Thursday, December 3, 2009

Self Righteous Anger

I'm interested in the process of my own defensiveness and anger. It's probably best to call this "self righteous anger". I notice that I do good things that I get rewarded for and are expected of me, such as my job. But in addition to do the basic work I do a whole lot more than is necessary or expected of me. Though increasingly the government or employers expectations are impossible and at variance with the clients who pay the government to pay me. I have many masters and trying to please them all is a gargantuan task . So the expectations are a problem.

Similiarly however I will generously contribute my time in a voluntary position or participate in group membership activities rather than just accepting the benefits of being there without contributing. I'm what is known as a 'giver'. I belong to a church and support charities and generally am thought of and think of myself as a good guy albeit irritating, opinionated and unconventional.

What upsets me is not when someone questions work I'm being paid for or asks that I do something in that realm that would serve them more, but rather it's in this other realm, that area where I'm already a 'giver', already 'serving above and beyond the call of duty', doing more than 'chasing the blessed buck."

My immediate reaction in that world is , "Don't they know I'm doing this for free? Don't they know how much I give? How dare they criticize my generosity and my charity." In a way I don't expect pay but am partly looking for thanks and appreciation. I'm hypersensitive to criticism. I'm thin skinned. Yet, I think of myself as tough and chose to work in what I was told and indeed turned out to be the most 'thankless' jobs. I also liked the idea that 'anonymous' giving is the least egotistical so I often played down the giving I did and have not sought accolades for my generosity. I figured God was taking care of that however I 'didn't expect to get criticized.'

So I want to whack the offensive little mealy moused critical person but can't because that would spoil my good guy image. I often think in fleeting thoughts how I could discretely dispose of the critic and not get caught. Anonymous giving back in a different sense. Then fed up, I want to walk away and let the organization, fellowship, project or whatever it is I've been contributing to 'suffer'. I want the imaginary 'group' /'audience" to see that they had a choice, the generous giving, kind, handsome, smart , great me or the little critical shit who usually doesn't do anything but tear down, the prick.

Now I can't see antecedents in my family but I certainly see evidence of this pride in my adolescent behavior. I organized charities like carole singing at Christmas, fund raising, and coffee shops for YMCA and YWCA and various church basements. I also started improvisation theatre groups and in medical school organized 'non profit' contributions by doctors to various activities, volunteered as editor for magazines, contributed much writing for free, sat on committees and generally was very much one of that small percentage of people who participate and do the 'work' of community and society. Interestingly I don't do as much of this anymore. It speaks to the pouting ego, arrogance, self pity, and righteous anger, and thin skin.

I remember as a late teen ager, early youth organizing a very successful coffeehouse that became packed every weekend with the top musicians wanting to play. I liked seeking out new entertainment and getting to know the acts and getting them for the least amount of money. I loved bringing in different almost elegant vaudevillian things with symphony players on the same night as blues bands. A group of us were involved but I'd been asked to participate because of my MC and entertainment connections. But our success was my undoing. We raised a lot of money and the organization hired a psychologist who was to be 'consultant' to the program. He wanted to see the MC position and hiring of groups be democratized and wanted everyone to rotate through the different positions like door greeter, coffeemaker and money taker, things which we'd done as necessary and ad hoc but the formula had put me on the stage and arranging with the entertainers because I was one myself and on my own time went out to the various activities and met all the new people. I also had an eye or ear for what was 'new' and what would bring in the crowds. We were very popular and only those coming early were able to get seats.

Within weeks the psychologist had closed the place down. I left in fact after a few weeks because it wasn't the 'in' place to be and I was commited to the 'excellence' rather than the group in some ways. I remember taking some pleasure in being asked to come back and resurrect the destruction of the coffeehouse. I have this thing for 'vindication'. I've been 'vindicated' so many times in my life that I once thought I'd change my name to "Vinny". At the same time I wished people weren't so stupid as to mess with me, my friends and the things that I and they created.

But the original founders and I talked and none really wanted to do 'that thing' again. Our core group had moved on. Three or four of us kids had been the main thrust and we'd been over run by the 'johnny come latelies' , the 'carpetbaggers' and this 'ideas man' who was getting paid and clearly was the sort of person who didn't understand the 'passion' that we'd brought voluntarily to doing things. We went our separate ways. Mostly putting our extra efforts into our various university and work obligations. I think I was a teen ager at 20 and in retrospect remember a bit of swaggering arrogance too. I'm fairly tolerant of the kids these days who like me looked and acted a bit like assholes because I know they're just insecure, often trying really hard, quite bright, and very creative and just don't have the polish yet.

That "group" process event represents an early example of my inability to express myself or deal with what I felt was a 'bullying' situation well, when something I had worked hard for and cared for was being 'taken' away. I even thought of 'communism' and 'revolution' and how people who couldn't make something themselves always wanted to come in and take what someone else had made but they always seemed to run it into the ground since they really only wanted the end result and didn't want to be there from the beginning or do the leg work of building a thing from the bottom up. A lot of people just want the finished product. It's a throw away instant society of many users and few doers.

Later I'd come across a type of man and woman who could be called "marriage breakers" . They preyed on married people, attracted to the type of good home that they thought they could steal but only destroyed because they lacked the capacity to nurture and care for something once they had it. They were called "cowbirds" because cowbirds sneeked their eggs in Robins nest and left the Robins to raise their eggs for them.

