Emotion puts colored lenses on the glasses through which we view the world. Anxiety makes us view the world as more frightening than it is. Fear lowers our threshold for danger, and makes us more likely to run away. Depression colors the world too. It makes us give up, turn inward, and sit alone somewhere conserving energy until happier times emerge. To a depressed person, the world usually seems bleaker than it actually is.

According to eminent psychologist Martin Seligman, anger is a colored lens as well.

"Anger readies us to attack - innocent actions seen through its lens appear to be trespass... so while it may be honest to be angry, it is not truthful. The judgments we make while we are angry are often far off the mark, coloring evidence in a hostile and threatening manner."*

This is quite a surprising idea. Anger, contrasted with something like fear or depression, seems to be more genuine. When a weaker person reaches a moment of truth, and gets angry at their strong oppressor, their anger seems like clarity, rather than distortion. However, this is not true in practice.

Freud, and many other therapists after him, believed that depression was simply anger turned inward. By the 1950s, one of the main treatments for depression was to encourage patients to get angry. Instead of being passive and brooding, therapists asked depressed patients to shout about the times they had been victimized and rage over how bad their lives were. In response, the patients would wallow in their pain and dredge up old, tragic material. They wept - they unravelled so much that often therapists had a difficult time pulling them back together again. In fact, a mild depression could get upgraded to a severe case, with a suicide attempt thrown in.

In conclusion, there is no evidence that depression is simply anger turned inward. Getting anger out of depressives only worsens the case. This is contrary to the popular thought that people have to let go of the anger they have built up inside.

The effectiveness of anger is overrated. Yes, in a desparate back-against-the-wall, physical fight where our lives or the lives of the ones we love are in danger, anger gives us the strength of many. But we're almost never in that situation. An enemy insults us. A coworker does something to throw us off. A lover rejects us. A child disobeys us. A voyeur peeks at us. How effective is an outburst of anger in these cases? Catharsis often amplifies emotion rather than releases it.

For most of us, anger is a very disorganizing emotion. We get too intense. We say things we want to take back later. We forget our most important points. We hurt the ones we love. That being said, anger is still treasured - or at least it seems that way. Think Fight Club. Think any epic war movie. We think of it as the springboard to justice and the path to honesty. But...there is nothing more destructive. It is almost trite to mention some of the consequenses: war, murder, violent rape.

Instead getting angry or seeing the world through any other kind of perceptual lens - why not shoot for a clear lens? One that helps enhance our perception to make the best choices, rather than letting anything cloud our judgement.

*What You Can Change... And What You Can't Martin E.P. Seligman, Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1993 p 126.





Anger is readily available

on standby 


Resentment, once purchased

is infinite 


Regret,  sometimes fleeting,

has staying power;  can take up residence 


A single mistake can trigger years of emotion

a moment creates a landslide 


Anger can be honest and genuine

but it ruins more than it cleanses   

                                                  destruction is rarely hygenic  

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