I participate in an on-line ACT discussion forum for professionals with clinicians and scientists to discuss current conceptual, scientific, and practice developments in ACT and RFT (Relational Frame Theory). I find the topics interesting one in particular caught my attention by Hank Robb. I first met the wise Dr. Hank Robb at a ACT training in Boulder a few years ago. Since then, I have read many of his posts and watched a few of his videos. I am sharing one of his articles published on the ACT discussion forum.
By Hank Robb, Ph.D., ABPP
When Righteous Indignation comes out of someone’s mouth, or simply shows up in someone’s head, it usually sounds something like this, “You BITCH (or BASTARD)! You MUSTN’T treat me this way! I DESERVE something different!”
Each of these exemplifies one part of what I call the “fire triangle” of Righteous Indignation. Just as fire specialists often teach about the fire triangle of oxygen, fuel and ignition, I suggest there is also one for Righteous Indignation: person rating, demandingness and entitlement. Put these together, and there will be plenty of “fire” to get your “blood boiling” with others, the world in general, and even with yourself.
To me, Righteous Indignation is the “drug of choice” for humans because once individuals sense themselves to be “The Avenging Angle of The Lord who has been sent to fix your fricking wagon,” they often do feel pretty good. Being righteously indignant certainly is energizing! It also serves as great “anesthesia” for both fear and sorrow.
“Tired of feeling sad, scared and deflated? Here, try some of this!”
Just look around the world, or around your life. Cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamine and even nicotine pale in comparison to how often folks “take a hit” of Righteous Indignation. On the upside, you can take as many “hits” as you like, as often as you like, without a single coin in your pocket. If you’ve got language, you’ve got all the necessary ingredients. No wonder it’s such a big seller! But, like addictive behavior generally, no matter how well Righteous Indignation works in the little picture of the moment, it doesn’t work that well in the Big Picture of your life. There is, after all, a “cost,” even if it’s not financial. The cost is in the kind of relationship Righteous Indignation builds between you and others, you and the world and even you and yourself.
“So, you’re saying I should live life as a doormat! Nuts to that!”
This common response is built on the notion that the only way to speak up, or stand up, is to get steamed up. Or, said in a slightly different way, the only way to “get determined” is to “get disturbed.” Life experience shows it’s just not so. Think about doing housework or yard work, both of which I personally detest. Did you really have to get all “fired up” to push a broom or vacuum or rake leaves? Now be careful. Maybe you have gotten, or still do get, in a snit every time you do one of these tasks, but that’s not the question. So, I’ll repeat the question. Is it really true that the task couldn’t get done without that snit? Do you really need that “turbocharger” of Righteous Indignation to get things done, or do you just have to act, even though you’d rather not? Experience shows that Righteous Indignation is completely unnecessary in order to get things done. You don’t have to get “steamed up” or “fired up” in order to stand up or speak up. You don’t have to get disturbed to get determined. All you really need do is remind yourself of the point in doing these activities in the first place. What do you achieve? What do you make important in your life by the actions you are taking even when you don’t like taking them? And, if there is no point to what you are doing, then why in the world are you doing it?
So, what’s an antidote to Righteous Indignation? Well, you could notice that each “leg of the triangle” is simply bunk. To begin with, no one falls off the scale of humanity no matter how rotten their behavior. Take DNA samples form ten Nobel Peace Prize-winners and ten serial rapist murders and then ask for an analysis of which are the “good humans.” You won’t get an answer. That’s because a human remains a human whether their social worth is in the stratosphere or the toilet. So much for person rating.
Second, if the world really HAD TO, if it really MUST, go a certain way, it would already be going that way! Why? Because there would be no option for things to go otherwise! The proof that things don’t HAVE TO go a certain way, namely your way or the right way, is that your experience shows they aren’t going that way. No matter how WRONG, WRONG, WRONG something is, wrong things are still ALLOWED to happen because if they were not allowed to happen, they wouldn’t be happening – and they are! So much for demandingness.
