Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us that anger is an overbearing obstacle to psycho-spiritual growth and understanding. In Likutey Eitzos (Collected Advice), the Rebbe says:
Anger and unkindness arise when people’s understanding is limited. The deeper their understanding the more their anger disappears, and kindness, love and peace spread. This is why the study of Torah, which deepens the understanding, brings love and peace into the world and banishes anger.
Anger finds it’s roots in a variety of flawed beliefs and feelings about God, the World, other people, and yourself.
Anger, and its snooty sibling arrogance, are the great destroyers of spirituality. It is impossible to grow spiritually, and teach or lead others if you are prone to these twin afflictions and don’t address them.
Both arrogance and anger can be expressions of entitlement and both are a rejection of emuna, faith in Hashem.
What does anger-arrogance say? I see lack and forget that everything comes from God. Things are not as I wish, desire, and deserve.
What is the anger-arrogance impulse? If it threatens my ego, I attack, subvert, destroy, hurt, condemn.
When you get angry, a section of the limbic, non-thinking part of the brain called the amygdala is rapidly firing off hormones. Interestingly, fear also is expressed in the amygdala (it’s where our fight-or-flight response is “located”), and anger and fear are two emotions that often overlap.
It’s fairly common that when a person perceives a threat, whether that threat be to his physical safety, livelihood or even his honor, the explosion of feelings inside begin with fear and escalate quickly into anger. Perhaps this explains why bullies are often shown to be the biggest cowards and often do their bullying when no one but the victim is around to see.
Science has observed two not-uncommon phenomena: When someone gets angry he may be prone to tunnel vision, that is, losing peripheral vision. He may also experience an actual reddening of his field of vision (literally seeing red.) This mirrors the spiritual phenomena of anger making it impossible to maintain psycho-spiritual perspective as well as “coloring” everything one sees with murderous (not generally literal) hate (represented by the color red.) Anger and fear distort your vision.
What does anger-fear say? I see threats and forget that only God is worth fearing.
What is the anger-fear impulse? If it scares me I become enraged.
Unresolved or unmanageable anger is considered one of the symptoms of clinical depression. In fact, some people who are diagnosed with clinical depression actually don’t feel “depressed” all that much; instead, they feel a constant, burning rage.
Depression-based anger doesn’t have to be anger directed at others, it is often andirected at one’s self. This anger, this intolerance of one’s humanness and therefore one’s flaws, can lead to atzvus, the kind of bitter depression that saps all joy from life. Rebbe Nachman spoke often about the importance of avoiding atzvus and explains that without joy, one isn’t able to pray or fulfill his spiritual destiny in this life.
What does anger-depression say? I am not able to see the good that God gives. If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist and I am constantly mourning it’s absence.
What is the anger-depression impulse? If it makes me unhappy, anger becomes my way of mourning.
In Likutey Eitzos*, Rebbe Nachman discusses the consequences of anger in great detail. Here are a few of his lessons regarding anger:
You must break the force of your anger with love. If you feel yourself becoming angry, make sure you do nothing unkind because of your anger. You must make a special effort to be kind to the very person you are angry with. Sweeten your anger with kindness. When you do this, you will be able to draw benefit from the Tzaddik (and his teachings) and then you will be able to understand the true meaning and endpoint of all things. You will taste the delight of the World to Come, and you will see how everything in the world is part of the movement towards this ultimate goal. Your perception will be according to the root which you have in the soul of the Tzaddik.
Through breaking the force of anger with love and kindness, the true Tzaddikim receive honor and greatness and the world finds a true leader, one who will have pity for the world and lead it in the right way, bringing each individual to his ultimate goal.
When a person gives way to anger, it stirs up the great accuser, Esav/Edom. Esav is an aspect of the Great Accuser in the upper world, and this is the source of a flock of accusers and enemies who come down and take charge of the angry person. A person’s anger puts his wisdom to flight, and the image of God disappears from his face. He no longer has the face of a man. This is why he is in the power of his enemies. Because he has the appearance of a beast they are not afraid of him.
When a person fights his anger and breaks it, the spirit of Mashiach is drawn into the world. Such a person is accounted as if it was through him that the world and all that is in it was created and brought into being. He will be worthy of rich blessings, and he will attain true prayer, directing himself to God alone without any extraneous motives such as the longing and desire to gain other people’s respect and admiration. He will succeed in carrying out all the mitzvot and other holy acts that he must accomplish.
*This is called hisbodedus (prayerful meditation in which one talks to God in one’s own words)
*In English this means Collected Advice (BRI’s translation is called Advice.)
[…] Anger and unkindness arise when people’s understanding is limited. The deeper their understanding the more their anger disappears, and kindness, love and peace spread. […]