Posted by: Botolff | October 6, 2010

The Projection of Anger

A few years back I had about a 3 inch goatee that I carried with me on my chin everywhere I went.  A bit sparse in the middle and a little ratty.  A perfect lint and food trap.

A short story about my projected anger… It was the end of one of my classes during my masters program.  My girlfriend at the time was sitting next to me at the table.  We were packing up our books and began to discuss what we wanted to do that night.  Ideas were thrown around about a movie, getting a drink, grabbing dinner, etc.  We turned towards each other as we finalized our plans and that’s when it happened.  She reached up to pull something out of my goatee.

A little rabbit trail back story…  When I was younger, in a perpetual need for perfection, my mother used to groom my face.  What I mean by this is she would, at just about any time any where, reach up and wipe foreign substances off of my face; often using a spit-on finger. Maybe this is a normal practice for parents of young children, but with my mother, this behavior went on well into years where I was perfectly capable of taking care of smudges and spots on myself by myself.  I began to resent my mother’s slimy wet fingers on my face, and resent her for the controlling behavior she acted out of in order to accomplish her task of making me look the way she wanted me to, especially when it was totally inappropriate to do so.

Back to the classroom…  My girlfriend at the time reached up to grab something out of my goatee, and I snapped up with my hand so fast that I actually stopped hers in mid-air before it ever got to my chin.  What was more shocking than my cat-like reflexes, was the look I apparently gave her when I caught her hand.  She said, “What’s the matter?”  I responded with, “If there’s something on my face, I can take care of it myself.”  It took me years of hard work on my own story to know why I reacted the way I did, and even said what I did, that night. It only took me moments during our dinner conversation to realize how much I scared her.  In tears she said she was just trying to help and was scared of how I responded to her.  What to her, and really to me, was a very tender moment between us, became a moment where I projected the anger I had towards my mother on to her instead.  I am very grateful to the woman I dated for being honest with me enough to tell me how much I scared  her in that moment, and that she was upset that I would respond to her like that.  It wasn’t easy to hear, but it has made me a better man.  Not at all a sinless man, but a better man.

I think it’s important to differentiate between anger and rage.  Rage is rooted in an insatiable longing to be in control, even at the risk of doing great damage to another; and often with an intent to do just that.  Like I said in my last post, rage is almost always sinful.  Anger however is not necessarily so.  As a matter of fact, it’s not only Biblical, but necessary.  Anger is rooted in pain, and often an attempt to lessen that pain.  But it can also be rooted in justice, and an attempt to protect others from the pain that one has experienced.  One of my professors in my masters program used to tell us that if we wanted to find out what to fight for (and we will all fight for something), all we needed to do is pay attention to our stories and the places in which the most injustice has occurred.  It is in those moments/experiences, that we have gained the most knowledge and wisdom to fight against the very injustice that has impacted us so dearly.  The other end of the spectrum is to perpetuate it instead, which will happen for all of us on some level or another.  How much we perpetuate it has to do with whether or not we want to fight for something, or just punish ourselves and others for what we have gone through.

Was it rage or anger that I projected that night with my girlfriend?  It was possibly a little bit of both, but there was no ill-intent on my part.  It was an attempt to protect myself from an experience I was very familiar with.  Whether or not it was rage or anger doesn’t really seem to be as much the point as the fact that I scared her; and my reaction, although appropriate, wasn’t appropriate for her.

For example sake, I thought I would mention an instance of projected anger that came from one person at the church I was forcefully terminated from.  Within the first few sentences of a monologue I received from them, they said “I don’t know and I don’t really care what transpired between you and ________ (the pastor of the church).”  Following that statement was a conglomeration of honest feelings, as well as shaming and punitive statements.  The emphasis of the letter was to inform me of how disgusted they were with my decision to blog, and how so many people have lost the respect for me that I had worked so hard to get.  That person is angry at least.  I get that.  As a matter of fact, I am SO glad they are angry.  The problem is that I didn’t create the situation they are so angry at, and because they made it clear early on that they didn’t care who was responsible, it was going to be impossible for that person to direct their anger towards the source.  Maybe they were just looking for someone to get rid of their anger on.  They chose me, which is typical.  This person admittedly didn’t follow up with me at all about what happened.  As a result, I became an easier target than dealing with the real problem.  When you don’t care who’s responsible, and admit you are choosing not to talk to the person who is claiming to be the victim in the situation about what happened, IF that person really is the victim, it is highly likely they are going to pay again for the abuse…directly, or through someone’s denial and dismissal.

