- Self-anger is seen as distinctly different than the negative self-directed emotions of guilt and shame.
- Ambivalence arises out of the confusion between the real and the imagined views of self.
- Thoughts and feelings being at odds with one another can manifest in a self-dissatisfaction, fueling self-anger.
“In these times I don’t, in a manner of speaking, know what I want; perhaps I don’t want what I know and want what I don’t know.” — Marsilio Ficino, 1460
We usually associate anger with intolerance of others. But what if the intolerance is directed toward one’s self? The familiar pathway for anger tends to be an attempt to humiliate or intimidate those whose worldview is incongruent with one’s own.
However, just as criticism, intolerance, and bullying put others down, so, too, does self-anger diminish oneself from within. Confusion creates distance between self and others but also within the self. Is it possible that this confusion is somehow related to one’s ambivalence?
Scarce empirical work has been done on self-anger, such that it remains an underexplored emotion in psychology as well as philosophy. Self-anger is seen as distinctly different than the negative self-directed emotions of guilt and shame (Silva, 2022).
Self-anger dissociates the “I” from the “me,” creating an identity ambivalence that equates to an increased loss in self-esteem and alienation of the self. Ambivalence arises from the confusion between the real and the imagined views of self.
Possibly, our view of self may have been contaminated by negative experiences or judgments from others. Confusion, or ambivalence, may surface from the mixed messages we have absorbed over time. Some of these messages may appear to be more accurate than others, but clarity may still be unavailable, which sows the seeds of ambivalence and possibly self-anger.
Much of what we do as psychologists is about assisting clients in resolving ongoing ambivalence. Clients are questioning their circumstances, their lifestyle, their relationships, and even themselves. How can we understand this complex dilemma of ambivalence more fully? Are there justifiable reasons why ambivalence could create self-anger?
Ambivalence is defined here as the simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (such as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action. Could these contradictory attitudes or feelings, especially repulsion, be directed at one’s self? Ambivalence is a common source of confusion about the world but also, at times, toward one’s self.
“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” — Mark Twain
Thoughts and feelings being at odds with one another can manifest into a self-dissatisfaction, fueling self-anger. Poor decisions due to ambivalence can create self-deprecating attitudes toward one’s identity: “I am in contradiction with myself. My intolerance toward myself is on the rise. I am angry at me!”
Humans are not linear; they are consistently inconsistent. Ambivalence provides a myriad of examples of the human struggle to resolve ourselves. Indecision can push us to our limits and force us to face and resolve difficult situations. The longer we reside in the ambivalence to change our situation, the more difficult it becomes to change. Frustration emanates from these frustrating circumstances. Sometimes our frustration is directed inward as self-anger.
“It is not love that should be depicted as blind, but self-love.” — Voltaire
What we know about anger is that there is no catharsis. We just get better and better at being angry. Because self-anger has been connected to higher rates of depression, there is also a resultant lower level of motivation. The paradox of self-anger is that emotional judgment, lack of self-acceptance, and lack of self-love serve no purpose except to diminish one’s self-value. Perhaps that really is blind (Wilson, 2021)!
“We need to be ambivalent… having mixed feelings, entertaining contradiction, living with fluctuation—is a widened embrace. It’s about the coexistence of things….” — Charles D’ Ambrosio
Obviously, ambivalence has a downside. The client stuck in their ambivalence will be maintaining the status quo and resistant to change. But what if there is, like most negative things, a positive potential for ambivalence? Could ambivalence be a window of opportunity for clients to learn more about themselves and thus increase their tolerance toward self? The clarification of one’s values is one positive outcome that can come from the struggle to understand one’s ambivalence.
Learning to be more tolerant of self could yield huge paybacks. My increased tolerance toward self could lead to higher self-esteem, increased motivation, and greater life satisfaction.
Understanding that confusion and ambivalence may only be the first step toward increased knowledge and wisdom would also be beneficial. Perhaps, just maybe, enlightenment was not meant to be easy.
Silva, L. (2022). On Being Angry At Oneself. Ratio, May 15, 2022.
Wilson, B. (2021). The Paradox of Self-Anger. ArticleBiz, May, 23, 2021.