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 slaving for a corporation that masquerades as God’s chosen instrument. Anger toward the elders and Governing Body for abusing their power and taking advantage of our better nature. Anger at the missed opportunities to for a better education or to craft a real future.

The society we live in doesn’t place a high value on anger. It isn’t a politically correct emotionally. When current Witnesses ever have anything to say to us, it’s usually to shame us for having strong feelings: “get over it” they often say. As if we could.

If God exists, then she didn't stop once she created buttercups, unicorns and joy. She also created volcanoes, hornets and rage.

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 jackass’s behavior was, literally, outrageous—deserving of rage. It felt good to feel that way.

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 less appropriate 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. 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 fuck themselves 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, 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 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, that therapist has guided me to get 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 more able (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.

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. (Except for the moments that suck. I'm not a masochist. (Or am I?))

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.