Anger is an important messenger emotion that has been wrongfully shunned in our culture. I frequently see clients, and remember myself, having a distant and mistrustful relationship with anger and developing various ways to control, avoid, or suppress this essential emotion. However, I have come to understand that anger is actually an important emotion in our arsenal of feelings; it lets us know when our boundaries were transgressed upon or when we suffered a loss at the hands of someone else. Anger communicates to us that change needs to take place, and can be used as an energizing and motivating force for necessary change. It is our ally and protector; it makes sure that our needs are met through necessary action on our part.
Why then, does anger have such a bad reputation? In our culture, anger is often associated with the impulses that it arouses in us and the actions that we choose to take based on these impulses. When we think of anger; yelling, blaming, threatening, and physical violence frequently come to mind. These are all negative responses to anger, rather than the emotion of anger itself. These responses usually lead us into an unhelpful cycle that looks something like this:
We experience a perceived loss or threat of loss at the hands of someone else,
anger then arises in us to help us address the problem at hand,
we choose to use the energy of anger to act in an aggressive or passive aggressive manner rather than harnessing it for necessary change to take place,
we are left feeling further misunderstood, depleted, hurt, and guilty or ashamed that we “let our anger get out of hand,”
the original problem which caused our anger in the first place remains addressed.
In the scenario described above we do not use the message that anger is sending to us to improve our situation and make a necessary change, but rather we waste emotional and physical energy and close the pathways to communication and repair. In reality, It is possible to respond to anger in an entirely different and much more helpful way that will leave us feeling strong and empowered.
An effective way to use anger in our lives is to become aware of this emotion when it comes up for us, take a little time to reflect upon the message that anger is trying to convey to us, and use the energy that comes with anger to make necessary change. One effective way to become aware of this emotion when it arises is to become mindful of our physical body. When we feel angry, we frequently experience:
A sense of warmth coursing through our face and body
Muscle tension or aches
Rapid heart rate
A change in the tone of our voice
Being tuned into our embodied experience of anger can help us act more mindfully in decoding the messages of this emotion. By becoming aware of our physical experience of anger, we are turning towards our anger and respecting this emotion, rather than running away from it. Once we know that we are experiencing anger it is important to be aware of what made us angry so that we can have a better understanding of ourselves and the situation at hand. Anger can be triggered by a number of different kinds of losses or violations. It may arise out of something that someone has done or a situation that arose in our life. Although anger triggers are unique for everyone, some common ones are:
Experiencing an Injustice
Violation of your personal space
Threats of violence
Being mislabeled, shamed, blamed
Being lied to or misinformed
Losing control of a situation
When we understand why we feel angry in a given situation by being aware of our anger triggers, we can more effectively resolve problems. Often times, making necessary change requires us to validate our unique experience of a situation by having insight into what made us angry. The emotion of anger urges us to take notice of what is going wrong, to ally with ourselves, and to act in accordance with our needs.