With all of the talk of Anger Management, and Letting of anger, and quotes like “holding on to anger is like holding on to a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned”, anger has gotten a bad rep. While yes, long term anger is damaging to the body in the way long term stress and long term anxiety are damaging to the body, every emotion we have has a purpose; including anger. In dangerous situations anger fuels the protective instinct and helps provide the energy to protect ourselves and others. In overwhelming situations anger gives the fuel to keep going when the odds seem completely against you, and helps push for change. It is one of the emotions that lets us know that something is wrong that may need to be changed; possibly how you think of a situation, or the situation itself.
A recent study has shown that anger can actually help people make firm decisions when they may have waffled before. It can help people think critically about a situation in which they would have felt confusion about before. With everything, if we let the anger get too big it can get in the way. A candle can be beautiful and provide light, a campfire can provide warmth, a forest fire can provide incredible devastation.
Anger can be a wonderful protective agent. Feelings such as fear, shame, sadness and powerlessness are painful. Anger helps manage those feelings from being as painful. This can be a good thing in small doses, of course. Anger can also be a distraction keeping us from being present with the true struggle. We need to look at what anger is able to give is in the moment we are using it. Is the anger giving us the courage to fight a fight that we need courage for? Is the anger helping keep motivation up in a situation that seems helpless? If so the anger is beneficial and helpful. If the anger is distracting from the true needs for yourself or a situation, or if it is just providing a cover-up so that you don’t have to be present with painful emotions then it is not helpful but possibly detrimental.
When we use Anger as a cover-up for painful emotions we don’t lose the emotions, we are hiding them from ourselves. Like when we were children and our parents told us to clean our rooms, and we just shoved everything under the bed. (I know very well that I am not the only kid to do that, I work with too many teens and adults.) Eventually the mess under the bed grows until there is a huge mess that will take a monumental amount of time and effort to clean. We can go on hoping that we never have to worry about it, but that day always comes. Out of sight may be out of mind, but it is still there. If there is trauma added to the mess it festers, like shoving food under our metaphorical beds. It starts to stink up the whole place. Using anger to cover this up just causes more pain and hurt that has to be shoved away and covered up, creating a cycle. Being able to let go of the anger and having the courage to face the pain and hurt that has been ignored is the first step to emotional (and sometimes physical) health.
It is important to be able to see your own true motivations behind the anger. Many motivations that lead to anger are a desire to be heard, a desire to be respected, and a desire to be seen as valuable. A feeling of lack of skill or lack of knowledge can lead to fear and anger. As discussed above, anger in these situations, in small doses can be helpful. It can help focus and add direction. In big doses it leads to rash decision making with verbal and possibly physical aggression. Learning the skills to feel comfortable in multiple situations can limit the anger as you feel confident instead of afraid.
Anger is no better or worse than any other emotion. It is useful and necessary at times, and in moderation can be beneficial. As with all emotions it is important to be able to harness the anger without letting it overwhelm you and your actions. It’s OK to be mad, it’s not OK to be bad.