The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions. – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The motion picture Unfaithful, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, features a typical, young American family whose relationships are shattered by uncontrolled anger and unrestrained sexual urges.
The main characters, Connie and Edward Sumner, appear happy together after 11 years of marriage. They are deeply in love and totally committed to their eight-year-old son. But Connie gets caught up in a torrid affair with a handsome stranger, even though she fights hard to resist her relentless desires.
At one point Connie tells her lover, “I think this was a mistake.”
“There is no such thing as a mistake,” he responds. “There are things you do and don’t do.”
Despite that equivocation, Connie discovers that actions do indeed have consequences. Her recklessness sets in motion a frightening and horrible set of events. Discovering his wife’s indiscretions, Edward is stunned and enraged. Like his wife, he tries to tame his destructive impulses, to no avail. The result is total devastation for every person involved. It’s a sad, torturous, awful story about unbridled sex and anger.
Painful as this film is to watch, it points to a universal truth about human beings: Every living, breathing person on earth has impulses that, if poorly managed, create chaos in their lives. But there is good news to go along with the bad – if these same impulses are managed wisely, they produce magnificent personal gains.
The goal of this series of articles is to help you take your strongest, wildest impulses and use them for dramatic growth – growth that can exponentially increase and expand the boundaries of emotional and mental health in your life.
Learning to be in command of your strongest, wildest impulses is vitally important. Although you may be experiencing other wild horses in your life – such as a constant craving for food even though the scales indicated that you need to put on the brakes, or a much-too-often inner push to buy more things even though your finances are yelling out for an easing up in your spending, or a daily need to work more hours and expend more energy in the pursuit of your career goals even though your spouse and your family are crying out for more of your time and attention – most psychological theorists agree that the two most powerful emotions we have are our anger and sex drives. That’s why we’ve dedicated this article to talking solely about these two “wild horses.”
You Are Not Alone
If these familiar and ferocious forces strike terror in your heart, you are not alone.You may know how these forces can overwhelm you, drive you to act irrationally, and you leave you feeling guilty and helpless. Or perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of anger or sexual abuse and you have the physical and emotional scars to show for it.
Indeed, there is little doubt that the mismanagement of sexual and angry feelings has wreaked havoc on our society. Consider these shocking facts:
Some 10 million children are likely abused every year by their parents and relatives. Most of these are loving parents who simply lose control. Two-thirds of these kids are under the age of three.
Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current spouse or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year to 3 million women who are physically abused by their husband or boyfriend per year. While anger is obviously involved, sexual impulses frequently contribute to the devastation.
Although sexual assaults remain the most underreported cases in the criminal-justice system, we know that every hour sixteen women confront rapists, and a woman is actually raped every six minutes. A total of over 96,000 forcible rapes are committed in this country each year.
A murder occurs in the United States every thirty-four minutes, and a violent crime is committed every twenty-two seconds.
Violence and out-of-control anger in schools have become a matter of extreme national importance. Far from being an isolated event, the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado – which took the lives of fifteen people in April 1999 – was just one of eight multiple killings by students within a two-year period.
Road rage is a similar kind of escalating problem. A growing number of men, women, and children suffer injury or death at the hands of wildly angry drivers using bats, golf clubs, knives, and even cars themselves as weapons. Even national celebrity Jack Nicholson became upset with the driver of a Mercedes-Benz that cut him off. Nicholson got out of his car at a red light and repeatedly struck the roof and windshield of his enemy.
It is with our passions as it is with fire and water. They are good servants but bad masters. – Aesop
But let’s get beyond all these “extreme” cases and talk about the way ordinary, well-intentioned people like you manage intense feelings. Have you developed healthy and effective ways to deal with your anger? And when you get sexually “turned on,” do you typically act with wisdom and good judgment?
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. – Proverbs 29:11
Many people, of course, struggle mightily with the appropriate time and way to express anger and sexual feelings. It’s a struggle that has been around since the very beginning. Soon after the Bible’s account of Creation, the story is told of unbridled anger leading one brother to kill another. And we can see the ricochet effects of that same angry force through every generation since.
The results of three decades of “sexual revolution” have left us with major problems of every sort. For instance, a million teenage girls find themselves pregnant every year, and the percentage of births to unwed mothers continues to rise. In some American cities, 85 to 90 percent of all teenagers who give birth are unwed mothers.
Then there’s the high rate of divorce and marital dissatisfaction. Researchers point to poor mate selection as a primary cause of these problems, and the inability to manage sexual impulses frequently plays a crucial role since early sexual involvement impairs objective decision making.
The bottom line is clear: Millions of Americans have developed ineffective ways to handle sexual urges and anger, and this has resulted in significant heartache and chaos.
Perfection of moral virtue does not wholly take away the passions, but regulates them. – Thomas Aquinas