Anger is misunderstood and underappreciated! Most people don't like anger, even angry people say they wish they didn't feel angry so much. Many people are afraid of anger, so they try their best to hold in their anger and go out of their way to avoid making anyone else angry. There are many unhealthy ways we deal with anger: we dodge it, judge it, repress it, disown it, cloak it, reject it, or lash out at others. And being on the receiving end of anger is intense and often feels threatening.
Why do we dislike anger so much? Why do so many people need anger management? And how can we express anger in healthy ways?
Controlling Anger—Is It the Best Solution?
If we spend time running from anger, labeling it as bad, and judging angry people, we've pretty much boxed ourselves in. And we've also forgotten the most important thing: to seek to understand the emotion of anger.
Perhaps we never learned that anger is vital energy. It needs to be understood, managed productively, and utilized to take effective action on our own behalf. Anger has a wisdom of its own—and an essential purpose. Yes, handling anger from others can be tough, especially if we've afraid of anger. It can be intimidating, yet if our anger is out of control, it's often linked to past trauma and unresolved pain as children.
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.
The Surprising Purpose of Anger
Anger's primary job is to signal us when we are hurt or we are in danger of sacrificing what is most precious to us, our personal power. Anger flares up when boundaries have been infringed upon. It signals us when we need to take better responsibility for our health and happiness. Anger's purpose is to teach us how to live from a place of authentic power, to advocate on our own behalf—not to hurt others!
How to Control Anger
Anger starts out as a little frustration or a 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 a common misconception 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 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.
Related reading: "Dealing with Angry People."
Is Anger Bad?
All emotions are acceptable as long as they don't hurt ourselves and others. When anger gets out of control, it often hurts others. Healthy anger is a good thing unless we ignore its early warning signals. And there are healthy ways to deal with anger if we listen to our emotions. Anger appears when we have not cared for our needs (or past unresolved pain is triggered). If we do not act on the signals, the intensity of the emotion grows, sometimes quickly.
When we do not respect others' boundaries or require others to respect our boundaries (we may not know how to set boundaries), anger may grow stealthily like a silent but ferocious forest fire within us (or the other person). This critical emotion shows us what we need 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 fanned by the winds of life.
When healthy 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 emotions, then the eruption of anger can be sparked easily. Overcoming anger and irritability requires that we are curious, welcome its lessons, and get help when needed. It's critical to stay alert to caution signs popping up before our anger hurts someone by its intensity, just like an out-of-control fire.
Related reading: "Here's How to Talk Yourself Down When You're About to Rage."
How to Deal with Anger: Act on the Early Signs
Listening to the wisdom of our emotions is much like paying attention to the warning signs in our bodies. Giving yourself permission to feel is like giving yourself food when you're hungry or giving your immune system a jumpstart. When you begin to feel like you're coming down with a cold or the flu, you know to 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 effectively.
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.