What is the opposite of anger? That question popped into my thoughts as I was walking around a local lake Sunday afternoon. The question came to me on the heels of a sudden onset of rage. Utterly inappropriate to the moment at hand, the over-the-top anger was consuming. I wondered where it came from, why was it happening in that moment?
I’d been enjoying the walk, the sun and the shadows, the grass, and the children running and playing on the fields and in the water park. I was concentrating on being present, on not being afraid, on keeping my head up and relaxing. Out in the world is hard for me at times, but I was doing it when, bam! I was suddenly very angry indeed.
I gave some thought to an idea I read recently, that says we are all things emotional, or at least we are capable of being all things emotional. That if we’re generous, we have the capacity to be selfish. If we’re kind, we have the capacity to be cruel. If we’re frightened, we have the capacity to be brave. It was that last thought that had inspired me on my walk, right up until I got angry.
I continued walking, hiding my feelings behind my sunglasses and half-smile as I started to wonder, what is anger’s corresponding emotion? What is the opposite that I’m so capable of embracing? It didn’t seem to me that “happy” fit the bill. Happiness pairs more logically with sadness and sorrow. Nor did the other emotions I looked at fit.
Perhaps it’s because anger is a secondary emotion? Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to pin down its complement? We often feel anger when we’re blocking another emotion like fear or sorrow. The feelings are too uncomfortable to deal with so we shove them aside and get angry instead.
But what stimulated that response; what made me rage in the first place?
In part, it’s the depression. I get angry when I’m depressed. It manifests that way quite often, and it doesn’t take much to set me off. I went from zero to one hundred this morning when I couldn’t remove a makeup smudge from the bathroom floor. But this was not that.
It occurred to me, however, that perhaps it was vulnerability. Perhaps that is what was driving the rage?
I walk with headphones. I listen to music. Out, as I mentioned, is hard. I like the wall sunglasses and headphones create between me and the world. I can observe it but I’m not of it and I feel safer that way.
I was walking and listening to music. Walking in time as I always do. I wonder, sometimes, if anyone notices I make adjustments to my pacing based on the song that is playing? I was concentrating on keeping my head up, and feeling the sun, and looking at people’s faces, and not feeling self-conscious and conspicuous with my body when a Cristina Aguilera song I particularly like came on.
I adjusted my gait again and as I strolled along, I started to think about how it was making me feel. It was making me feel a little bit brave. A little bit fierce. A little bit feminine and sexual. And it was then that I got angry.
Sexuality is a hard one for me. Male attention has always been difficult. It makes me uncomfortable. I worry about intentions. I worry about my difficulties with “no”. I worry about revisiting past traumas or even worse, picking up new ones. Far better to be neutral than sexual. It’s a point of healing that I’ve avoided to date, preferring not to deal with it, accepting that I might live the rest of my life alone.
I make half-hearted efforts. I signed up with a dating site and created a Bumble account. I don’t, however, interact with them
I like my own space and being able to do my own thing; for me, alone is not necessarily a dire fate. Adding someone to my life feels like too much. All I see are obligations. All I see is the potential for abuse. I fear losing myself. It seems to be all risk and no reward.
But I don’t like the fact that it’s a default decision. I haven’t decided to live alone. I’ve decided to not risk anything else because of perceived difficulties and problems. I’ve decided not to be vulnerable in a relationship again, not to risk the gains I’ve made, and not to test my ability to enforce my boundaries. Which makes me a bit of a coward. And that makes me feel defensive. Which makes me get angry.
Vulnerability is a big thing right now. A great many clever people have concluded that it’s important. That you need to be able to embrace your vulnerabilities to become a full and whole person. Leaning into the discomfort has become a mantra.
But I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it. I think I dislike the bouts of unreasonable and over-the-top anger more, however. And continually blaming the depression and the thought processes without doing anything different is pointless.
So perhaps the opposite of anger is acceptance. Acceptance of the uncomfortable feelings that make me lash out. Acceptance that I will sometimes feel vulnerable in my interactions.
Insight. It’s a bitch. I have no idea why I continue to pursue it.
Do you think it’s important to understand what’s driving your emotions?