Focusing Energy in the Right Direction
- Les Parrott & Neil Clark Warren Authors
- 2004 10 Oct
Control thy passions, lest they take vengeance on thee. – Epictetus
It’s tempting to talk about anger and sexual impulses only in dark and foreboding terms – to emphasize the negative aspects of these emotions. But hear us clearly: These emotions can be managed so successfully that they become positive contributors to a person’s (even a society’s) emotional health. It is our strong conviction that emotional, physical, and spiritual health require the harnessing of these nuclear-powered inner drives. And it is undeniable that without harnessing these forces, a person cannot become unswervingly authentic.
The fact is, everyone has a body that automatically responds to important life events – and, therefore, everyone has anger and sexual impulses. That’s the way we’re wired. So if you sometimes feel “turbocharged” with these feelings, congratulations – you’re human. There is nothing unusual about you.
Even though these two feelings operate in much the same way within us, they are obviously triggered quite differently. We typically get mad when we encounter primary pain, which is nearly always related to hurt, frustration, and fear. When we encounter these feelings, our body automatically makes energy available to us, enabling us to deal effectively with whatever is causing pain. Anger, then, is absolutely necessary in our effort to manage distress and discomfort. It is simply physiological preparedness, and we can learn to harness this energy so that our pain is minimized.
Sexual feelings are also a natural part of our biological inheritance. If our memory were inclusive enough, we could recall having sexual feelings in some rudimentary form almost from the beginning of our lives. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these feelings. Sacred writings such as the Song of Solomon celebrate the pure and sensuous love of a man and a woman. Sexual urges motivate us to engage in all sorts of constructive behaviors, produce a wide range of creative responses, and focus our attention on a person with whom we can form a long-term, meaningful partnership. But the trouble begins when these urges are not harnessed and managed within the bounds for which they are created.
Whatever we don’t know about anger and sexual impulses, one thing is certain: They are unbelievably powerful! You can do wonderful, even miraculous, things when you are motivated by them. For example, athletes who control their angry feelings and marshal them in the service of their goals often pull off spectacular performances. John McEnroe was a tennis player who frequently became angry, and careful research show that he almost always played more victoriously after he acknowledged and expressed his anger. Businessmen who can manage their anger often recognize its contributions to their successes. Lee Iacocca of Chrysler fame concluded, “I’ve come to believe that there isn’t a problem in America today that we couldn’t solve if we could become angry enough about it.”
But just as often, you can create mayhem in your life by managing these forces irrationally.
Consider an example of how the positive application of anger can make changes for the better. After sixteen homicides in only six days in Los Angeles, the new police chief, William J. Bratton, called on the citizens of Los Angeles to get mad. He issued a challenge for the city to become so provoked that they fight back and stop the violence.
“I’m very disturbed and angry,” Bratton said in an interview. “I need the city angry about gangbangers shaping the perception of Los Angeles.”
Even though Bratton’s challenge to the city is too recent for a careful analysis of long-term trends, there is evidence that the number of homicides in Los Angeles has already begun to decline. Bratton actually seems to have incited the city to take a stronger stand against violence in its streets, and there is evidence that his challenge is producing quantifiable results.
Chief Bratton recognized that intense emotions, properly channeled, can do a mountain of good in stopping horribly destructive behavior. Carefully managed anger, ironically enough, can be used as a corrective for mismanaged anger. When wisely directed, it can produce order and peace instead of chaos.
Millions of persons have utilized their anger to achieve personal goals. The theologian and religious reformer Martin Luther was known for his ability to manage his anger effectively. He said: “When I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations gone.” Centuries later, another reformer with a similar name, Martin Luther King Jr., used his anger over racial discrimination to foment sweeping social changes.
Yet another compelling story about the power of anger appeared several years ago in the Los Angeles Times. The account featured an older woman named Deborah Larbalestrier, who lived in a high-crime section of Los Angeles. She had felt helpless and afraid because of the widespread robberies and other crimes on her street. One day she saw three teenage boys trying to steal her neighbor’s car in broad daylight…and with her looking right at them.
Outraged, Ms. Larbalestrier decided it was time to act. She described the events to reporter Andy Furillo: “I went out there with a stick and told them, ‘How dare you insult me that way, robbing this car right in my face as if I don’t exist.’”
The teenagers ran off, but Larbalestrier wanted to make sure they didn’t return. So she called a meeting of everybody on her block and told them: “We’ve become prisoners in our own homes….We have to take our neighborhood back.”
Then Larbalestrier went to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division station to organize a Neighborhood Watch club for her street.
At the time the article was written, there hadn’t been a single crime on that block for a year and a half. This is the way anger can be turned from powerless rage into a tool for constructive change – and all of us have the ability to do just that.
When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred. – Thomas Jefferson
Used with permission from "Love the Life You Live" by Les Parrott, Ph.D. & Neil Clark Warren, Ph.D., published by