I believe that anger is good. Unfortunately it is usually expressed badly. In most relationships I know expression of anger has lead to problems. And this has lead to anger itself being regarded as something bad. If you had an irrationally angry and violent parent you will have lots of memories of the damage that badly expressed anger can do.
So why do I think anger is good?
- It provides important information. We get angry when something important to us has is threatened or violated. (It may be something important in the grand scheme of thing, something quite trivial, or, perhaps more importantly, something we didn’t know we valued.) When we are angry something important is going on. If we are surprised by our anger it may be worth stopping and reflecting to find out what is important to us.
- It is an energetic state. When we are angry we have the energy to engage. And it is the energy to examine something, dismiss what is unimportant or doesn’t meet our need and find what is valuable. This is the negative side of anger. It is also the energy to initiate. Briefly put: forget that, I’m doing this!
Unfortunately for some people it seems that anger is the only energy they can use to engage. The good sex they have is angry sex, they prefer intense arguments to discussion. This can even be anger done well. But they still miss out on delicacy and softness.
What isn’t anger good for?
- Sustained effort. Anger is a very energetic state (you can’t sleep for instance). So sustaining it for long is very draining. Anger is to be used to do something and then moved on from. If we carry unresolved anger with us we can end up quite exhausted. To sustain something we need to be engaged in what we are doing, or find the result we are seeking to be worthwhile.
- Learning. Anger tends to get in the way of calm reflection or playing.
What about other people’s anger?
So far we have talked about doing our own anger well. Can we respond well to other people’s anger?
If you have significant abuse by an angry person in your past, possibly not. If so it is possible for this to be healed. In my view part of healing is looking after our vulnerabilities; so it may well be worth avoiding situations where anger is likely.
How can we respond to someone else’s anger?
- Consider leaving. Especially if you think violence is likely. Especially if the person seems irrational. Consider if you can leave safely and then do so if you can.
- Engage with the content. If the person is angry about something done to them, or something that has happened, you can give your response or listen to theirs.
- Reflect their intensity. Especially if the person sounds frustrated it can help to let them know that you hear the intensity of the emotion. Something as simple as, “You’r really angry” or “You really care about this” can be helpful.
- If you are puzzled about what they are angry about you may find it helpful to ask yourself: What is the feeling or need at issue here? You can also tell them that you don’t understand (they may not know either or they may tell you. In either case they won’t just stay stuck.)
Usually, responding comfortably to other’s anger means being comfortable with our own.
Anger is still something our society doesn’t do well. Like the rest of our emotions we are not taught its value nor how to express it well. And it is usually regarded as unacceptable in some relationships (a school student is not entitled to angry with a teacher usually – however bad a teacher or arbitrary their discipline). One sign of this is that people will pay to watch movies that are almost entirely about anger and violence. People don’t spend this amount of time and money unless it meets some need.
I think it is time for anger to be seen as what it is (energy to defend what is precious to us and initiate change). If ever the world needed defense of what is precious and new ways of life initiated, that time is now. Whether in planetary terms or in our relationships, I think we need the energy of anger.
I would like to hear from you about how you do anger in your life. And if you know of anyone who you think does anger well. Please let me know in the comments.
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Anger is Good
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