I remember when I was married I'd do 'extra' things around the house, like washing the wives clothing by hand or vacuuming on a day more than we might usually vacuum, or cleaning the washroom, making a special meal, since I was already always cooking, but doing that extra special meal. Then she'd criticize or ask "why didn't you vacuum behind the couch. Why don't you move the couch when you vacuum." "Couldn't you have used cream instead of milk in the sauce, you know how I don't like the sauce thin?" Married people can be very critical of each other. It's always struck me as a Pink Panther /Cato relationship.

Even today I get angry thinking of my ex wife's constant criticism when in my mind's eye (I'm probably cross eyed) I was always trying to do 'extra' nice things. It's like I have this internal "b" grade standard, strive for the A and then say 'screw it' if someone says 'why didn't you get an A".

And it came back to me, thinking of this. In a grade school year I had straight A's with one B and brought home my report card and my mother asked "why didn't you get A" in this class. Looking back I know it was "curiosity" because she was overall very proud and pleased but I took that as criticism and then spent the next semester doing the very difficult task of getting only B's. It's really hard to do straight B's. Years later I'd aim and get straight A's routinely but in retrospect think that year of straight A's was one of my hardest academic challenges.

After that I didn't bother working towards A's in school for some years later.

It was so much more work to get an A and it was even work to get all B's . Later getting all A's was easier that 'straight B's. I never tried 'straight C's but expect it might be an even greater challenge.

So I got mostly b's and c's for a while preferring fishing and extra curricualar activities to school.

That's the source of righteous anger for me and a character defect for sure. I'm praying for God to help me with it. That's all I can do for now. It's interesting to me to know the nature of this 'fault' and hopefully be able to recognize it when I find myself 'angry' so I don't have to feed the 'anger' and "make a case" for being 'wronged'. It's really just the same old same old 'stuff'. Let go and Let God.

Few today are trained in the psychoanalytic traditions. I count myself as one of the lucky ones. It remains in my mind one of the greatest teaching tools but could not compete with some of the modern therapies in consideration of cost and efficiency of behavior change. It still has great merit and the changes that occur are often superior over time to the quicker solutions. What interested me in the process was that understanding myself through therapy I observed "my reaction" to a patient as much as what the patient was doing or saying. With experience, especially now having treated thousands of people, especially the dangerously insane, the personality disorders and sometimes really ghastly disturbed individuals with the roughest edges, I'm fascinated by when and why a person "irritates" me or "triggers" a thought or emotion or memory. Trained in the use of story telling to get around anti authority defences I react to the 'trigger' by sharing a story parallel to the experience. Because of the 'process' factors I'm talking about 'us' rather than me and not surprisingly the person 'gets it' days or weeks later when the 'insight' blossoms, the seed having been planted. But to do this I've had to spend a lot of time in therapy and reflecting on my own humanity. Indeed it's hard to be judgemental when one looks closely benath the layers of the onion skin and realizes 'there but for the grace of God' go I. Empathy is indeed about the common connections through experience and it's so much deeper than the 'sympathy' that so often holds us back.

It was once said of me in a hospital I worked, "the doctor doesn't tolerate fools well unless they are his patients." The truth in my life is that I expected my co workers and my superiors to be less insane or sick than my patients or me and that just doesn't happen to be the truth. My expectations (very unrealistic given the history of destruction by leaders and institutions and countries) has created for me a lot of resentments. Resentments are best described as "taking poison and waiting for the other guy to die."

I find only with age, and that's sad in many ways, do I have the 'empathy' for my superiors and co workers that I lacked when younger. Increasingly I try to rotate the picture and drop the "up down" scale and see things on their 'side' so that I get a more 'planar' rather than 'linear' take on things. It's a real eye opener. Recently I realized that an academic colleague who sits higher in the conventional totem pole paid dearly in his life for the priviledge of that position. I've had a life of adventure and learned many skills while he was completely dominated by living the politics of what Hesse might well have called the "glass bead game". We make choices and when we envy another person their position or wealth or whatever we forget that we may well have taken a 'road less travelled' , starting out on it long ago. I certainly opted for spirituality and learning over amassing wealth, adventure and travel over hoarding and position power. I found the life of a millionaire stifling in so many ways compared to being " free man in paris." What I wonder about now is the 'baggage' of character defects and these traits that served when I was younger, how I'm going to let go of them now that I'm older. I remember as a kid I handled bullies but fighting back and hospitalized several with punches and kicks but that is not going to serve me well if I one day end up in assisted living or a nursing home. I'm not about to roundhouse on the next guy who bullies me but even 'saber rattling' lacks luster now. Living and letting live is it's own kind of skill. My academic friend has certain skills I admire even though I usually think him a pretentious deceitful toady. I pride myself on much more 'practical' and "pragmatic skills" like fixing my diesel heater last night, sailing solo across oceans, that sort of thing.

Righteous anger just doesn't seem to be one of those things that has a lot of 'stock life'. I wouldn't want to let it go but I really have to be careful with how long I hold onto and how much I keep in the cupboards. It does tend to attract a rodents.

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