In the first entry of Peering into the Well, I mention my wife’s observation:
“the things that upset me so much were likely things I struggle with”
This is hard to admit but, seeing pain I don’t comprehend is actually something that triggers anger, not compassion in me. I know I should feel compassion whenever someone is in pain or need. I want to feel it, but in certain situations, the rage overtakes the compassion they deserve, the compassion I can feel, when I shake off the anger. This realization disturbed me. It shook me to say the words out loud, it gave weight and substance to my enmity and it made me feel sick.
Let the record show that I am now engaging in pop, armchair psychology. I am not and do not intend to be a psychologist. I did toy with the idea for a time, but I decided I was not suited for clinical work. I didn’t think I had the right temperament to really help people in need. The fact that I don’t naturally have compassion for people in all circumstances wherein they are suffering is a big clue that something in me is broken or at least disjointed. I had to find out what is wrong with me, so I did what I always do in situations like this: I researched it online.
My search led me to an article in Psychology Today written by Leon F Seltzer Ph.D.
It suggests that anger is a secondary emotion, triggered as a sort of self-defense. He sites the chemical and hormonal responses to anger and explains how the temporary high of indignation can lead one to rely on anger as a psychological crutch. A toxic chain which shackles it’s creator to the very venom they are trying to avoid can be formed like this:
> I think of myself as having little worth > my low self worth is affirmed > I am afraid to acknowledge and admit my low self worth > I become angry with the source of this affirmation > I lash out at it, undermining its value > I take pleasure in bringing down the other and am protected from looking at my own shortcomings > with minimal effort I have protected myself image from being further diminished > perhaps because of the ease with which I avoided the self reflection I subconsciously value myself as even more worthless > I think of myself as having little worth >
This process may repeat, ad infinitum, until you are lonely, divorced and living in a van down by the river.
That is what I took away from the article. You can read it by following the link above. You may find some interesting details or concepts that I have overlooked in presenting to you how it impacted me.
This is serious stuff. It is heavy. I veered into comedy for a moment there because of how dire this subject is. Based on reading this article, I am almost certain that I am afflicted with an unhealthy diminished self image. Tying back into my wife’s observation, if I view myself as weak and pathetic because of this diminished self estimation, then it makes sense that displays of weakness in others (under certain circumstances) would trigger deflective anger in me. I may not be selling this armchair diagnosis to you, but I am fairly convinced that this is accurate. The reason I feel so strongly that this line of thinking is on the right track is because of the emotions I felt while reading Seltzer’s article. I started sobbing less than halfway through the article, but I pushed myself to finish reading it. The words were not harsh, there was no malice, but forcing myself to see a truth about myself that I had rejected for so long hurt me in such a profound way. It made me think back and wonder how I came to value myself so little.