Anger as a Wise Messenger
Out of all the emotions, anger might be the most demonized and misunderstood. But anger is a wise messenger that has a very specific purpose. Anger is our body’s way of telling us that something isn’t right. That something needs to change (even if the factor that needs to adjust in the situation is us). Often it’s trying to tell us that a boundary has been crossed. Sometimes it’s letting us know that there are other emotions in our system that need our attention—it’s common for us to discover that under anger is a deep well of unacknowledged disappointment, sadness, or grief.
We are Taught to Suppress Our Anger
Many of us were actually taught, in one way or another, to ignore our anger. Other’s of us were taught to fear our anger. Taught that people do bad, hurtful, dangerous things when angry. And of course, it’s true. Many people do harmful things in response to their anger. But it’s not anger itself that’s the problem. The problem is when we have no idea how to relate to our anger in a healthy and constructive way.
It is 100% possible to fully feel and respond to our anger in a way that is safe and supportive of our well being and our relationships. In fact, anger, when handled appropriately, can make our relationships better, more honest.
Differentiating Between Anger and Our Response to It
When we’re taught to ignore and suppress our anger it has no choice but to get louder and louder, and bigger and bigger, until we’re forced to acknowledge it’s wise presence. This is when we explode. This is when we feel out of control. This is when we hurt ourselves and others. Ignoring the early messages from our anger, allowing the energy to continue building up in our bodies, is what leads to violent reactions to anger.
Anger is not a problem. Not at all. Suppressing and ignoring our anger is a problem. Allowing our anger to get so big and so uncomfortable that we get to a point where we have little choice over how to respond to our anger, is a problem. But the anger itself? Energy. Moving through our bodies. That’s all it is. Uncomfortable energy? Yep, by design. To get our attention.
Anger is meant to mobilize us and spur us into action. When we have been taught that anger is dangerous or bad, and therefore taught to suppress that urge to take action, this puts us at risk for all kinds of abuse. It’s much easier to manipulate, control, and abuse someone who is out of touch with their anger. Our anger is there to protect us, to let us know when we have been mistreated, so we can decide what (if anything) needs to be done in response.
Relating to Anger in a Conscious Way
Relating to anger in a healthy way requires understanding that we can feel angry (remember, this is just sensations in the body) without immediately reacting to it. We can feel it, notice it, acknowledge it, get clear on why it’s there, and then decide our next steps. Do we need to say something to someone, letting them know our feelings and our requests of them? Do we need to do something to protect ourselves in some way? Do we need to adjust our expectations? Do we need to simply sit with the feeling and validate it, without doing anything in response?
When we are open to feeling our anger and acknowledging its presence we deepen our self-awareness. And when we deepen our self-awareness, a whole host of options open up.
Questions for Self-Exploration
- How does anger feel in your body?
- How do you know when you are feeling angry, frustrated, or annoyed? Where do you feel it first?
- What were you taught about anger growing up?
- How did your parents/caregivers express their anger? Explosively? Did they suppress it?
- How did your family of origin handle conflict?
- What stories or ideas do you have about anger? Are they positive? Negative?
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