How often should we permit ourselves to be outraged as we go through this human life here on earth?
That is a question you’ve most likely never thought of asking yourself or anyone else. But why not ask it?
Are we so afraid of losing control of our own rage that we stop ourselves from ever thinking about it? Or talking about it? Ever expressing it through some appropriate outlet?
Over the years in my work with hurting people in clinical counseling centers, I found many nice, well-mannered, well-intentioned people who bottled up their anger. Many hid it from others quite well. Too many hid it also from themselves! Statements like “I never get angry” often meant “I never allow myself to get angry.”
Many of the “never been outraged about anything” folks are, character wise, quite likable people. I would label them altruistic, for the most part. Granted, some would act out anger in passive aggressive ways that were waaaaay short of altruism. But most were caring and compassionate souls trying to actually protect others and not just themselves.
And many of these “never outraged” folks were the first to feel guilty. Someone dies and the first person to blame is themselves for not doing this or saying that, not going there or not staying here. They were not afraid to feel their guilt. Just terrified of feeling their anger. Quick to feel shame. Rare, if ever, to feel blame. Even as they mourned a tragedy.
For myself as a therapist, I’d have starved to death if waiting for the mirrored opposite of these “never outraged” folks to walk in and ask for help. Here I’m talking about the frequently enraged narcissists who are “never guilty” or mistaken; never responsible. No shame, just blame. Blow off steam all day. Sleep like a baby at night. Who needs counseling?
The way to make an honest living, however meager, for a clinician in behavioral healthcare is to keep a watch out for those having trouble sleeping. Those carrying around bodily aches and pains. Those holding their anger in even if it kills them. Those never outraged, no matter how outrageous the world around them often is.
All of this said, I’m not quite sure what to make of my white Christian brothers and sisters who are not, amidst the crazy events transpiring in today’s American racism, just as outraged as these events themselves are outrageous. Last hired – first fired. Last treated – first dead. Last funded – first indigent. Or how about last to jog down the next street wearing jogging shorts, tee shirt, and jogging shoes without being shot to death – first forgotten by those who would rather not watch, rather not remember, rather not feel outraged.
That, my friends, is not well-meaning, nice, likable altruism.
It is blatant narcissism.
To not be outraged by America’s violent deaths which, like Covid 19 itself, number far in excess of those in other civilized nations around the globe, has nothing to do with maintaining our mental health. It has to do with our epidemic of mental illness.
It is sick to say that our only outlet for the guilt as well as the anger that exists as REALITY within ourselves as human beings is to shame or blame, or destroy, people. It is healthy to say that our best outlet for guilt and anger and, yes. our OUTRAGE is to destroy the problems that are destroying the people.
It is sick to say that alcoholic people are outrageous. It is healthy to say that alcoholism or addiction is an outrageous problem that hurts people and destroys lives. Sick to say that racist people are outrageous. Healthy to say that racism is an outrageous problem that hurts people and destroys lives. And if the outrageous does not outrage us, we are not well-intentioned or compassionate do-gooders. Not healthy altruists.
Quite the opposite.
Do destructive problems force people to hurt others? They do if those same people do not accept the problem’s existence or severity. They do if instead those same people do all their shaming and blaming of other people instead of other's problems. If their outlet for guilt and anger is directing it at people instead of problems. Alcoholism cannot force us to be alcoholics without our sick denial that it is a problem. Racism cannot force us to be racists without our sick denial that it is a problem.
But when we admit that outrageous events in our nation are happening because of unsolved problems, we will only then be OUTRAGED enough to actually destroy the problems before they destroy us as people.
And should we not be mentally healthy?