Anger is an emotion everyone feels. Despite what some people think, it’s normal, okay and healthy to get angry. Unfortunately, too many people see anger as a feeling that is supposed to be avoided. But in reality it can’t be avoided, because it’s a natural emotion for all of us. It’s simply being human to get angry.
Life is just going to make all of us angry sometimes. Our credit card number gets stolen for the third time. Telemarketers keep calling our phone. We have to meet with our child’s teacher, again. But oftentimes anger lets us know something is wrong. We might get angry when a coworker speaks to us disrespectfully or we find our partner has been texting someone inappropriately.
What can make anger a problem is what we do with it. Punching a hole in the wall is a problem. Yelling at our kids is a problem. Obsessing about how someone hurt us is a problem. We can link anger to all of these actions and blame it, but really the problem is not the anger, it’s what we’re doing with the feeling.
In my anger management classes with men I routinely hear of anger outbursts that result in troubling behaviors such as the ones described above. Obviously these destructive behaviors need to change. But a common misconception about anger management is that the goal is to eliminate anger. The goal is to learn to “manage” anger. The classes are called anger “management,” not anger “elimination,” for a reason.
Here is a quote often attributed to Buddha, but probably from Alcoholics Anonymous: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
This quote exposes one of the most dangerous traps about anger. When we feel angry, we often want someone or something else to feel pain too. Most often our anger hurts no one but us. So comparing anger to poison is a good and helpful analogy for us to use to understand its power and effect.
How does anger kill us? Anger can cause physical problems such as headaches, high blood pressure and even a heart attack. Being productive can be difficult when we’re angry. We’re not able to focus well on anything productive while we’re consumed with who or what has made us so mad. Holding on to anger can be very destructive to our relationships as well. We can easily lash out at those closest to us, or be impatient and irritable.
However, anger can actually be good for us when we use it and manage it correctly. Anger doesn’t have to be bad for us if we’ll allow ourselves to feel and acknowledge it. It doesn’t have to be bad for us if we determine what’s causing it and deal with that instead of ignoring it. It’s when we hold on to anger and let it have a destructive effect on us that anger hurts us.
Start to see anger not as an enemy to be avoided, but a helpful friend to be managed. It’s then that you take away its power to destroy you and harness its ability to help you.