Of all the emotions, anger is perhaps the one that most people have the hardest time dealing with. This is likely because anger is not like other emotions. It is unique. In fact, a 2017 Mental Health Foundation survey of 2000 people found that 28% are sometimes worried about the level of anger they feel.
While feeling anger can have negative consequences, in general, anger can move us toward a happier and healthier life. If we allow ourselves to listen to our anger, find the lessons it is trying to teach us and turn this into a value-based actionable behavior, anger can be a gift. Unfortunately, many don’t receive it as a gift. Instead they look at it as the enemy. And what do we typically do with an enemy? We fight it.
If you’re like many reading this, you’ve come to realize the futility in fighting your emotions.
Here are five ways anger is not like other emotions.
Anger Is Motivating
Anger gives us energy. While other emotions tend to make us withdraw from areas in life, anger causes us to want to engage. Anger is the motivator that gets us to interact with other people, perhaps those we feel are negatively impacting our life. Anger is what often catapults us into social situations and events that are necessary to bring about change. Take, for example, the current social climate and protests happening all over the country.
Anger is a very activating emotion.
Anger Is Complicated
Anger is not a singular experience, but rather a group of feelings. When we become angry, it is because we first feel something else: marginalized, hurt, disrespected, vulnerable, or neglected. This is why anger is often referred to as the secondary emotion. There is always a primary emotion. And this is why it is so complicated for many people.
In anger therapy sessions, most clients are surprised when I ask them, “What is the primary emotion?” They typically have no idea what I mean by this question. More often than not, it’s very difficult for them to identify their primary emotion.
Figure out the underlying emotion, and you are one step closer to turning anger into a useful tool.
Anger Loves To Be Expressed
Other emotions can simply be felt silently, like sadness, grief, and guilt. But not anger. Anger is sexy. Anger wants to be famous. Anger is like that rockstar on stage that wants to put on a show. Anger wants everyone to see, hear, and know about it. Unfortunately, most people direct their anger at the wrong people, at the wrong times, and for the wrong reasons.
Taming your inner “rock star” is critical if you want to build lasting relationships and a fulfilling life.
Anger can be turned in word or outward
While we are directing that anger outwardly, and sometimes toward the wrong people, we can just as easily direct it inward toward ourselves. This shows up in the form of self-hatred, self-loathing, and negative self-beliefs. It’s often expressed outwardly in the form of depression for both men and women. Generally we don’t even realize we are doing it until the emotional damage is done and laid waste to parts of our lives.
Anger is hazardous to your health
Feeling sad is uncomfortable. Feeling guilty is unpleasant. Feeling embarrassed is awkward.
But being chronically angry is downright bad for your health. Research has discovered that people prone to chronic anger are at increased risk of heart attacks, cancer, strokes, and more health-related problems.
While anger can be destructive to relationships and your health, it can also energize us and lead to positive life changes, if harnessed properly. Think of anger like a wild stallion; if you try to match it’s energy, you’re going to get trampled. However, it you learn to tame it with a gentle and curious approach, it can be a tremendous asset.
The keys to using anger in a healthy way are to become aware of when you feel it, recognize the real cause of it, and commit to interpreting its message so you can make the necessary changes.
Anger can be a blessing or a curse. It can be a guide and a voice as well as a warning sign that someone or something is violating your boundaries and not good for you.
Life is too short to feel angry all the time for seemingly no reason. If you are having difficulty learning to tame your anger and turn it into a useful tool, find an awesome therapist you like and trust so you can start thriving!
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists take control and move From Surviving to Thriving.