And, finally, you’re entitled? OK then, where’s your note? I don’t mean a note from your mother or even from the courts. Where’s the note from the universe guaranteeing you certain social arrangements or that social arrangements entitling you to this or that are being “underwritten” or “backed up” by the universe? Yes, if you keep your part of a social agreement you are “entitled,” or “deserve,” for those on the other end to do their part. But that’s a SOCIAL entitlement, not a COSMIC one, and social agreements are often broken. I heard that MOSES got a note. Good for him. So, again I ask, “Where’s yours?” So much for “I’m entitled.”
However, there is another, and far less wordy, antidote when it comes to those all too frequent, and very tempting, opportunities to buy into person rating, demandingness and entitlement: consider the consequences you’ll be living with if you do so! When you look back on having indulged one of those opportunities to become Righteously Indignant from the perspective a couple of days, or even a couple of hours, does it really turn out to have been that desirable? Do you really have the sense of, “Yea! All steamed up! That was REALLY GREAT!”? And how about the way you’ve connected with others or yourself? Did another round of blaming and condemning produce the life you most deeply wish to live? If not, then how about keeping your EYES ON THE PRIZE, or perhaps I should say PRIZES. By doing the raking or the sweeping you get “the prize” of a cleaned up yard or a cleaned up house. However, there’s another prize. Namely, the prize of living the life you most deeply want to live in the WAY you want to live it. Does another round of Righteous Indignation really fit with that life? I don’t mean fit well. I mean, does it fit at all?
Here’s a little self-reminder, “If I plan to be around tomorrow, I’d better act like it today.” None of us know if we actually will be around tomorrow, but what’s the PLAN? Is buying into person-rating, demandingness and entitlement with the result of getting “all fired up” every time life fails to go your way really your PLAN for living? If not, there’s no use in getting Righteously Indignant about your tendency toward becoming Righteous Indignant. Instead, carefully notice exactly how you participate in the process. By getting more and more familiar with exactly how you buy into person rating, demandingness and entitlement, you will come to recognize that you have a choice to do otherwise. One might say that by becoming very knowledgeable about how you end up accepting life’s “invitations” to become Righteously Indignant, you also learn how to effectively decline those invitations and choose to do something else.
As you continue practicing, you can come to recognize when you have begun to indulge Righteous Indignation, stop, and change to more effective actions. Keep working and you come to recognize when you are just on the edge of accepting, rather than declining, an invitation and practice choosing more effective alternative responses. Continue your efforts and you can learn to recognize invitations waaaaay out on the horizon and begin, even then, moving in a direction that fits with the life you actually want to live. This antidote, unlike the first one, doesn’t require much verbal demonstration of what’s bunk and what’s not. Rather, it highlights your ability to notice urges, in this case urges toward Righteous Indignation, and forego acting on those urges in the service of the Big Picture that you choose for your life. It underscores your ability to choose what you do and don’t do on the basis of nothing more, and nothing less, than what fits with the life you actually want to live and what doesn’t. Pursue these powers of noticing and choosing and you can greatly decrease your “drug use” while determinedly pursuing the Big Picture you have chosen for your life.
Hank has practiced psychology in Lake Oswego, Oregon, for more than twenty years. He is board certified in both Counseling Psychology and Behavioral & Cognitive Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology. He works with individuals, couples, families and groups and tends to see people as troubled or suffering rather than sick or diseased. He helps people to increase positives in their lives in addition to reducing negatives.
Hank is both and founding and current board member of SMART Recovery® and is a columnist for the SMART Recovery® quarterly publication News & Views. Though he does not himself believe in the supernatural, he served eight years, ending in 2008, as Chair of the Spiritual and Religious Issues Special Interest Group of the Association of Behavioral & Cognitive Therapy.
Please visit his website to learn more about Hank.
(c) Copyright 2016 Brenda Bomgardner