Some things are well worth fighting for. But there’s a way to go about this enterprise that builds as opposed to destroys.
Assertiveness is fair, principled, disciplined, fighting. And it’s the kind of just self-advocacy coupled with mindful concern for the impact on others that defines healthy character.
Fighting is an integral part of life. But how we fight matters. Fighting fairly, with principal, and constructively, with care not to needlessly injure is what decent character is all about.
Mental health professionals have known for a long time that there’s a relationship between anger and depression. And that’s just one more reason why heeding the “8th Commandment” to master our anger and aggression is so important.
Anger is a widely misunderstood emotion. Some have maligned it as an evil in itself. But it’s one of our most basic emotions. Nature put it there for good reason. We become riled to mobilize ourselves into action to remove a threat to our welfare. But just as being too frequently or intensely anxious can be problematic, being chronically or excessively angry can also cause trouble.
Over the years I’ve counseled many individuals whose life became a shipwreck because they never gained mastery over their aggression. Sometimes they were overt about it. Other times, they were covert in their aggression (for manipulative purposes). Either way, they made a mess of their relationships and brought untold pain into the lives of many. For these individuals, acquiring the controls necessary to assert as opposed to aggress was truly the task of a lifetime.
The tragedy we witnessed two days ago is an old, old story becoming far too commonplace in our character-deficient age. We live in a complicated, demanding world and there are too many among us who never developed the character resources to deal adaptively with life’s challenges – especially failure – and to profit from their experiences, including their disappointments. It’s far too easy to just point a finger. And sadly, for too many, it’s easier still to place that same finger on a trigger and shoot.
Covert-aggression is a particularly insidious type of fighting. That’s because victims of it can have a lot of understandable difficulty recognizing it in the first place and then defending themselves against it once they sense it. Being the victim of covert-aggression can make you feel crazy. In your gut, you think someone’s trying to get the better of you or abuse you in some way, but you can’t point to anything clear and obvious to back up your hunch. And it’s also like getting whiplash: You don’t really realize what’s happened to you until after damage has already been done.
Narcissists hate to think anyone “has their number,” so to speak. People who always see themselves as superior to others hate to see the field of “play” (i.e. social interaction) leveled. They especially hate it when someone else in is a position of greater power or authority.
Anger is there to get us all pumped up and prompt us to take action to redress an injustice or deal with a threat to our well-being. But the kind of action we take when we’re angry is where all the trouble can come in.