Anger is a negative emotion that can follow frustration, disappointment, and injustice. It can vary from mild and short-term to intense and long-term. It is the latter, the intense and long-term variety, that concerns us here, what we have called unhealthy anger (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).
To begin answering the question concerning the link between anger and cancer, let us start with a quotation that may be an overstatement and then let us get more precise. Groer, Davis, Droppleman, Mozingo, and Pierce (2000) made the following general statement: “Extremely low anger scores have been noted in numerous studies of patients with cancer. Such low scores suggest suppression, repression, or restraint of anger. There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis.”
Notice that their conclusion centers on a certain type of anger, that which is not overtly expressed but instead, to use a common expression, is bottled up.
Our next question, then, is to look for supporting evidence of this claim of suppressed anger relating to cancer, and we find it in. . . . .
Read the rest of this blog by Dr. Robert Enright in Psychology Today. First posted on Sept. 18, 2017.
Is it possible that injustices against us are not as dangerous as our reactions to those injustices? If we do not realize the potential inner damage done to us by people’s unfairness, we could let evil grow in us. Think about that: A person “out there” does bad things and the result is evil “in here,” in you.
When those bad things are serious, when your own inner world is threatened with growing anger and discontent, is there anything at all in this world that can quiet the beast more than forgiveness? I do not think so.
Other people’s troubles can become your monsters within if you give them space, feed them, and allow them to grow. Forgiveness shrinks then eliminates those monsters within.
If you think about it, forgiveness helps you retain your humanity, and to even grow in that humanity at a time when others are trying to let the inner monsters out of their cages.
When we are treated deeply unjustly by others, we have a tendency to be wounded in at least eight ways. First is the injustice itself. Second is the emotional reaction, such as considerable anger or frustration or sadness. Third, we sometimes feel shame because others are looking and wondering. Fourth, all of the above can make us tired. Fifth, we sometimes can’t stop thinking about what happened. Sixth, as we compare ourselves to the one who hurt us, we see ourselves as coming up short. Seventh, we sometimes have to make unwanted changes in our lives. And eighth, we drift into pessimism.
One injustice, eight wounds. Now, suppose one person hurt you deeply 20 times. That is 20 X 8 = 160 wounds you are carrying around inside of you.
Suppose further that 5 other people have hurt you 10 times each……just wait a minute., please….doing the math here……That is 400 more wounds. Adding the first person who hurt you to the other five who hurt you and look. You are carrying around at least 560 wounds inside of you.
Injustice has a way of making us round-shouldered if you think about it. But be of good cheer. Forgiveness properly practiced can eliminate most of these wounds, allowing you to stand up straight perhaps for the first time in years.
Do the math…..then please consider forgiving.
Security was tight. Oh that….I had forgotten that I had the New York subway schedule in the winter jacket. Sorry about that. No paper allowed.
After going through two secured doors, we went into the courtyard. It was night and so the floodlights were bouncing off the razor wire that wrapped each fence. That wire looked almost festive as it gleamed and sparkled. But, of course, it represented a darker reality than the dance with the floodlights let on.
A little farther on we met Jonah (not his real name), who was coming to attend the talk on forgiveness.
“Hey, do you remember me?” Jonah asked as he extended a big warm hug.
“Yes, of course. How are you?” I said. It had been a while and I was very glad to see him.
Jonah’s is one of the many success stories we hear once those in prison go through forgiveness therapy. He went from max to medium because his constant anger diminished. Forgiveness has a way of doing that. As a person, as Jonah puts it, “gives the gift of forgiveness” to those who abused him, his inner world becomes healthier.
“Forgiveness saved my life,” he said with earnest and serious eyes. He knows of what he speaks. Anger landed him in medical facilities and eventually contributed to serious crime and long prison terms. Yet, his anger was cured by understanding, through forgiveness therapy, that the abuse he experienced as a young man turned to a poisonous anger which was destroying him.
