Anger As An Ally
Your Feelings About Anger
If you are reading this article then maybe you have anger issues. Perhaps you are struggling with irritability, frustration, or losing your temper? Or maybe someone you love has difficulty managing this emotion.
I want to ask you, before you read any further, to reflect quickly on your relationship with anger…How do you feel about anger as an emotion? Do you love it, thrive on the power you feel? Do you hate it and feel guilty and ashamed of yourself? Does anger scare you and do you try to push it down so you don’t get overtaken by it?
Well, the good news is you are not alone. A lot of humans struggle with their anger and feel they are lacking the skills to manage it effectively. But anger is a perfectly natural and acceptable human emotion. It is actually healthy to connect with your anger, and can really help you in your life and relationships – if you know how to make it an ally or friend. And that’s why I wrote this article.
Anger vs Violence
It still surprises me just how many people have negative perceptions about anger. I mean, there’s no denying it can be a powerful intimidating and even scary emotion. But it’s important to distinguish between the feeling state of anger and related concepts like intimidation, aggression and violence. When anger is poorly managed it can lead to physical and verbal abuse, domestic violence, self-abuse, toxic relationships and bullying.
Media representations tend to focus on anger as a destructive, violent and frightening force – most often associated with men in our community. But women are just as capable of expressing anger (although often not as physically threatening as males).
Anger Is Just Another Emotion
Yet, anger is not, by nature, violent or aggressive. Anger is quite simply, an emotion. In and of itself, it is not negative. It is our expression of anger which determines its impact.
For me, anger is like fire. Fire can be a devastating force. It can destroy a home full of memories in no time at all. Yet, it can also be our greatest ally; helping us to cook food, create warmth, provide light and protection. And traditionally, the campfire or fire place is the place where we are most likely to truly connect with others and with ourselves through the sharing stories, hearts and souls! So you see, when the energy of fire is directed and controlled, it is a beautiful and helpful force in our lives.
Anger can be friend or foe, depending on how we utilise its energy!
If we are wise and know its nature, then anger will serve us. If we are reckless and do not contain it, it could potentially destroy everything we care about. If we suppress it, then it will smoulder away in the background creating unwanted irritable moods and relationship tension. If we smother it, we will eventually succeed in killing it, leaving us dead and without any spark!
The Nature of Human Emotions
Unfortunately, many people are taught to suppress their anger, to push it down. But emotions can never truly be suppressed; like a basketball submerged under water, emotions build up pressure when pushed down, and they look for opportunities to explode to the surface! It’s just physics – you can’t keep something submerged that wants to float to the surface.
When a person has an explosive temper it is likely that they are someone who suppresses every smaller dose of anger until it builds up and breaks out uncontrollably and often violently. These people often say, “It takes a lot to get me angry” – when in actuality, they get angry and hurt by the same things as everyone else, but simply push it below the surface. Perhaps they have a desire to appear tough, stoic, together or happy and believe it will keep life harmonious if they silence their hurts. But if they were to acknowledge and accept their anger in the moment it arises, they would not need these major outbursts.
Either that, or they are someone who gives permission to their anger – “feels entitled to it” or “get’s off on it.” I have had people say “I wouldn’t be me without my anger” and “anger makes me feel powerful and in control” and “I like getting angry.” With these people, there is a fine line between healthy expression of anger and aggression. Giving anger ‘free rein’ is not a good option. Like a grass fire on a windy day, it will soon get out of control and build into a raging bushfire.
Another way people use anger is passively. They also suppress anger, but it seeps out. They never ‘own it’ or say it outright – but if you are around them you will ‘know it’. They might make cutting remarks, be in a foul mood for no apparent reason, show up late to a get-together, ignore you, become pedantic about every little thing, make out they have no time for you, sigh, huff, roll their eyes. Because the person never comes out and says “I’m upset at you!” it can be frustratingly difficult to deal with these people. You might even approach the person and say, “Are you mad at me about something?” but most likely the response you will get it “No, why do you think that!!“
For some people, the only person they unleash their anger on is themselves. They beat themselves up verbally and physically. Criticising, punching walls, hitting themselves, hurting themselves and saying hateful things to themselves. This person needs self-compassion in large doses. They need to step back and accept their humanity, to realise that all humans have flaws and imperfections, but that they are still worthy, valuable and loveable. They need to realise that violence aimed at the self is unhealthy and only creates more pain and suffering in the world. They need to listen to their anger, and learn from it, but not inflict it upon themselves without awareness.
Healthy Expression of Anger
Humans come with emotions pre-installed. All human emotions are essential and they are healthy in their pure form. Essentially, their role is messenger – they come with important information about things that matter.
We cannot “selectively numb” our feelings – so if you try to suppress fear, anger or sadness, you will suppress joy and happiness as well and end up feeling numb. So instead of shutting your feelings down – try opening up and making room for them instead. Simply acknowledging you are anger is a great starting point. Instead of reacting to it or suppressing it, instead try doing things like:
- Opening up to it
- Making space in your body for it
- Welcoming it
- Getting curious about it
- Listening to it
Anger tends to arise so as to notify us that there has been a violation of personal boundaries or values, when we are disrespected, invalidated or ignored in a meaningful relationship, when we are physically, verbally or emotionally threatened.
Ask questions like:
- Why am I feeling angry?
- Has something happened?
- Has someone hurt or disrespected me?
- Has a boundary been violated?
- Have my values or needs been overlooked?
- Am I being treated fairly?
- Am I feeling threatened by someone or something?
Getting Physical in Safe Ways
Anger does tend to require a physical kind of expression or release. That’s because it charges up the body in order to push back against something unwanted, threatening or undesirable. So if you want to work healthy expression of anger, try some of the following:
- Scream and yell into a pillow or in a deserted forest
- Roll up a newspaper and hit a door frame or large pole
- Punch a pillow or mattress
- Take a pen and scribble furiously onto paper or newspaper until you shred it
- Write an angry letter or email to the person you are upset with (but don’t send it!)
- Use your body to shake out anger, punch the air, jump, run, kick a ball, box it out
- Turn anger into a dance
- Put on some strong music and sing to it with your whole body
All of these activities can be done without harming yourself or anyone else. If other humans, especially children, are around, then wait til you have privacy, or let them know you are consciously venting some built up frustration. You want to make others feel safe not scared.
If you find that hurting people (including you) is a part of your anger, it might be important to seek counselling to explore the depths of your emotion. It is likely there are good reasons anger has become so destructive in your life. Counselling can help you shift this and get back in control.
People who develop a positive relationship with their anger find that: Anger is an energizer; it helps release tension; and gives us information about what’s important to us. Anger helps us feel in control; it also tells us which parts of ourselves we find most hard to love and accept.
Anger can help us feel happy! I hear you say “How?” Well, all our emotions are linked, connected. If we shut the door on our anger, we also shut the door on our other emotions. So if life is lacking joy for no good reason, it may be that you are pushing down some other emotions.
I hope you have enjoyed learning more about anger. I don’t want anyone to be ashamed or scared of their anger (or anyone else’s). I want all people to have a healthy respect for their anger (just like we need to do with fire). I want people to see anger as a friend who has come to communicate when something in your world is not okay.
So has this article changed your thinking about anger? Could you see yourself having a different relationship with it? And would you say anger is a constructive or a destructive energy in your world?
One thing is true – feeling angry is part of being human – and we all have the same choice – learn to make your anger an ally or let your anger control you and destroy your life and relationships.
Thanks for reading and being open to growth and change. Please share this article on social media and with friends and family.