Arthur Schopenhauer(1788-1860) was a German philosopher, author of On the Suffering of the World, and an angry young man who matured into an angry old one.  Here’s a quote from his chapter On Thinking for Yourself :

“Reading is merely a surrogate for thinking for yourself; it means letting someone else direct your thoughts”

...and another from Aphorisms:

“The discovery of truth is prevented most effectively, not by the false appearance things present which lead us into error, nor directly by weakening of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinions, by prejudice..”

It seems to me that Schopenhauer’s anger helped him put his words on paper.  Like a hot wind rushing through him, it pushed what he saw as stupid ideas and their propagators aside, carving a space for him where he could have his say. 

I think of Fritz and his book Ego, Hunger, and Aggression. In it, he presented our jaws and teeth as instruments of aggression, stressing the importance of literally and figuratively biting and chewing that which is presented to us before attempting to digest it. 

Using the digestive process as a metaphor, he urged his readers to subject other peoples ideas and perspectives to aggressive scrutiny.  For Fritz, physical survival and maintaining psychic differentiation were equally important.

Continuing on that metaphorical path, the importance of disgust becomes apparent.  It plays a vital role in protecting us from rotten, toxic food.  Similarly, intellectual, emotional and moral disgust can steer us away from toxic ideas and practices.

Emotions such as anger and disgust are not given much attention in certain pockets of the human potential and transpersonal psych movements. Nevertheless, when I reflect on Fritz, Schopenhauer and a significant number of my clients over the years, I see the vital role that anger, aggressive attitudes, and disgust can play in enabling people to set boundaries and express their unique preferences and interests. The end results areassertive and self-affirming actions.  But those actions don’t spring from a vacuum. The launching pad is often ignited by anger and aggression. 

The process of using anger to express and define oneself is especially fraught for women who have long been subjected to sexist norms re experiencing and expressing their anger.  A woman who expresses her anger and disapproval openly may be censured and shamed, while a man doing the same thing in the same contextis seen as “gutsy”. 

As therapists it’s incumbent upon us to be aware of gender-defined norms re anger, and to evaluate how our clients have been impacted by them.

For far too many women, the path to self support and self expression has been impeded by societal taboos on their openly expressing their anger.

Let’s not collude in this process by downplaying the importance of anger and aggressive attitudes in achieving individuation. Women’s rights and women’s anger are linked!

Frank Rubenfeld, Ph.D. is a BAGI Trainer and Faculty Member 

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