“No one cares how angry you are. It’s yours and yours alone when someone gets to you in a big way.” He had to confront that anger, struggle to forgive the one who was so unfair, and now Jonah can meet me with a warm, wonderful smile, a hug, and a vitality for life that is so unexpected in juxtaposition to the floodlights and the officers and the dancing razor wire.
Jonah is set free inside even though his body is imprisoned and for many years to come. The past pain will not destroy him and any insensitivities, frustrations, and challenges that are part of max and medium security prisons will not crush him because he has an antidote to the build-up of toxic anger: forgiveness.
Forgiveness therapy is beginning to gain traction in prisons because counselors are beginning to see that it is one of the few approaches to corrections that actually works. To forgive is to take the floodlight of analysis off of the self and place it, paradoxically, on the one who did the harm. It is to tell a wider story of whom that other is. Forgiveness therapy allows the person to see the abusing person’s vulnerability, woundedness, and anger that “put me on the hook” as one of my friends in prison describes it. As the heart softens toward those who are cruel, one’s own inner poisons find an antidote in growing compassion. And it works.
One of the main insights I now see is this: As those in prison realize that they are capable of giving the heroic virtue of forgiveness to others, they understand that they, themselves, are stronger than they had thought. They realize that they are givers, human givers, men. “I am a man” not a number, is a common new and growth-producing insight, one that helps those in prison to stand tall in the face of grave challenges. “I am a woman” will be next as we move soon toward a max facility for females.
Long live forgiveness therapy in prisons. Oh, and by the way, did you notice that throughout this little essay, I never once used the word “prisoner”? You see, the word “prisoner” is a sweeping term, encompassing a person’s entire being by their address, by where they reside. Jonah knows he is more than “a prisoner.” He is a man, one who forgives.
The presidential election results and the tumultuous aftermath have left people scarred and angry. I have heard often that people are afraid of the fallout in their own families: brother against brother, partner against partner. Here are 7 tips to help you bind the wounds and move forward well:
- It is important to realize that when you forgive, you are not throwing justice under the bus. Yes, forgive, but fight the good fight for what is good in the country.
- Each side has an argument against the other side. Yet, my questions are these: What are the intentions of the people at whom you are so angry? Do you think they are saying, “My method is bad and my desired outcome is equally bad”? Even if you disagree with the actions, can you see that the desired end—from the others’ viewpoint—is the quest for the good, even if you think that is misguided?
3. Did you know that many of the people on the other side once were children who suffered hurt in childhood. He ran to his mother when he fell down and bruised his knee. She talked with her father, through her tears, when bullied at school. These are real-life persons with real-life struggles and wounds that started a long time ago, when they were growing up.
4. You may not be aware of this, but those on the other side did not have an easy time in adolescence, because, well, few make it through that time period unscathed. Did you know that people on the other side have been wounded by rejection of peers when in adolescence, struggled with romantic attempts that were awkward for them, and fought through the demands of high school?
- Did you know that people on the other side have hopes and dreams? They, like you, are hoping for a little place to live, a well-meaning job, and meaningful relationships. And did you know that none of this is coming easily to many of them? Some are really hurting inside because of this.
- Did you know that each one of the people on your side and on the other side are striving for a little happiness in this troubled world? It is not easy to find that happiness. Sometimes we look in the wrong places, but it is for happiness nonetheless that we seek. Those who have hurt you are seeking happiness and it may not be the way you would have chosen, but that is their quest nonetheless. They are human. They are fallible. They share with you one important thing: a common humanity.
- Can you, each of you on the other side of the divide, commit to doing no harm to the other? I know you are angry, but what now will you do with that anger? Will you pass it along to your children? to you partner? to your co-workers? Or, will you stand with the pain, that eventually will end, for the sake of the humanity of those who have hurt you…..as well as for those who are innocent bystanders who now could be hurt by that anger?
Perhaps it is time to forgive as you seek justice. The two, forgiveness and justice, go well together.