Could it be that we have spent so much time running from anger and labeling it as bad that we have forgotten to seek to understand it? Perhaps we never learned—or we've forgotten—that anger is a vital energy that just needs to be directed. Anger has a wisdom of its own—and a very important purpose.
The Purpose of Anger
Just as fire can be a very helpful source of warmth and energy, so can anger. We've all experienced the comforting warmth of an evening campfire while toasting marshmallows. Anger can be helpful too. One of its primary jobs is to signal us when we are covering over hurt or we are in danger of sacrificing what is most precious to us, our personal power. Anger flares when one of our boundaries has been infringed upon. It signals us when we need to take better responsibility for our health and happiness. Its function is to teach us how to live from a place of authentic power.
Anger starts out as a little frustration or flicker of annoyance and impatience. Then if we ignore it, it grows into a bonfire, a bigger and more constant irritation that steals our peace. If we disregard anger's message to us long enough, we usually get a stronger reminder that we haven't listened to its insight. We may yell at our child or spouse or snap at a co-worker. The person may have done something that set us off, but inside us are the real roots of anger. What started out as a little spark of impatience or a small fire of irritation has now expanded and jumped outside the fire ring. (Or if we turn our anger inward, we may feel depressed.) One of the first steps in how to control anger is to acknowledge that we're feeling it, which is the first tip listed in Andrea Bonior's Seven Quick Tips. Another important key is understanding misconceptions about anger.
A Common Misconception about Anger
One of the most common beliefs about anger is the misconception that a person's anger is caused by someone else's words or actions. If we could cause anger to erupt in another person, then this might explain why so many people (particularly women) try desperately to deny and avoid it. However, the trigger is not the cause of anger. No one can make us feel anything that we do not already carry within ourselves. It's like the campfire that leads to a forest fire: it's not the campfire itself that causes the wildfire; it's the ignorance of safety measures combined with the right conditions that make it dangerous. Anger, just like fire, is a useful and powerful energy that needs to be respected.
Anger appears when we have not cared for our needs. If we do not act on its signals, the intensity of the emotion grows. And if we do not require others to respect our boundaries (or we don't know how to set boundaries), anger may grow stealthily like a silent but ferocious forest fire within us. This critical emotion shows us what we need in order to heal and be at our best. If we take care of ourselves, communicate our needs, and show others how to respect us, there is little or no anger within us to be sparked or to be fanned by the winds of life.
When anger is ignored or repressed, it builds—eventually becoming a powerful force we cannot control. If we have unmet needs, unresolved pain, and years of repressed negative emotion, then the eruption of anger can be sparked easily. Overcoming anger and irritability effectively requires that we are curious and welcome its lessons. We need to be alert to caution signs popping up, before our anger hurts someone by its intensity, just like an out-of-control fire.
Act on the Early Signs of Anger
Listening to the wisdom of our emotions is much like paying attention to warning signs in our body. Giving ourself permission to feel is like giving ourselves food when we're hungry or giving our immune system a jumpstart. When we begin to feel like we're coming down with a cold or the flu, we get extra rest, take Vitamin C, drink plenty of fluids, and perhaps cut back on sweets. Anger is no different—it has warning signs too: irritation, frustration, resentment, complaining, anxiety, impatience, a tense stomach or a clenched jaw, to name a few. To overcome anger, feel and listen to it early and act on its message to you! We can act on these cues to bring ourselves back to peace before the fire flares up. The sooner we act, the more easily we can redirect anger's energy and power.
Find out what you need to feel better. Don't let anger get a bad rap. Listen, trust, and act on its wisdom. Flex your muscles of emotional fitness; you can learn how to respond in healthy and empowering ways.