Problem in Living #5: I'm so angry

Dear Book Therapist,

Lately I wake up mad and stay that way all day. I work a lot but never have any money, and that's how it's always been for me, and most people I know seem to have it that way too. I'm irritable with everyone and I'm kind of sad all the time. And the news is so hideous, every day, and it's always violence, various kinds of violence both large-scale and private, and emotionally it's like I have an itchy rash all the time. What should I read?


Dear Anonymous,

The problems with anger is that it's one of the emotions we're not supposed to have, socially speaking. There's a whole industry of self-help that has decided that negative feelings are essentially a form of psychic garbage, an unpleasant byproduct of living that should be minimized to the extent possible and cleaned up whenever it appears, at least if you're, you know, a virtuous person who's concerned about others. Sometimes this worldview will allow that sadness is necessary, and it might admit frustration, if frustration is the feeling of refusing to accept subpar results. But anger is really not allowed. Anger is a gross mess. It's somehow... unhealthy. It will cause inflammation and make you break out and your dentist will have to have you fitted with a mouth guard so you don't grind your teeth to powder. Anger is sort of unhygienic.

Your book therapist thinks that's dumb. Anger is okay. It's just uncomfortable. And it's not so far from sadness, actually. Some old-school psychology holds that anger and sadness are two sides of the same coin; anger turns outward what sadness turns inward. Anger is also deep, reptilian, prehistoric. Anger is what we feel when the things we love are threatened.

Jenny Zhang's Sour Heart is about the kind of anger that comes straight out of being in a family, loving people too much, being too close, not having enough, not being sensible, being a helpless child, being a powerless adult. It's very comfortable with mess, itch, and heat. Reading it may soothe you for a minute.


Book Therapist