Justified Anger: A Hiding Place for the Self

Some schools of thought say our self-image causes suffering. It doesn’t matter if this self-image is positive or negative, or what it’s based in.  Just having one is a problem because it keeps getting threatened. In short, most of our pain is an identity crisis, although we rarely realize it.

This is often hidden because we externalize the source of our suffering. One way we do this is with “justified anger”, an anger that we think is really due to things being wrong in an objective sense. Even if true, the self is still at the root of our pain. However, I often find that justified anger is a sham and it is easily dealt with by unraveling it.

To unravel this “justified anger” — to see that it’s a lie — we just have to examine our experience, especially the painful ones. For instance, we can take a painful situation — it could even be a mild irritation — and look closely at it, ask questions, and/or do some thought experiments to see what’s really happening.

I will use some actual personal examples.They are  petty things because in my case — and I do not think I am alone — most of my suffering is from many small things rather than a few big ones. Further, the little things often masquerade as big ones. However, I believe this scales up to the big things.

For example, I would get irritated when drivers ran lights, cut others off and so on. Now this seems logical; where I live, this is un-ethical, illegal and unsafe.  However, I do not get irritated if a friend, elderly driver, postal vehicle or bus does this.  On the other hand people driving sports cars, certain teens and even tow trucks especially bothered me! Clearly, if this were about ethics, I would be upset in all cases. Additionally, if this were about safety, I would be more upset if a bus did this. 

Or another example. If I am in a coffee shop, I would get upset if someone had the volume up on their computer while playing a game or music video. However, I would enjoy many of the loud chess games (yes, I saw this a lot) that went on. If I was really concerned about the noise level or consideration, I would be upset in all cases. 

There are numerous other cases, but I think this is enough. 

So why am I upset in some cases, but not in others? In all these cases, my reaction is based on how the offending groups relate to my self-image. The ones that do not bother me reinforce or do not threaten my self-image, and vice versa. For instance, I like chess but dislike teens who remind me of myself during a time in my life I would rather forget.

I recommend trying this yourself because seeing this in action is much more effective than reading about it. Seeing it even once is helpful, but we keep reverting to old habits, so this may be a long term project. Your irritations, exceptions and exercises my differ, yet deep down the self is at the root of pain, and it hides behind any externalization it can, one of them being justified anger.

This article does not attack a concern for others (ethics, love, compassion, etc…). It attacks  illusory feelings which masquerade as a concern for others. A real concern for others is action driven by intention, and not a feeling.  Yes, feelings may motivate action, but if that is our condition for action, what if they are not there? What if someone we dislike is in need, or someone we love is doing something wrong, or we just do not have the “right”  feeling at the time?  By showing these feelings to be self-centered, we no longer define our concern for others by them, and can put that concern on a more secure basis, like a logical understanding of suffering and what we can do to reduce it. Put another way, showing these feelings to be a sham can make  us more ethical (or loving, compassionate, etc…).

9 thoughts on “Justified Anger: A Hiding Place for the Self

  1. This is an interesting concept but if a significant portion (would you say all?) of our suffering (or annoyance with others?) stems from the perception that our self-image is being threatened by some action taken by said others, are you saying that a self-image serves no “good” purpose? Is there joy/pleasure that would not be gained if we were to cut out our self-images? For example, feeling like a part of a group can reduce anxiety and be a source of pleasure. If so, then maybe it is ultimately beneficial for us to endure the pain that comes along with our self-images so that we can reap the benefits that also naturally accompany the existence of an individual self-image. Or maybe you are just suggesting that only if we feel annoyed should we consider the role of our self-image in our annoyance? Because surely even if you see yourself in a negative light, occasional acts of strangers could give you pleasure, as other acts cause you pain. Not refuting your idea, just food for thought.

    1. Excellent points! It’s up to each individual to decide if his/her self image caused more pain than happiness.

      As for working on aspects of one’s self-image that causes irritation, it depends. For instance, if the kinds of thoughts that bolster self-image are a habit, then dealing with the habit may not allow a piece-meal approach. Additionally, the same things that can bring joy can also bring pain if they are challenged.

      It’s complicated. For instance:

      1. How much pain does one cause vs. the other?

      2. In exactly what does one’s self image reside? This would define how assailable it is. The real point is assail-ability and this is where I generally unify the no self-image and universal self-image concepts as being identical, or at least close enough for my purposes.

      3. Do we take into account that possibly greater joy can be had if one abandons one’s self image than one could know in advance?

      4. Do we take into account that possibly greater misery can be had if one tries to abandon one’s self image and fails miserably (thus leading to a case where one is still assailed by the “identity crises” AND think one should not be assailed by them)?

