Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What am I Supposed to Do with All this Anger?

Posted by Joel Gunz

Women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem once said, “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” No kidding. When we started seeing the truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses, didn’t anger soon follow? Anger at ourselves for having wasted years in a mere religion masquerading as God’s chosen instrument. Anger toward the elders and Governing Body for abusing their power and taking advantage of our better nature.

The society we live in doesn’t place a high value on anger. It isn’t a politically correct emotion. When current Witnesses have anything to say to us, it’s usually a variation on the theme of “get over it.” Truth be told, most of us want more than anything to do just that. So, their advice is silly and ignorant.

What should we do with our anger? I deal with that question all the time in my own life.

I think the first thing to remember is that the same god that invented buttercups, unicorns and joyness also invented volcanoes, hornets and rage.

I don’t now about you, but I love my anger. I enjoy it as much as I enjoy laughter. I feel whole, as if my emotions are just as valid as the next guy’s. I feel alive, part of the human race. On the other hand, pretending I’m not angry when I really am makes me feel small. I feel like a chump.

Just today, I had lunch with a friend who has left the Witnesses. My blood boiled as he described the abuses and hypocrisy that he observed in his congregation. Swear to god, I wanted punch one elder so hard he’d be defecating teeth. Obviously, I’m not going to do that. Still, that man’s behavior was, literally, outrageous — deserving of rage — and, man, did I feel it! It felt good.

I don’t engage in a lot of ranting or criticism of Watchtower Society policy and doctrine on this site, but I do visit other sites and do that very thing. If you follow me on Facebook, you know I don’t hold my feelings back about Jehovah’s Witnessism. It’s a wonderful release. The best part is, I experience healing when I do it. When I express my anger in what I feel are these appropriate ways, I’m unlikely to lash out in inappropriate ways.

On the other hand, I’ve known a few ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who say they’ve moved past their feelings of rancor, but to be frank, I don’t buy it. More often than not, their disowned or repressed anger leaks out as veiled hostility and passive-aggressiveness. The point is, anger is like poop. It will come out, one way or the other. I say it’s better to admit your anger, stop pretending otherwise and get it out there. It may not be pretty all the time, but I’d rather hang around someone who is honestly angry than someone who is dishonestly nice. And I’m grateful to have friends who let me express my feelings without judgment.

I think it’s very true, what Vietnamese spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh says:
“Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, ‘Go away, anger, I don’t want you.’ When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, ‘I don’t want you stomach, go away.’ No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger.”
Here’s some more of his advice:
“When you get angry with someone, please don’t pretend that you are not angry. Don’t pretend that you don’t suffer. If the other person is dear to you, then you have to confess that you are angry, and that you suffer. Tell him or her in a calm, loving way.”
Being either disfellowshipped or disassociated, most of us can’t ‘confess our anger’ to the congregation. They’ve shunned us and won’t listen. This is a difficult problem. I’d really like to go back to my old judicial committee and tell them about my anger and suffering. But I know they won’t listen. The truth for me is that, in a way, they are, like Hanh says, ‘dear to me.’ That is, even after six or eight years, I still want them to see me as a person, and not just as a moral degenerate or an apostate or whatever label they’ve attached to me that hides my personhood from them.

Some of the ex-Witnesses I know who looked the elders in the eye and told them, basically, to go to hell have had an easier time moving on. But not all of us were able to do that. So I suspect that, for many of us, much of our anger stems from feeling frustrated because the object of our anger — the Witnesses, perhaps certain congregation members — refuses to hear us out, so the conflict remains unresolved.

It’s very important for me to remember that I was wounded as a Witness. It’s as if the Watchtower Society aimed a cannon at my soul and blew away my self-respect and ability to stand on my own in the world. Despite all those years of pioneering, Bethel, etc. etc. etc., after I was disfellowshipped, all I had to show for it was a yawning hole in my psyche. It’s not that bad any more. Thanks to some very good therapy and amazing friends, I’ve been able to heal to a great extent. But I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t still some soft spots.

So there’s still some anger. I’ve found a lot of use for it. For starters, with the help of a good therapist, I’ve gotten to know myself through my anger, examining my wounds and the suffering that resulted from them. That led to compassion and I was able to finally fall in love with myself unconditionally — loving my anger as much as my sadness, joy and other emotions. Once that happened, then I was able to understand the Witnesses better and to feel compassion for their members who are still being abused. I’m able (imperfectly, very imperfectly) to let go of the corrosive kind of anger — resentment — and that’s as good a definition of forgiveness as any. For me, all of this has been a difficult, sometimes frightening path into the unknown and I’ve still got a lot of work to do in this area.

Nevertheless, it’s just like Hanh said:
“In a time of anger or despair, even if we feel overwhelmed, our love is still there. Our capacity to communicate, to forgive, to be compassionate is still there. You have to believe this. We are more than our anger, we are more than our suffering. We must recognize that we do have within us the capacity to love, to understand, to be compassionate, always.”
What I discovered, and I think it’s incredibly good news, is this: I’m still angry at the Witnesses because I still love them. This isn’t just self help mumbo jumbo. I mean it. I miss my old friends. I know lots of Witnesses who would flourish, but may never do so because the Organization has clapped them into a straightjacket of religious subordination. Some of my old friends are knocking themselves out trying to live an authentic life in a system that rewards corporate phoniness. It's infuriating. They deserve better than that.

