Your face turns red. Your hands shake. You’re seething inside. You think to yourself, “I wish I could turn this off. I wish I knew how to stop feeling angry.”
Maybe you find you’re often irritable. Little comments annoy you. Coworkers get under your skin. Your spouse pisses you off. You wish you didn’t feel so cranky all the time, but you don’t know how to let it go.
As much as we may not enjoy anger, here’s why it’s not a bad emotion to feel.
I hope you never stop feeling angry. Really.
When people ask me how to stop feeling ANY emotion (hurt, sadness, fear, and yes, anger) I always remind them, there’s no such thing as a “bad” emotion. All of our emotions are extremely important. Anger is no exception.
Anger has a very vital purpose. It’s to help us move toward activities and situations that give us more pleasure. It helps us move away from the events and circumstances that bring us hurt, feel frightening, scary, or painful. Anger is powerful. It exists for a reason.
What’s unfortunate is when we don’t know how to “be” with our anger. When we can’t coexist with our anger, it becomes rage. Suddenly we’re dumping it on other people who don’t deserve our wrath. The bad part of anger isn’t the feeling; it’s our lack of skill with feeling it. We let it build-up, and we dump it irresponsibly.
I was thinking about Gandhi the other day. He was angry. He was removed from the first-class train, and it pissed him off. It fueled his activism and became a source of motivation. It helped him focus his efforts and create change.
I think Mother Theresa was angry too. She was upset people were being mistreated. She was angry poverty existed, and children were dying. If we look at her anger at injustice, we see how anger is a really beautiful, motivational force. Anger moves us toward positive action.
The ugliness of anger comes from when we don’t know how to express it and responsibly deal with it.
I used to think my family anger was very frightening. When my father was angry, for example, I found it dangerous and scary. I learned to avoid it and see anger as a negative emotion.
I think anger becomes that way for many people—particularly as children, we feel powerless. We feel anger is this big, out-of-control, scary thing. We shoulder the blame for the anger we see displayed by others and learn we should try not to make people mad.
Unchecked, anger seems big and out of control. In reality, it’s not the anger, but the irresponsibility for the anger that’s out of control. The actions you associate with anger and how you treat others when you feel upset and angry are the real sources of fear.
The skill in dealing with anger is learning to separate your anger from the dumping on others. The other skill is being angry, feeling your emotion, but still being able to think clearly.
To deal with anger, we must understand its purpose. Often when we feel anger, we’re not tending to the little things that build up and make us angry. We’re not addressing the small issues. We’re allowing our feelings to snowball into one big toxic dump. Usually, we’re angry because we’re hurt or afraid of something. If we go into those feelings and address them, it helps us tend to our anger.
If you don’t let yourself get to the stage of exploring the purpose of your anger, you may resort to passive-aggressive behavior. This behavior is what we refer to as “the hidden middle finger.” We avoid overt displays of anger and frustration and instead, let it seep out in micro-actions.
If you’ve ever given the cold shoulder or silent treatment to someone, acted compliant on the surface (but then rebelled), or said you’ll do something but not followed through, you’ve displayed passive-aggressive behavior. Frankly, we’ve all carried out these actions at some point.
Passive-aggressive behaviors are JUST as destructive as rage. They’re different, but still damaging. Passive-aggression slowly erodes relationships, creates resentments, and brushes aside underlying issues rather than getting them out in the open and addressing them.
Pure expressions of anger, as frightening as they may be, hold a great deal of truth. It’s far more honest to say, “I’m really mad at you right now!”’ Then to say, “It’s fine,” when you’re not fine at all. Suppressing your anger and then dumping it out in a trickle is often more damaging over the long haul.
Many of us feel feelings without really examining where the feelings originate. Even sitting with your anger for a moment and pinpointing the cause may surprise you.
Then use your anger toward setting your intention. What is your desired result or outcome? That’s when you can really channel the power of your anger toward a greater good. If you’re angry about injustice (in the world or even in your own life), look at ways to shift it. If you don’t like how you’re treated, allow your anger to help you change your situation. If you’re afraid and you’re mad that you’re afraid, use the anger to shift to a place of safety.
Anger protects us. You’re walking down a street at night past a blind alley. It’s scary, and you hear a noise that triggers anger (often closely related to fear). It’s positive because your anger is getting ready to deal with the threat and address the source of your fear. You’re ready to hit and run. Anger really protects you.
Many people—women, in particular—don’t want to allow their anger. Often, women cry when they’re angry. They’re trying to put out the fire with their tears, rather than using the fire to fuel them toward action.
Men, on the other hand, often get angry when they’re really hurt or afraid. They’re mad at the vulnerability they feel and don’t want to let it erupt under the anger.
When you feel frustrated, it’s often coming from an unaddressed source of anger. It’s important to identify your emotions (frustration) and explore them. Why are you feeling upset? Is it because you need to address something? What steps should you take to embrace and then resolve your feelings?
Being able to label your emotion—your affect—is an essential skill. We say you should “name it to tame it.” This skill is very valuable. Neuroscientists have discovered it’s a critical coping mechanism.
If we say, “wow, I’m furious! I’m really angry!” it’s very helpful. Yes, you will still feel angry, but naming your affect soothes your limbic system—your amygdala—and brings your frontal lobe online. This shift allows you to rationally sort through how to deal with the situation, rather than being hijacked by the emotion.
From there, look at the trigger. Why is this bothering you? Why are you angry? Then take steps to address the issue. You may find there’s something about the situation you can quickly remedy or correct. Collect data about the trigger, and it will give you more data and a clear path to cope with the situation you’re facing.
Remember, our emotions are really helpful cues about what’s going on inside of us. Identifying our feelings helps us connect with our yearnings—what we really want—and direct our path toward living a life of more purpose and greater fulfillment.
For more ways to connect with your emotions, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll connect with others on their transformational journey. We’re also proud to announce many of our courses are available online for download. Don’t miss this great opportunity and a special, introductory price.
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.