes additional psychic pain.

Blinded by the peaks and valleys of wins and losses, as the mystics say.

Here’s another question worth asking:

Who were you before you defined things as good or bad, right or wrong?

The short answer is, more blissful. The long answer is, someone who allowed themselves to be defined by their relationship to life, rather than good or bad things they’ve done within in it.

Williamson’s bestselling book on the spiritual journey to inner peace states that the only real problem is a lack of love. That affirming that love is our priority in a situation.

Which calls back my therapist’s original question:

How good are you at loving your stress?

In fact, go replace the word stress with whatever experience is currently at the center of your suffering. How good are you at loving it? And if that concept still sounds saccharine and impractical to you, if a thoroughly loving person seems like some evolutionary mutation, that’s okay too.

In my experience, however, we feel the happiest when we greet our feelings with loving acceptance and passionate detachment, rather than trying to categorize and control them.

Are you treating your feelings as enemies or information?

Freedom is but a choice away

The most mature, adult thing we can do is to remind ourselves that we have a choice.

We may not be able to control a damn thing about the results we see in this world, but if we care enough, there’s always some part of the process that’s up to us.

Bandura, a legendary psychologist and professor, uses the term self efficacy to describe this choice making experience. It’s the belief in one’s ability to influence events that effect one’s life, and control over the way these events are experienced.

In a world where some people never imagine they have the choice to do or not to do something, this theory is powerful. Because in many situations, our choices are less important than the fact that we make them. Each one builds on the next.

When we connect to more choice, we connect to more freedom, and when we connect to more freedom, we connect to greater fulfillment.

The challenge is, the powers that be try to fool us into believing we don’t have a choice. Both internally with our own egos, and externally with the world, there will always be some angry and clever voice trying to convince us that there’s nothing we can do.

And it’s simply not true. The secret is training ourselves to remove all disempowering language from our inner dialogue. To speak in ways that remind us we are victims of our own actions, and not some cosmic force we can’t perceive.

Step one is abstinence from reactive words like should, ought to, obliged to, have to, forced to, overwhelmed, don’t want to think about it.

Step two is replacing them with ownership language like want to, choose to, intend to, commit to, prepared to and I trust myself to.

And if that sounds too intimidating, start by simply noticing anytime you use those words. Attention changes intention.

Even if the world tries to fool you into believing you have no power, there’s always the prospect of self efficacy at your fingertips.

Freedom is but a choice away. 

What if our anxiety was the result of poor volition and not poor circumstances?

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