We will often project our anger from one person on to someone else.  When we are hurt/abused by people, we internalize that and sometimes will take it out on people that are less likely to do the kind of harm to us than the people who hurt us originally would. That’s how abuse is passed down from generation to generation.  We are often afraid to respond to our parents/guardians/elders/pastors about their behavior, even well into our adult years.  Understandably, if we have been severely hurt by these people.  But instead of directing the anger towards the people who have harmed us, or towards doing harm to the movement of evil through abuse, we instead find ways to take it out on our children, brothers/sisters, congregates, friends, neighbors, strangers, ourselves, etc.  This is how bullies are trained.  Over time they learn to take their anger out on people that are easier to control, punish, frighten, shame, etc.  Unfortunately, some parents, CEO’s, pastors, missionaries, therapists, and the list is endless, have learned to become well trained bullies; and in many cases are given permission, and even encouragement, to continue their quiet rampage.

We as human beings cannot contain our anger forever.  I’m actually glad that  people from the church are letting their anger out.  The problem is, if it’s coming my way, they have sent it the wrong direction; especially if it is an attempt to finally absolve them of any responsibility.  Projection.  Maybe directing it towards me would be the best direction if there was good reason for it, but I haven’t heard or read anything suggesting that yet.  To them I will humbly, or maybe arrogantly, borrow the words of  Jesus and say “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  But it is up to them to find out, and for that I will hold them responsible.  Why?  Because, as the adults of the church, it truly is their responsibility.  Does this mean I’m holding back forgiveness?  I don’t believe so, because they haven’t repented yet.  I don’t believe they are looking for forgiveness, because they aren’t asking for it.  I have offered personal forgiveness, but relational forgiveness requires repentance (see the difference between the two in a previous post).  Otherwise, people are just asking for resignation, which is usually an attempt to get a victim to just “get past” what happened so people can continue to absolve themselves of any responsibility in the matter.  I don’t need to be in control of what people from the church say, do, think, respond to, pray for, ignore, etc.  What I also don’t need to do is just roll over and receive punitive responses from people projecting their anger.  I can if I choose to, but if I don’t, it’s not a Christ-less response.  The former is additional grace.  The latter is actually kindness in many regards.  It’s yet another opportunity for people to repent.

As for people losing respect for me from the church because I’m blogging, I don’t think that’s possible…not the real me.  They may have lost respect for an idealized version of who they wanted me to be; but anyone who respected me for how willing I am to own my own sin, and address the abuses that we as people perpetuate against each other, hasn’t changed.  Of course if they have been lied to, that is going to affect things as well.  But it’s much easier for some/many to claim “losing respect” for me and hold me responsible for what other people have done, than it is to address the people who have caused the problem to begin with.  We like the easy way out.  And it usually makes us angry when someone points it out.  What will we do with that anger?  Repent, or make someone pay.  

Am I making people pay by writing this blog?  Possibly, but what if I’m just keeping in the light a very dark and secret issue that is affecting tens of thousands of ministers around the world on an annual basis.  This has never been just about me, or Watchman.  It’s about us, the countless individuals who have been traumatized by the actions of people in leadership of religious institutions.  It’s also about the people in those institutions who continue to sign on to perpetuate the abuse.  It’s about the people who somehow, even after reading this blog and others, will deny there is a deep rooted problem at all.  I will admit that some of the reason for writing is definitely about putting the shame back where it belongs, and leaving the door open for the repentance that’s necessary for true healing to take place?  Why?  Because if people won’t accept their own shame and then repent, there is no chance for healing of the real problem.  Not just healing for me, or for other wounded ministers, but for everyone involved.  The only way that can happen is if people hold their own shame and then repent.  That’s it.  That’s the only option.  At least if people want restoration.  If not, then they should not expect the victims to hold their shame for them.  If we do, that’s an act of mercy that no victim is required to offer.  And to speak up is a gift of grace that few will ever acknowledge.

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