Anger is like a magnifying glass: depending on your perspective, it either distorts everything or makes everything clearer.
Anger is one of the last remaining emotions that can make us feel ashamed of ourselves. It’s embarrassing to be angry, and so many of us have learned how to hide it so effectively that we sometimes manage to hide it even from ourselves.
But anger doesn't disappear just because it’s not seen; every closed eye doesn’t mean a peaceful sleep. Anger--whether it’s as hidden or out in the open--is at the heart of the desire for revenge. My anger, for example, takes over when I’m feeling out of control in my life; for others, anger is what they use to control the world around them.
Paradoxically, anger is also an emotion that can make us feel unashamed, can make us feel stronger after we feel defeated and humiliated. It can help to restore a sense of self worth--anger is, on occasion, an indication that you merit judicious treatment.
It can mark a turning point. “Anger stirs and wakes in her,” writes Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye, a novel about an abused child’s coming of age, “It opens its mouth, and like a hot-mouthed puppy, laps up the dredges of her shame. Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth.”
This last point is perhaps the most important one: if you allow yourself to get angry at an injustice committed against you, you underwrite your emotion with a sense of self worth. If you get angry at an injustice committed against others, you underwrite their value with a sense of your own worth. Anger can offer a sense of indignity to replace a sense of shame.
There are stories about revenge that get passed around like chain mail--and they involve precisely a the replacement of shame by focued and wittily enacted demonstrations of fury. One I heard from women in New York, St. Paul, and Toronto, who all swore that it happened to someone a friend of theirs actually knew involves just this sort of gratifying movement from embarrassment and self-doubt to justified anger and appropriate revenge.
The details of the story changed very little from one city to the next: a young woman without a family is about to marry into a fairly aristocratic household. Her fiance, a man of some means, generously offers to foot the bill and she gratefully accepts, given that she has very little money herself. (She was described as a free-lance writer, a medical student, and a dancer by the respective narrators).
It all seems like a fairy tale--that is, until she discovers that her husband-to-be has been sleeping with her maid of honor.
The bride-to-be decides, apparently, not to do anything about it. The one or two friends who know that she knows are surprised by her lack of action but they keep their shock to themselves, believing that their friend must have decided that the financial security was worth the humiliation.
The wedding day comes and everything goes beautifully until the minister asks, in front of the assembled congregation of several hundred guests--most of whom are on his upright and conservative family’s side--whether anyone has a reason why these two should not be joined in matrimony.
The bride turns away from the alter and addresses the guests saying “Actually, I know why we cannot be wed. He’s sleeping with my best friend.” Walking out of the church into a waiting taxi, she leaves him with a red face, a miserable sex partner and a huge bill for the non-existent wedding party.
It’s no surprise why this story gets repeated as the sworn truth: it has all the elements of positive revenge.
The young woman did not sit around wondering what she did wrong to “drive” her fiance into the arms of another woman; she did not exonerate those closest to her by blaming herself for their selfish actions.
Her anger clarified the impossibility of her situation and allowed her to leave with her self-esteem intact after a severe set-back.
One imagines that lessons were learned all around.
adapted from SWEET REVENGE