Older people learned in school that anger was a sin

At one time Ireland brought a religio-cultural dimension to anger. Older Irish people up to the 1970s learned from their catechism that anger was a sin, and not just a sin, but one of the seven capital or deadly sins. This became ingrained in us. Although I attended school in the 1940s I still remember the seven deadly sins – pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. They were called deadly because they were seen as the sources of all sin. The question is how can a feeling be a sin? Unfortunately, categorising anger as a sin has created psychological difficulties for people, especially older people, who may have passed on the belief that anger is wrong to their children. My experience as a counsellor is that many people, young and old, see anger as ‘wrong’ and confuse the feeling and the sensation of anger with angry behaviour. Because we may feel that it is improper to feel angry we sometimes use other names for it, such as frustrated, disappointed, irritated, indignant, displeased, offended, or upset.
Irrespective of culture, anger is complex and can be broadly classed as healthy and unhealthy or toxic. As with all human feelings and behaviours, it is a feeling that we experience in individual ways. Some brood in silence, some react strongly and vocally, some have finely tuned anger antennae. Stacey Milescu in her pamphlet Anger Management. Self Help Guide for Controlling Your Anger, lists twenty four reasons why we get angry. These include grieving, tiredness, rudeness, pain, injustice, embarrassment, being bullied or humiliated, failure, and money problems.
Healthy anger is an emotion hardwired in the limbic system of the brain and is necessary for our survival, while toxic anger is a feeling in the cortex that therefore can be changed. It motivates you to find solutions to problems. Most people have a sense of justice and fairness, and when they see injustice and unfairness they may experience anger, which drives them to do something about it. Millions of people in Europe were outraged following the banking collapse and the Eurozone debt crisis in 2008-2009, when they were forced to suffer wage cuts, unemployment, cuts to services, investment loss, and inability to pay mortgages or rents leading in some cases to homelessness. This widespread rage is expressed in many ways through mass demonstrations, conversations, letters to newspapers, interviews on radio and television, and through the voting system, so that future governments may be more careful in preserving integrity in every area where they exercise influence. If we see injustice in society our anger can drive us to bring about reform. Examples of this would be the impact of Nelson Mandela on South Africa. We can also look at women’s rights movements as expressions of anger at how women were exploited and treated unfairly in societies, especially in the area of employment, income and promotion.

From Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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