We tend to see anger as an awful thing. We see it as aggressive and explosive. We associate it with being completely out of control and seething with rage.
According to clinical psychologist Mitch Abblett, Ph.D, “Most of us have memories of times when either we’ve unleashed our anger and/or had someone do so to us, and those memories stick.”
While anger can be fiery and volatile, it also can be productive and effective. It can be an asset. In fact, when harnessed, anger can be a creative tool.
Abblett noted that anger can be “a glowing source of energy for lighting our way through challenging relationships where others might be stepping on our toes; pushing for needed changes in your workplace culture when it’s toxic; and perhaps even making yourself heard when certain people in your life [like family] are used to tuning you out with assumptions and their own agendas.”
Anger, he said, provides us with the “emotional fuel” to advocate for ourselves, to take skillful action, and to stand up for what’s right.
Anger energizes us. It emboldens us.
Below, you’ll find eight expert tips for channeling your anger into powerful, productive action.
See your anger as information. What is your anger trying to communicate to you? For instance, anger is a signal that our personal boundaries have been violated in some way, Hall said. Maybe your anger tells you that someone has disrespected you and has spoken to you in a demeaning way, she said. Your anger can then inspire you to talk to that person (in a clear, kind manner) and maintain your boundary. (More on what that looks like below.)
Focus on your sensations. Both Hall and Abblett suggested shifting your attention to the way your body feels when you’re angry. Maybe you get a headache, feel hot, experience tension in your face, have trouble concentrating, need to move, and have a pounding heart, Hall said. Knowing the early signs of your anger can help you effectively intervene—and not wait until it rises to an unmanageable level.
Get to the root. Hall recommended exploring what’s really making you so upset. For instance, “are you upset because your friend is 5 minutes late or is there a bigger issue…a pattern of them not valuing you or your time?”
You might even take a few minutes to journal about your anger and its origins. Maybe it turns out that a certain incident touched a tender part of your past. Maybe your anger toward your boss stems from you not liking your job in the first place.
Detach from unhelpful thoughts. Listen to “your thoughts without believing them,” said Abblett, author of the book From Anger to Action: Powerful Mindfulness Tools to Help Teens Harness Anger for Positive Change. For example, he said, you automatically think, “He’s such a jerk!” Instead, add these words to create some distance: “Right here and now, my mind is telling me that he is such a jerk.”
Name your other emotions. What emotions do you feel about your anger? These are known as secondary emotions. According to Hall, after feeling angry, you might feel embarrassed, guilty, ashamed, proud, bold, or confident.
“These secondary feelings that may arise as a result of feeling anger can speak to some of the ways you learned to relate to expressions of anger.” This is also helpful information.
Learn to calm down quickly. It’s impossible to think rationally—and thereby entertain creative solutions—when you’re in a fiery rage. To reduce your anger, Hall suggested taking a brief walk, breathing deeply, stretching, or practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Such activities help you to refocus and counter the tension, she said.
Get some clarity. To access productive anger, Abblett shared these clarifying questions we can ask ourselves:
- Am I thinking facts based on my senses, or am I automatically believing biased, distorted, blaming, and judgmental thoughts?
- What actually is right now?
- What would be the skillful thing I could do next that would move things forward in a meaningful way?
- What does this situation call for when I look at things clearly?
Express yourself respectfully. To turn your anger into effective communication, Hall suggested using the below steps. They’re part of DEAR in DEARMAN, a skill from dialectical behavior therapy for interpersonal effectiveness.
- Describe the facts you’ve noticed: “I’ve noticed that we each have something of value to say; however, every time I begin sharing something with the group, I get talked over.”
- Express your feelings or opinions: “Being talked over makes me angry because I am less involved in the process and cannot meaningfully contribute.” Or ” It makes me upset because I feel excluded from the team and that’s difficult for me.”
- Assert what you need: “I’d love to be able to share my thoughts without being interrupted or talked over.”
- Reinforce how your request will benefit the other person: “It would make me feel close to you and valued by you if you heard me out because I’d know that you value what I am trying to say.”
Anger is a complicated emotion that’s regularly misconstrued. Yet, we can use anger as a helpful messenger, a spark to take significant action, or a tool to improve our relationships and our lives.
The key is to harness your anger, to channel it. I hope the above helps you to do just that.