At the end of the day, you could say that I have a love-hate relationship with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Which is to say, I still have a relationship with them. It’s not the kind I might want, and that pisses me off. On the other hand, it’s exactly the kind of relationship I’ve asked for, so I’m okay with it. To quote Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself.” And I’m enjoying every minute of it. (Almost.)

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. If you’re still reading this, thanks for letting me rant. It feels good to get it out.

13 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. So much for my attempts at anonymity (thank you, google dashboard). Joel, any way you can delete my above not fully deleted post?

    Anyway, I agree it is perhaps the love that makes the anger the most difficult. Your childhood best friend? The older brother who drove your family home from meetings when you didn't have a car? Your parents? It would be easier to hate the Witnesses if they were all a group of thugs, not the people you'd loved and shared decades of life with. But the pain is meted out directly from the people you love the most, and it's a conundrum I don't think my brain cares for much.

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  3. I agree with both of you. What complicates things for me is that the anger is not one-sided. The continual anger I receive from my family for deserting them, and God, requires a constant acknowledgement and release from my life--because that is one kind of energy I don't want to walk around with. (Interesting how a religion which condemns witchcraft basically performs energy work on its former members that any self-respecting Wiccan would recognize as cursing or hexing...but that's for another time.)

    I am glad that a friend of mine in Minneapolis dragged me to the Zen Center and sat me down facing a wall for as long as it took to not only be honest with the anger I felt, but the anger I was receiving from former friends and family whom I still love and respect.

    I am also glad that I feel the freedom to wish them well and even pray for their welfare, although I know that my well-wishing would be offensive to some of them. But I am finally not afraid to act and feel in these ways because it is an affirmation of my own humanity. For too long have I not allowed myself to do this because of not wishing to offend them, yet how can love freely offered, with no expectations of anything in return, offend?

    If I ever learned anything in the organization, it was that we all have to make an accounting for ourselves in the end. I still believe that. I can't answer for my family or friends or any organization, but only for myself--but in the end, I hope to have answered rejection with dignity, indifference with compassion, and anger with love. Isn't that all that any of us can do?

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  6. I tried to troll this post and make fun of your spelling but failed...

    Anyways I don't really agree. I think that when you move on, you do move on, on a personal level. Case in point me. I hold no anger toward the JW's, however I do not put up with their faulty logic.

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  7. I love how you said that you still want them to see you as a person. The shunning takes away your humanity it seems. I feel very strongly about that statement. My parents have both shunned me off and on for the last 17 years. Loving them does make it difficult, if I didn't love or care...then it wouldn't hurt. I still want them to see me as their loving daughter. Successful in my career, a wonderful mother, someone who cares for her family and friends, and a lover of all humanity. But it seems as if they can not see past my apostasy or the fact that I left their religion of choice. Thanks for sharing your anger--feels good!!

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  8. I agree wholeheartedly with your post. I hear many people say they are "over it," but it is clear that they are not. We can try to fool ourselves, but it doesn't really work. We carry this religion's scars for all of our lives, but it doesn't mean we are not "healed."

    I, too embrace my anger, and try to use it in constructive ways--particularly in helping other exJWs find their own personal value. Anger can move us to action; and, for me, that is an important step in my own recovery.

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  9. Very interesting comments! Funnily enough, I started this blog because the treatment of ex-JWs by current members angers me. But I'm guessing you probably already figured that out. LOL

    BTW, My_Compass and Burgertime, I'm trying to figure out how to delete your removed comments, but I'm having browser issues and can't see the "trash can" icon.

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  10. One of the guys I kinda miss is a fellow named Chuck, in Rivergate Congregation. He wore polyester highwaters, preached on the ships at Swan Island and placed hundreds of magazine a month in languages I'd never even heard of. He'd come back to coffee break smelling like seaweed and diesel fuel, with a sky-wide smile on his face. He was 11 times cooler than the pioneers and 8-1/2 times more rad than the hipsters on Mississippi Avenue. But then the elders told him to quit working the ships, basically, because they didn't like the cut of his jib. I never saw that sky-wide smile again.

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  11. I enjoyed reading your blog very much .I wish I could put my thoughts into words as well as you do . It has been five years since I walked out of the Kingdom Hall . I was very angry at first over the realization my whole life had been wasted in a lie . I want so badly to be able to have my anger heard and understood by those I thought were my Brothers and Sisters .Not that it would change anything other than maybe a feeling of validation.

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  12. Great post, Joel.

    I spent a lot of time being angry at myself for becoming a witness in the first place. My parents came into the Borg when I was a kid, but I spent most of my teen years not living with them, which meant I was free from the religion. In an attempt to reconnect with them, I started studying again when I was 19 and then spent the next 20 years struggling as a witness. Even though I served as an elder and pioneer, I had a really hard time accepting many of the teachings, especially in areas where it seemed that the GB were dictating areas of my private life. Even now, I battle with regret over many opportunities and experiences lost because I was in the religion. But, I take solace in the fact that I am out now, older and wiser and I am doing all I can to make up for lost time and really enjoy my life and the people in it. It's nice to read the comments from others that are also trying to do the same thing. Life is good. Thanks for your blog. I appreciate it!

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  13. I enjoyed your perspective. It has been a little over a year since I left. I was very angry at myself for wasting my life. Now I am just angry because I cannot get the WTS out of my mind. I have come to realize that it will always be a part of me. Thank you for sharing your story.

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