      5. What is the role of belief in all this? If we see things as we believe, or define our happiness in terms of accomplishing what we believe to be good, then it could all come down to this being a matter of belief rather than self-image really having a role.

      In some of my posts, I state my assumptions up-front, sometimes I state counter-examples, in yet others I raise questions with no answers because it’s not always clear what holds. This is also why I try to get things from a variety of angles, as I don’t think there’s one answer that fits all people.

      Since this post was from a more personal perspective, I took a more assertive tone, but in my other blogs, I express enough questions to reveal that I’m not absolutely sure about anything.

      I feel this is applicable enough to be of benefit to quite a few people, but I would never claim it’s universal.

  2. I live in Beijing and am constantly annoyed by a number of things, especially people running lights, occupying the bike lane while driving at really high speeds, etc. However, in this case I don’t think it is my self-image that worries me. It is my bodily integrity! I am convinced one of these days I am going to get run over by some madman driving the wrong way at 100 km/h or invading the bike lane or doing something equally dangerous and pointless.
    Also, I get annoyed when cars, trucks SUVs, bikes and motorbikes do this. I don’t distinguish. It just annoys the crap out of me. Every single time. I really don’t want to end my days in a ditch in some God-forsaken road in China.
    Of course, maybe I should be just worried and not annoyed. What do you think causes this annoyance? I am of the opinion it is the pointlessness of it all. The fact that following the rules would benefit everyone and harm nobody, yet people keep ignoring them for some small or even imaginary gain, while screwing everyone else up. It is the lack of understanding. “Why? Why do you people do this? What is the point?”
    It makes China a really unlivable country. One way I like to explain it is this: imagine your sister pokes your in the arm once. It is not very annoying. Now imagine she keeps doing that every two minutes for three years. That is living in China.
    Well, I ended up not talking much about your post and ranting a lot. Sorry.
    I really need to move back to Europe…

    1. A fellow cyclist! I’m sorry to hear your time in China is so upsetting.

      My irritations and reasons are definitely not everyone’s, which is why I encourage people to dig deep into what bothers them. Also, there are of course legitimate safety concerns; if a car is heading towards me, I’m not wondering if the driver plays chess in his/her spare time, I’m reacting to the very real danger to — as you put it — my bodily integrity.

      But beyond the danger, there is the clinging, the irritation, the things that are not dependent on my safety. I’m out of the situation, but there’s a chance I’m still holding on to the anger. What’s going on then?

      From reading your post, it sounds like there’s a deeper issue, that people are doing stupid things for no real gain. Does stupidity bother you? People’s refusal to play by the rules? Selfishness? A combination of the above? Do you especially identify with the opposites of those? How do you regard yourself with respect to being on the road?

      Again, only you can decide if there’s anything beneath the surface. Who knows, maybe you’ll try this and find that there’s really no identity crisis. I can only speak for myself, which is why I started off with a personal tone (and perhaps should have worked harder to keep it).

      I think your comment was pertinent.

      1. So I’ve been thinking about this a bit more. Today I actually watched my reaction as I was almost run over by a car. Twice. Here’s my conclusion:
        1. I’m pretty good at letting go. I immediately hear in my head: “son of a…” and then the car moves and five seconds later I’m focused on the road again, without feelings of revenge. So that’s good, I guess.
        2. So what does bother me? First, I thought it was stupidity, but then I realized I know plenty of stupid people who do not make me angry. Then I thought it was the lack of thinking, but after some refinement I arrived at the conclusion what was lacking was consideration. And finally, I decided that what makes me mad is that people do not acknowledge my (or other people’s) humanity.
        What do I mean by this? I mean that, when I do things, I take into account there are other people who may be affected by this and which are human, like me, and have similar feelings of pain and joy. I think about how what I am going to do may affect them and then I do it or don’t. Sometimes, of course, I may not consider every option or still choose to go ahead and do it. But what bothers me is living in a society where a majority of the people (you can always expect some bad apples) do not see the rest as human beings. What does that cause?
        Let’s make a list:
        a. 50% of the water in Beijing is fake, meaning it is not safe for drinking, but it is bottled as if it was under the name of big brands. That causes enormous health problems. This means there is a huge number of people (50% of those who sell water) who value a marginal benefit over the health of fellow human beings. What bothers me is not the fact that there are people like that. It is the fact that there are so many.
        b. More than 50% of medicine capsules, ice cream and soft drinks are made with industrial jelly, which is supposed to be used for manufacturing. This means they contain heavy metals and all kinds of harmful chemical products that cause cancer. Again, what gets to me is not that some people do it: it is that MOST people do this! How is this possible?
        And I could go on but that is pretty long already.
        Does this go against the way I do things? Well, yes. Does it threaten my identity? I wouldn’t say so. It is just so pointless and avoidable. Why don’t they?

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