Anger has a bad reputation, yet it is a natural and valid human emotion just as sadness and joy are. Often, as children we are taught that it is wrong to be angry and that if we show our anger we can begin to believe that we are bad for having done so.
I remember as a child, I was given the clear message that anger was not acceptable. This message came from teachers, family and society. My anger was met with punishment or rejection, and as such I learnt to suppress it rather than learn how to use it in a more productive way. This suppressed anger would then either turn into resentment or it would be turned inwards towards myself. What I was not taught as a child, and had to relearn as an adult, is that anger is not bad and that it can be a very useful and helpful emotion.
Anger is on a scale and it can range from mild annoyance to full blown rage. Anger can be both helpful and harmful depending on how it is expressed. There are many unhelpful styles on reacting to anger, such as passive aggressiveness, suppression, aggressive confrontation, holding onto resentments. Yet there are alternative ways of managing anger so that it can be channeled and used productively.
Anger can be used to empower us and take action. It can be used to defend ourselves and those close to us. It gives us a voice to express unfairness and injustice that is done to us or to those that we love. It can also bring people together to fight for social injustices. Anger can improve our relationships and allow us to get our needs met. However, there can be a less positive side to anger. Anger can become destructive, where it causes issues to the person who is angry and to those around them. Consequences of dysfunctional anger can result in, the loss of a job, poor relationships, sustained unpleasant feelings.
Constructive anger is proportional to the event, it is expressed in a non-harming way, its purpose is to lead towards the resolution of an issue and it is usually expressed very soon after it arises. Dysfunctional anger is when it feels out of proportion to the event, it is harmful to self and/or others, there is no forward progress and the anger continues, or the anger is dwelt on and suppressed.
Understanding your anger
When trying to understand anger it can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions. If you journal this might be a good place to explore your relationship to anger (click here to see my blog on journaling)
- How was anger expressed in your family?
- What was the messages you were given as a child about your own anger?
- What triggers you to feel angry?
- How do you react when you get angry?
- Is how you react helpful?
- If you react unhelpfully what are the payoffs of expressing anger in this way?
- What are the consequences of how you deal with anger?
- Have you had a situation in the past where you were angry but you dealt with it in a way that lead to a helpful resolution?