In the last few years I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am a very angry person. I may not be prone to visible outbursts, but it doesn’t take much to make my blood quietly creep up to boiling point.
I often find myself letting loose an internal tirade of expletives at inconsiderate fellow motorists; regularly catch myself thinking, “what did he mean by that?” to the most innocent statements from others.
I am prone to seething on the inside with the ‘inconsiderate and selfish’ I rub shoulders with daily.
But I’m sure most of the things I ‘get offended’ by were never meant as ‘offense’, so why do I take them as such?
So why do we do it?
I’ve rambled on in the last few blog posts about “Falling Upwards”, the new book by Richard Rohr. I’m afraid today you’re in for a barrage of quotes from him, because I’ve found his wisdom so helpful, so here’s the first:
“Ken Keyes so wisely said, “More suffering comes into the world by people taking offense than by people intending to give offense.” The offended ones feel the need to offend back those who they think have offended them, creating defensiveness on the part of the presumed offenders, which often becomes a new offensive – ad infinitum. There seems to be no way out of this self-defeating and violent Pin-Pong game – except growing up spiritually.”
I realized some time ago that the person I’m hurting the most with this habit of anger and offense is me. Usually the objects of my anger don’t even know about it, and if they find out they invariably either pity me, mock me, or ignore me. I’m the one who potentially loses sleep over this stuff.
And I’m tired of it.
I like my sleep.
I want to grow up and move past what feels like a very base and childish response to life. So perhaps the obvious next step in my spiritual growth is to pay attention to the things I am offended by and, one by one, ask the question why?
Why am I so angry?
What am I really so angry about?
Usually, I think especially in men, anger is actually a sign of fear, so perhaps the better question to ask is ‘what am I afraid of?’
Some more from Richard Rohr:
“Invariably when something upsets you, and you have a strong emotional reaction out of proportion to the moment, your shadow self has just been exposed. So watch for any overreactions or overdenials. When you notice them, notice also that the cock of St Peter has just crowed! The reason that a mature or saintly person can be so peaceful, so accepting of self and others, is that there is not much hidden shadow self left (there is always and forever a little more, however! No exceptions. Shadow work never stops.)”
Rohr subscribes to the Psychological ideas of Jung, who suggested each of us has many layers to our person. On the very outer layer sits our ‘persona’, and this is the person we create to show the world; the personality we want everyone to believe we really are.
At our core however sits our ‘shadow’ self. This is the dark part of ourself, the selfish, needy, dangerous part of us which drives us towards our greatest evil. Interestingly it’s the shadow which often drives us to create the persona in the first place, and we will use any and all energy to protect the reality of this game from others.
To be a well rounded, spiritually mature human being we need to realize that both the persona and the shadow are a lie, but before we can do that we have to acknowledge that they are both there, see them for what they are, and then settle into life long ‘shadow work’.
Rohr also says:
“I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then I must watch my reaction to it. In my position, I have no other way of spotting both my well-denied shadow self and my idealized persona. I am actually surprised there are not more clergy scandals, because ‘spiritual leader’ or ‘professional religious person’ is such a dangerous and ego-inflating self-image. Whenever ministers, or any true believers, are too anti anything, you can be pretty sure there is some shadow material lurking somewhere”
A few blog posts ago I told you about taking some kids on a youth camp a few years ago. The speaker got up on the first night to tell them that (and I quote) ‘non-christians are dead, demonized, deranged and demented’… and he took 50 minutes to yell that at us! He seemed very, very angry that there were people out there ‘behaving badly’ because they weren’t Christians. I mean really angry! He was offended by them!
I remember thinking his anger was very strange.
Earlier this year, I heard that this same guy had been removed from his church because of sexual impropriety… and I wasn’t at all surprised. It makes perfect sense. As Rohr says, any time we are too anti anything, too offended, it is likely that it is saying more about us, than about the object of our offense. In other words offense is often a sure sign that we haven’t dealt with, or often even acknowledged, our own ‘shadow material’.
So coming back to me, because this doesn’t really work unless you make it personal.
I think some of my shadow material is that I’m afraid people don’t value me. My ego is afraid people are not taking me seriously, or not thinking me worth their attention.
It’s ugly, but it’s true.
And I feel that needy thing clawing for attention often, pricking my anger if I ignore it, and then creating offenses to release that anger. The problem is (and it always was) that I need to acknowledge this ‘shadow’ that demands love and attention from those around me; remembering all the time that they too are likely wrestling with their own shadows.
He has no shadow to wrestle with and so is able to give love completely. Jesus calls Him my ‘Heavenly Father’. Now my earthly father was a pretty poor example of unconditional love, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it exists.
I suppose I just need reminding that I already have it. I have love. I’m not perfect, and that’s ok. No one else is perfect either; we’re broken and wounded, some just hide it better than others. We can’t rely on each other to give us our sense of worth, or we’ll just condemn ourselves to the dizzying highs and lows of daily human interaction.
We have to root it somewhere else.
Which tells me I’m ok, even though I always have a long way to go.
I’m 33 now, but I still feel like a kid in this and need to remind myself of this stuff constantly. I need to remember that I have to ground my being in the broad reality of life, and in the unmoving grace of God. I need to remember my shadow and take it seriously. I need to remember others are wrestling with the same. And I suppose it starts with being aware of the things I take offense at, and beginning to let them go by reminding myself of the Truth.
Maybe use it as an exercise this week: each time you find yourself offended at someone else, try stopping for a moment and asking yourself what is really going on.
Seeing as I’m on a Rohr-quoting roll, I’ll leave you with this thought:
“The general pattern in story and novel is that heroes learn and grow from encountering their shadow, whereas villains never do.”