What is Anger?
The dictionary definition of anger is a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility. There are two things I want to highlight here. The first is that anger is a feeling – just a feeling. Second, anger encompasses more than feelings of hostility and includes feelings of annoyance and displeasure, too.
Anger is an emotion. It is just like happiness, fear or sadness. Emotions by themselves are not wrong. They are something instinctive in us. But emotions are powerful – they can move people to action. The actions that result from emotions are what are assessed as right or wrong. It is not the emotion itself.
Why Doesn't Everyone Like Anger?
From my interactions with many people, few are able to detach behaviors from the cause – emotions – especially if the behaviors are negative. After all, the fuel of almost all crimes of passion is anger. At its worst, anger kills.
But anger doesn’t just harm physically. It can also severely harm other people emotionally. That’s why anger can be seen as dangerous.
If you think about it, fire is also dangerous. However, people have found ways to harness the power of fire and to help them in their daily lives. The same can be done with anger.
How Can Anger Lead to Emotional Health?
Just like fire rightly handled, anger can light up our lives, disinfect our emotional wounds for healing, protect us from predators, and ‘cook’ us to maturity – enhancing our natural flavors.
1. Anger allows us to know ourselves.
Like a fire that shines light, anger shines light on our values and what are the things we hold dear.
Why were you hurt? What made you feel offended? Why did you feel insecure?
Back in school, it takes an exam to identify what we really know and what we don’t know. Anger does the same. If someone jokes about something and you feel violated, that means you hold that topic in high regard. If you feel jealous that your friend is hanging out with someone else, that might mean that your friend is more than a friend.
If you know yourself, it makes it easier to move forward, to make decisions, and to say ‘no’ graciously.
2. Anger can be one of the initial steps to healing
I once read that one of the reasons why people cling to anger is that if they let go of it, they will realize how hurt they have been.
Sometimes, they are just not ready to face the pain. Henri Nouwen said that to heal, you should revisit the pain, but only when you are strong enough. If someone revisits the pain but they are not ready emotionally to experience the wounds, they might get depressed. In a way, being angry helps them keep sane.
I recently read a book entitled ‘Toxic Parents Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life’. The author detailed how she found it unhelpful that some of her clients skipped the step of being angry, or they addressed their anger at the wrong targets – themselves. She outlined how many of our structures in society (religious, culture, etc) encourage suppression of anger and how she found her clients unable to move on with their healing process because of suppressed or refusing to feel angry. Based on my personal experience, I agree with her. Unless you acknowledge your anger and work on the trigger (the assault on your values), it is difficult to get healed.
3. Anger protects us and gives us control
Unfortunately today, there are more and more people who do not respect boundaries. Expressing anger strongly states where your personal boundaries are which people should not cross. It gives you control over how you want to be treated rather than being treated as a pushover.
When I was starting out as a teacher, I was told that with kids, you have to be firm otherwise, they will keep on pushing the boundaries and you’ll have a disruptive class. I don’t think many of us have outgrown this tendency to push the boundaries. Is it because of our capitalistic society or is it because of society continuing to redefine boundaries according to a certain group’s outlook?
If you look at history, we have many examples of a certain group obtaining only the rights they deserve after they have resorted to firmer and more ‘hostile’ actions: women’s rights, ending of slavery, freedom of several countries, worker’s rights. I am not promoting terrorism but what I’m trying to say is that when boundaries with regard to human dignity are crossed, it provokes. And sometimes, anger rightly expressed is the only weapon to get what was wrong right.
In our personal lives, many people still try to test us until when we will give in. Many are programmed to try to take as much for themselves. If you leave with housemates, there will always be people who would not do their fair share of cleaning the house. In school group works, there are always people who refuse to do their fair share of work. In relationships, there are many times that people will abuse your friendship and just continue ‘taking’. There is always room to talk peacefully. However, there is a point where you just have to realize that it is more effective to say what is happening is making you angry.
Expressing rightful anger gives you control over the situation when you’re feeling weak. It gives a strong message to the aggressor that you will not let him push further. True, you might lose some ‘friends’ but friends shouldn’t be taking advantage of each other.
4. Expressing anger can help us mature.
We do not always get angry for the right reasons. But if we share with others that we are angry, we can get people to help us see what is right from wrong. This is essential to maturing emotionally.
Sharing that you feel angry with someone mature can help you shed light on why you are feeling what you are feeling and share points on why you shouldn’t be feeling this way. People usually share this with counselors and it makes me feel sad that they would willingly share this with a stranger but not with friends. For me, it just shows that people around them are not mature enough to handle conflicts.
Handling conflicts does not mean there is always a restitution of relationship. Sometimes, the more mature way is to accept that their both parties cannot agree and just agree to disagree. Being able to accept that you have to make choices and you can’t have it all is another sign of maturity. When you know you can let go, you know you have grown.
How to Be Angry Positively
We all desire acceptance. We all desire to belong. We all desire to be liked. We all desire to be loved. That’s why many people do not want to express anger because it turns people off. But I think expressing the right anger sieves through who are the people who should be in your lives. For this, you need to express anger in a positive manner. There are two things that you need to note. First, express anger for the right reasons and second, express your anger in a positive way.
1. Express anger for the right reasons.
There are right and wrong reasons to be angry about. Like I shared with you earlier, feeling angry is neither good nor bad. It is just a feeling. However, should you choose to express it, think over it and make sure you express your anger for the right reasons.
Is someone constantly abusing you or taking advantage of you? Are you being treated without dignity? Are you being disrespected? Is the cause you are fighting for just? Was someone physically harmed? First, take a stand. Be firm. And if being firm is not working, you can tell the person that what he is doing is making you angry. If the person still continues, just cut ties. But don’t think that you were wrong to express your anger.
2. Express anger in the right way.
Maintain respect for the individual. Express anger at the attitude, not the person. Seek to correct, not to get even.
Before being angry, ask yourself what you want to achieve. At the end of the day, many just want to make things right when the soft approaches did not work.
Maintain respect for the individual. Try to use positive or neutral words. Never insult them. I think this will be easier if you focus your anger on the attitude, not the person.
It is really difficult to see the person and the action as two separate entities. But seeing them separately helps us greatly. Do you love the person less if he has done something that made you angry? Do you care for him less? Do you disrespect his personhood less? If you see the action as the person, then it will be difficult to express your anger. However, if you see them differently, it will be easier for you to focus on what really is the issue. The issue is the action.
I don’t believe that anger management means anger suppression. I believe that it means healthy expression of anger. Based on my experience, expressing anger to achieve a healthy goal is helpful. That goal should be to right what is wrong. It is never to seek to get even or to get vengeance. Once you get what is right, then it should stop there.
Anger Doesn't Have to be Bad
Feeling angry is all right. It’s how you express your anger that counts. So learn to express your anger in a healthy way. After all, when you’re happy, you can’t help but smile. If you’re angry, it is not always easy not to express it. You have to accept both ideas: being angry is ok and you have to express your anger healthily.
Here are some books you may want to read to help you with anger.
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