Anger, like the rest of our emotions, are part of what makes us human. Indeed, evolution has gifted us with a brain that is driven by our emotional responses to our environment. As much as we pride ourselves on our intelligence and logic, they often sit in the passenger seat when we
- make decisions
- navigate relationships with partners, work colleagues and friends
- deal with many of our day-to-day experiences
- get through our busy working days
Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we feel anger; we sometimes just don’t let it out in very obvious ways.
Of all our emotions, the one that we seem to sanction most is anger. We feel uncomfortable expressing it and look negatively at people who don’t “keep themselves under control”. It strikes me that this could be one of our most useful emotions. While we don’t want people having tantrums all over the place, anger can be a signal: a useful indication of something that is not quite right and needs changing in our lives.
It is possible to learn to be aware of our anger and to give it appropriate expression without damaging reputation or relationships.
So what use can you make of your anger? Recall a recent situation in which you felt anger. Choose a situation that would be no more than 3 or 4 out of 10 on your angry scale. Now ask yourself these questions:
What needs changing in my life?
Anger can be an sign that all is not right in our world. It seems justified to feel angry about our partner demanding that we let them know what time we’ll be home when we go out, while at the same time not bothering to tell us when they’ll be back. Our anger about this can mean that the situation needs changing. Anger can be a catalyst to get us off our behinds and do something about it. It can indicate something about our relationship needs brought out into the open and talking through, rather than simmering below the surface.
What does my anger remind me of from my past?
Anger can be a signal telling us that there is something about ourselves that has been hurt in the past and needs healing. Thinking about the situation you brought to mind, ask: “Who was I angry with?”…..then “Who was I REALLY angry with?” or “What was I angry about?”….then “What was I REALLY angry about?” As we grow in self-awareness, we learn that there are some things from our past that have been left undone. These may be painful, scary or toxic but making connections between our present anger and past hurts can be incredibly healing and beneficial for us.
Looking at some of these past hurts can be the first step to clearing them out so they no longer infect us with the same amount of toxicity. It is vital that we turn these events and relationships from things which still push our buttons, to things that are just stories we tell. Having a good old clear out will assist us to release our spontaneity, creativity and vitality.
Was my anger a sign of real danger or threat?
Anger is part of our evolutionary hard-wiring which sets off when we are under threat. Think of a house alarm; it knows there is an “intruder” but it isn’t able to recognise if the “intruder” is a genuine intruder or just us when we forget to disarm it. It goes off in either case. This emotional hard-wiring acts similarly. We may be under actual danger or someone may have said something to us that sets the alarm off as if it were dangerous, but is actually not a serious threat.
Were you being undermined in some way? Were you being compromised somehow? Was your partner blaming you for his or her own failings? Were you feeing under pressure or bullied in some way by your boss or work colleagues?
It is useful to examine these questions and find out if there was any truth in them or if your anger was the result of something else that set off your internal warning siren. Once this becomes clearer, we can then learn ways to communicate to others or clear up misunderstandings if there was a threat to our sense of well-being or self-esteem.
Anger in these kinds of situations is a good “watch-dog” and can let us know if we need to do something to maintain a positive sense of self.
Having a good clear out
Left unattended, anger can simmer and become destructive–to ourselves, to our relationships with others or to our wider world. Whether we like it or not, it will find a way out. Do we keep such a tight lid on it that it oozes out via a passive-aggressive communication style? Do we expend so much energy on it to the point that we poison ourselves with chronic stress?
It is absolutely possible to learn to be in control of ourselves while at the same time, learning more about our emotions and how to express them well. With greater self-awareness, we develop emotional regulation, which means we are able to express all of our emotions in a mature and appropriate fashion. Authenticity is about being who you are–ALL of you. We need to embrace all of our emotions, including anger, and become aware of what messages they are trying to send us.
Learn about your anger and how to befriend it
If you are wondering about your own anger, what it means or how you express it, and would like to talk it through with someone confidentially, contact me.