I won’t say who it is, because I don’t want to embarrass her, but someone recently told me about a new policy she developed for herself during the pandemic. Every time she started to get mad at someone for being selfish and irresponsible, and she wanted to righteously lash out and put them in their place , she would send a few dollars to the food pantry, instead.
At first I thought this was a sweet and good but somewhat random gesture: Instead of doing the bad thing (being mad), she was going to do the good thing (feeding the hungry). But I actually think there was actually something more interesting and meaningful going on: Something called sublimation.
Sublimation is when you take some undesirable urge and redirect the energy of it into something worthwhile and commendable. It is not repression, because you’re not denying that the urge is there, and you’re not pretending it doesn’t affect you. Instead, you’re acknowledging that the urge is powerful and forceful, and that you can’t make it just go away; so instead, you make it work for you.
The person in question felt an understandable rage and frustration when someone would rudely refuse to wear a mask, or would spread lies about vaccines, or would harass other people for complying with safety protocols. (Yes, these are all things that happen regularly.)
I think this anger qualifies as righteous anger, because these actions hurt vulnerable people the most. But she knew that following her heart by cussing them out or smacking them would just make things worse for everybody. So instead, she balled up her anger and used it to help vulnerable people. Thus the donation to the food pantry.
So it wasn’t just “do good instead of bad.” She took anger over someone hurting people, and used it to help people. The food pantry is great for this kind of thing, because there will always be poor people, and poor people will always need food (or even better, money so they can decide what kind of food to buy).
The thing about sublimation is not just that it makes good things come about, and it’s not just that it steers you away from crashing on the rocks of sin. It actually changes you. Here is where I recall one of the first really useful things I learned from my therapist years ago…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.
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