In responding to life situations, is anger helpful or is it self-defeating? Anger can be useful because it alerts us to a problem and motivates us to make change in ourselves or in our world. Twelve-step groups, for example, talk about people needing to feel the frustration of “hitting rock bottom” before they turn their lives over to God in the recovery process. Likewise, anger in the face of social injustice can move us to take collaborative action on behalf of the common good. The Adrian Dominican Sisters Vision Statement states, “impelled by the Gospel and outraged by the injustices of our day, [we] seek truth; make peace; reverence life.”
While anger can serve a positive function in our lives, it can also be self-defeating. Unlike our positive emotions like affection, awe, and joy, anger feels bad and separates us from others. Our inability to handle anger effectively can entrap us in hostility, hatred, and despair. Caught in the volatility of anger, we react with revenge and retaliation against ourselves and others. Interestingly, our interpretation of events can create more anger than the event itself. Here is one example of how it can play out in community life.
I begin with the following premise: if I am a good and loving Sister, the Sisters with whom I live will love me in the ways in which I want to be loved. All is well, until one day I experience what appears to be a rejection by one of my Sisters. Feeling upset, I begin to draw out different meanings from the event that only stoke my anger. I might conclude that I am an unlovable community member who caused or deserves this hurtful treatment. I might also decide that the other Sister is a messed up, dysfunctional person because she is not meeting my ideals. Underneath my anger is the fear of losing self-esteem.
My interpretations of the event are invalid because blaming myself for the other person’s actions is diminishing my self-esteem. Making a monster out of the other person and blaming them for causing my hurt blinds me to the good in the other person and hardens my heart toward them.
Empathy, the ability to understand accurately the thoughts and motives of others, is the best remedy for anger. If I can put myself in the other person’s place and see their struggle, I will have more compassion toward them. I can talk with them about why they did what they did. The fact that they treated me poorly does not mean that I am unlovable or less of a person. I no longer see myself as responsible for their actions and my self-esteem increases. I take responsibility for my own feelings and practice self-compassion. I am now in a place of calm to work through the problem with my Sister.
We need to discern the message of anger by taking quiet time to blow off steam and work through our thoughts and feelings. We need to be willing to do the inner work it takes to have healthy and happy relationships. How have you dealt with anger in your life?
Yes, Sister Sara I have dealt with anger in my life as well. I have been willing and able to do the inner work it takes to have healthy and happy relationships. But is asking Dominican Sisters whose life is purposeful daily prayer, inner work and daily reflection and healthy and happy relationships with one another such a bad idea? As a woman of faith and an ex- Adrian Dominican my inner work and prayer led me back to my Adrian Sister Leaders of Faith, to my Adrian Sister Friends for the healthy and happy relationship I was trained to offer others when I was an Adrian Dominican Sister in the 60’s. Given time, the inner workings of the Community of Sisters I so loved and admired decided to alienate and ignore me rather than return to the healthy and very happy relationship I always knew as a Dominican “sister -member “ of the Adrian Community. I was not angry with these particular Sisters when I re-connected with them. Sadly, they were and still are angry with me today, almost 50 years later. Doing the inner work I practiced in Adrian served me well as a wife, mother, and woman but I was on my own and asked for the prayers, help and services that the Sisters gave so willingly to others in the USA and World Wide. If inner work didn’t help particular Religious Sisters blow off their own steam over individual thoughts and feelings, then the whole Community Of Sisters is at risk for unhealthy and unhappy relationships w one another and others. Anyone who does not deal with their own anger first will not ever know empathy nor compassion. Very sadly that has affected the happiness and healthy reputation off Sisters like you who inspire women all over the world on a daily basis. I hope that you share your Daily Reflection with the angry and agitated Sisters in the Community who need you to help them find peace and healing within themselves and With others. Thank you for reminding all of us about discerning anger personally before we speak out against anyone else. I will remember your advice and wisdom:)
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!