Like many people, I was raised to believe that anger is a bad thing. As someone who has felt angry for most of my life, I finally learned to embrace the anger I often feel inside. Choosing to embrace my anger was much more constructive than trying to stop it from happening, or worse, stuffing it down inside until I erupted.
I’ve always felt a mild anger raging inside of me that at times, would grow out of proportion. As a child and teen, I was put into several anger management programs. They didn’t work. As an adult, I put myself into several anger management programs and spent thousands with the intention of magically not feeling angry anymore. It didn’t work. The problem with a lot of these types of programs is that they are largely focused around not being angry anymore. Trying to stop anger rarely works, especially if the root of is has not been discovered or understood. Ignoring anger doesn’t make it go away. Like all emotions, anger needs an outlet! Acknowledging and expressing anger in constructive, healthy ways can actually help to improve your life.
Through my lifelong work with anger, I realized that being angry wasn’t really the problem, it was the beliefs I held about anger. I would often feel angry about being angry. Unfortunately, many people have been taught to think that:
- You shouldn’t feel angry.
- You shouldn’t express your anger.
- That nobody will like you if you are angry.
- Angry people are bad.
- Being angry must mean that you are sad.
- All anger is destructive.
- Anger isn’t healthy.
- Angry people are mean people who can’t be helped.
These ideas are simply not true. Don’t get me wrong, anger can be incredibly destructive but when properly understood, it can turn into something constructive. There are different levels of anger and it’s important to understand where you are on the scale. If your anger is ruining your life, then it’s time to start digging deeper. Feeling angry and acting upon anger are two different things.
A family member would always accuse me of being an angry person, which was incredibly hurtful and would end up causing me to feel even more angry. I realized that by her accusing me of something that wasn’t true was incredibly toxic behavior on her part. Labelling me as something that is generally seen as being “bad” was a manipulation strategy in order for her to try and get me into acting the way that she wanted me to. In short, it wasn’t about me but it was that my behaviors were not meeting this family members expectations. She wanted me to believe that my anger was “bad or shameful” so that she could continue getting her own way. Feeling angry is healthy and normal.
In order to start viewing my anger in a more positive light, I began to ask myself what need my anger was meeting for me. In fact, I noticed that I got a lot more done when I felt angry and that many times, it motivated me to improve my life. I decided to stop feeling so guilty about my anger and instead, decided to put it to work in a more constructive way in my life.
What you might not realize is that your anger is serving you in some way and may even be trying to help you.
Here are some ways that your anger might be serving you (in a positive way) and why you shouldn’t feel guilty about feeling angry:
It’s alerting you that your boundaries may have been crossed and is protecting you.
Anger is often a sign that a boundary has been crossed. We can’t always control the behaviors of others but we can certainly control our own. If you feel like your boundaries have been crossed anywhere in your life, take the cue from anger to start creating stronger boundaries. Anger can create a victim mentality that also doesn’t serve anybody. Deciding not to remain a victim in any situation does not mean that what happened was ok or justified. What it means is that you have decided to take charge of your life and put the proper boundaries in place to protect yourself in the future.
It’s protecting you or your loved ones from danger.
Anger is oftentimes, a very protective emotion. In what ways does feeling angry serve as a way to protect yourself or those you care about? How can you channel it in a way that protects you but that is also not destructive to yourself or others?
It’s sadness in disguise.
This one is oftentimes tied to the beliefs we hold about how feeling sad is also somehow bad or wrong. So instead of acknowledging and allowing yourself to feel or appear sad, it comes out as anger instead. Anger that stems from unexpressed sadness can be the most destructive. Allow yourself to feel sad, even if it scares you. And if it hurts too much, reach out for support from a professional or someone you trust.
It’s motivating you to improve your life or to take positive action for change.
For me, my anger has been incredibly motivating. It’s pushed me to get important stuff done, to stand up for myself and my rights and to take positive action. Feeling angry can help you move out of victim mode and into victor mode. So long as nobody gets hurt in the process, this can be the most constructive form of anger.
Anger can help motivate you get out of a negative relationship, to stand up to bullies, to speak up and even to feel more confident when channelled appropriately.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when you feel angry:
What need is this anger fulfilling for me?
This may not be an easy question to answer. If you feel like you’re angry all the time, asking yourself this question might prove to be an extremely effective way to begin understanding what’s behind the constant anger. You might be surprised to learn that anger is meeting a very important need in your life.
What injustices are occuring around me?
You may feel a more low-key, simmering type of anger when witnessing injustices or it may compel you to have an angry reaction that is not constructive. In this case, learn what you can do to stand up to the injustices in ways that are constructive, positive and helpful. How can you make a positive difference?
What am I trying to control and is this actually within my control?
A feeling of helplessness, powerlessness or unworthiness can breed long-term anger and may even have you trying to control almost everything in your life. Control is a protective mechanism but is often destructive. This is especially true if you find yourself trying to control things that aren’t really in your control. What part of your life are you trying to protect from wanting to control and how does it feed into your anger?
What expectations are not being met or fulfilled for me?
Holding unrealistic expectations of yourself, others or of situations can lead to anger if your expectations are not met. If this is the case, ask yourself if your expectations are realistic or not? Managing expectations can have a big impact on the level of anger you feel and the potential of it not surfacing as a negative reaction in the future. With this type of anger, there is almost always another type of feeling involved that is being disguised as anger or angry reactions. Examples could be: not feeling heard or seen, rejection, feelings of unworthiness, guilt or shame.
Anger should never be bottled up or used to hurt yourself or others. Stuffing down or ignoring feelings of anger only make things worse in the long run and can even have unpleasant physical effects on the body. It’s important to find healthy ways to express your anger.
Here are some constructive ways to get your anger out, that don’t hurt yourself or others:
- Set constructive, healthy boundaries in your life and learn how to enforce them.
- Take positive action with the intention to create positive change for either yourself or your community.
- Get the body moving through exercise, dance, shaking or jumping up and down.
- Talk about how you feel with someone you trust or journal about it on your own.
- Cry it out.
- Rate your anger without judgement.
- Admit to yourself (or others) that you are angry without guilt or shame. This is a helpful exercise if you hold the belief that anger is wrong or bad. It’s ok and natural to feel anger from time to time.
- Channel the anger into making art or a creative project (cooking, sewing, crafting, designing, etc.).
- Is this anger or sadness? Learn to understand the difference.
I hope this article has helped you to reframe how you think about anger. As always, seek the assistance of a professional if you feel like your anger is becoming out of control or if you are worried that you might hurt yourself or someone else. Anger is a healthy emotion but it’s important not to put yourself or others in danger or at risk of long-term negative effects that you may regret later on. Be smart and safe about your anger by taking a pause before reacting to something that angers you. You got this.
In my coaching programs, I help people to better understand their emotions in order for them to create more positive experiences in their lives. To learn more, click here.
Good luck along your journey!