From pandemic to protests, this emotional time has impacted us all. Justice, fairness and equality are American ideals that wars have been fought over, and no matter what the color of our skin or the flavor of our political views, seeing racial injustice being played out before our eyes can evoke a lot of big emotions.
So, let’s talk about these emotions. What are they? What do they mean? How might we be able to help by channeling the energy of these emotions into something that ultimately creates a better world for all of us?
We are saddened. We are angry. We have many emotions we can’t even begin to name and if we were to draw them out they might look like the incoherent scribbles of a 2 year old. And that’s ok. We don’t need to be able to know and name each of our emotions. But as therapists, there are a couple of important thing we do know about emotions:
- That emotions are part of the human existence and deserve our attention
- That emotions can be a catalyst for change.
So, let’s talk about one specific emotion many of us are feeling and observing around us: anger. Through and through, we are taught that anger is bad and we may even be punished for it. “Sit down and be quiet” or “Go to your room” are phrases we are no stranger to hearing when we’ve had an angry outburst. As we grow up, we learn some strategies for diffusing anger (deep breathing, journaling, relaxation activities) and thinking before we speak or act on our anger. But is anger such a big, bad thing?
Anger sends a message - “what is happening is not okay”. And anger is right. Racism and injustice are not okay. The message is not incorrect, the anger is not wrong.
One great thing about anger is that it is stimulating, energizing. It can give us the kick we need to DO SOMETHING.
Now more than ever, we cannot smile and pretend that everything is okay.
Anger does not immediately equate with aggression and violence, and can be channeled as a power source for great things. We can strive to be informed by our anger but not controlled by it. Her are some ways we can fight injustice and move toward a world where there is fairness and justice for all.
- Peaceful protests
- Educating ourselves and others about implicit biases and privilege
- Sitting in the discomfort of perspectives we never thought about
- Listening to people who have been hurt by racial injustice
- Yes, donating to organizations that are fighting injustice and discrimination
What, you might ask, are we doing as counselors as people who see people hurt by injustice, unfairness and discrimination throughout our professional lives? Our goal, for the past 20 years, has been to provide education and mental health services to the communities we serve. For years, we have been listening to stories that make us sad, mad and yes, even traumatized. Today we are leaning in and listening even more closely, checking our own biases, and increasing our own education and awareness about injustices in our society, Today we are finding ways to be of greatest help to ALL those we serve.
Smita Nagpal, PhD
Licensed Psychologist, Clinical Director
Maria Karimova, MS, LLP