Quick summary: the answer to the title question is almost invariably “both”, but to move forward with the false dichotomy noted I am going to comment on how anger is often an emotion that we feel for ourselves…though we are often quick to blame something external for our feelings. Though the environment might have done something to encourage distasteful feelings, often it is how we reacted – how we chose to defend or not defend ourselves, which is the source of the deeper and perhaps more significant source of anger.
This notion was brought to my attention by a very wise colleague/friend of mine. She is a very intuitive therapist with a gifted ability to see people’s repressions within their energy fields (she may describe her ability differently, but that is how it has always appeared to me).
I am going to give you a very personal example of something that I went through in my life. It should be relatively easy to pick up why I was angry at others… what was more complicated (and ultimately more helpful) was to isolate how I was angry at my self.
I was struggling at the time and my colleague was in a similar emotional state as we shared a similar source of suffering… which I claimed to be from the crippled system that we worked within.
I felt trapped as in offering assistance I seemed to be required to expose myself to harm… the boundaries that common sense would have led us to create were made unavailable… the administration would not suffer as long as someone was filling out the paperwork… we must follow the broken protocol or be replaced… our therapeutic skill went mostly unnoticed… filling out the paperwork correctly was how we were evaluated (fortunately for myself I could play the paperwork game well… but it tore my emotional self apart to waste endless hours on completing form after form that had zero effect on therapeutic outcome (this too has been scientifically substantiated).
On average we were doing three times what is deemed appropriate to ensure the positive mental health of the professional (all of this is studied and clearly articulated in our ethical codes).
All of us had given way more than we had to give only to be kicked while down by the misguided and generally useless requests of the bureaucracy. An example would be spending a day helping children through trauma recovery only to have the end of the day filled with requests to justify why sexually abused children need therapy in the first place… hours would be spent filling out forms to ensure that the children where able to receive continued support… these authorizations would continually be sent back or denied… to remedy such we would have to give answers to irrelevant questions… it was all just a hoop jumping exercise… companies know that most people are unwilling to jump through too many hoops – the company will therefore avoid having to pay claims by simply being annoying – by asking for corrections and clarifications to information that was never relevant to recovery in the first place (this is intentional).
I made requests to have safeguards put in place as we were already understaffed and the swine flue was hitting our area pretty hard… having staff out do to illness required more work on an overworked workforce… my request was documented but nothing happened. I offered a suggested solution… nothing happened.
Of course I (and others) got the swine flu… after a couple weeks of being debilitating sick I returned to work only to receive a scathing email from upper administration about the amount of sick time I used… “It was irresponsible for me to have taken vacation time for thanksgiving as I should have saved those hours to prepare for an incident such as this,” was the message from the administration… then the HR department intervened and told me that they would be denying future vacation requests and wanted documentation on the validity of my illness (which I had). I was scorned for catching an illness that I knew I would get if safeguards were not put in place… they ignored my requests and my solutions and later berated me after I had been bed ridden for days…
Who was I angry at?
After working for this system for over a year and a half was I surprised by their actions?
I sought out my colleague for support… to help me to find insight.
She said very compassionately, “Will, maybe you are angry at yourself.”
I understood what she meant from a cognitive standpoint, but my emotional self was too distressed to feel the impact and truth of this message.
I now understand both rationally and emotionally…
It was in allowing myself to feel the anger and disappointment that I held for myself which propelled me into recovery.
I spent months ruminating in anger… anger which I believed to be from the bureaucracy… I could not heal… I had no power to alter that perceived injustice.
Then I looked inward and saw how angry my core self was… how disappointed and hurt it was…
I had given so much for so long to so many different people… and yet I lacked the courage or the self-compassion to defend my own self… to protect my own self… to allow myself to have the healthy boundaries that I helped to grow in those I cared for…
I was angry for not defending myself… I was angry that I would not allow my own health and wellbeing to be important enough to influence my decisions.
I was angry with myself for allowing myself to play the victim.
It seems easier to place your anger on something external… to relinquish all personal responsibility for your feelings… “they made me feel this way!”.
Recovery is found in personal responsibility… to be humble enough to acknowledge your part in the emotions you carry.
I have allowed myself to feel this anger… and by allowing I have emancipated myself from the crippling grasp of anger…
Anger held with honest meditation transforms into clarity of direction.
Just action requires humility.
One could get lost in endless ruminations about what they “should” have done… but free yourself from such uselessness and instead hold the confidence to say…
“I will allow authentic expression and I will allow humility to guide me towards actions which will protect the boundaries I need for wellness.”
Power is compassionately understanding the source of your suffering.
You must protect your own health to protect the health of others.
I see now how I stood in front of a sea of arrows believing myself to be the archetype of the altruistic soldier of peace and health… I now allow myself a shield and I offer compassion to the thoughts in my head which suggest my shield to be selfish.
Pride is a tricky thing… pride wears many disguises.
There is always a choice and perhaps this is why we so often carry anger for ourselves… because we allowed ourselves to believe that we were powerless.