Often in our culture today, we think of anger as a negative emotion. We think about anger as something we need to do away with. If we get too angry, it can be scary. We might have to go to anger management classes. So many of us push down our anger and stuff it, not letting it see the light of day.
Anger is Useful
I think the inability to feel and express our anger is actually a big problem. Anger is an incredibly powerful emotion, and we need anger in our lives. But most of us don’t know what to do with our anger. We don’t understand its purpose.
Anger and Injustice
We often feel angry because an injustice has occurred. It might be something that has been done to us, or perhaps something that has been done to someone we love and care for. Anger is our body’s way of letting us know that a boundary needs to be set, and it needs to be set RIGHT NOW. Anger motivates us to draw a line in the sand, to call something out as NOT OKAY.
Anger Motivates Us to Action
Anger motivates us to take action. This is a good thing. Often in our lives, we need to take action. Anger can help us do that.
Anger Without Action Festers Inside Us
Here’s where anger becomes a problem: When we feel anger, but then we don’t or can’t take action, our anger has nowhere to go. In these situations, anger can fester inside us, and it can make us miserable.
My wife had this experience not too long ago. She had been hurt by someone several years ago, and was recently reminded about what happened. She felt angry. The anger motivated her to action, but there wasn’t really an action she could take. She wasn’t in relationship with the person anymore, and reengaging into relationship wouldn’t be healthy for her. The anger had nowhere to go, so it festered, which made my wife unhappy.
A similar situation can happen when a person is angry with someone who has passed away. The anger is real and warranted. But there’s nothing to “do” with the anger, because the person is dead. So the anger festers and eats the person up inside.
4 Steps to Work Through Anger
Here are 4 steps to work through when you feel angry:
- Notice and accept your angry feelings. It’s okay to feel angry. Remember, anger has a purpose. When you feel angry, don’t try to push it down inside you or avoid it. Feel your angry feelings fully. All feelings are valid and have a place in a full, healthy life.
- What action does your anger motivate you to do? When we feel angry, it often means an injustice has occurred. Anger motivates us to set a boundary and stop the injustice. If there is an action you can take to stop the injustice, DO IT. Let your anger fuel you and take action. By all means, do something to stop the injustice if you can.
- Consider a symbolic action. Sometimes when we feel angry, there is nothing we can do to set a boundary in real life. Maybe your situation is like my wife’s, where the event was in the past and the relationship no longer exists. Or maybe you’re feeling angry with someone who has died. Is there something symbolic you could do to set a boundary with the person in your heart and mind? For example, you could take a picture or object that reminds you of the person, and destroy it. Think about whether you might be able to take action and set a boundary in a symbolic way.
- Consider forgiveness. When we feel angry, forgiveness often seems like the last thing we want to do. Part of the reason we resist forgiveness is that we think forgiveness means we have to get back together with the person who hurt us, or say what happened was okay. Forgiveness isn’t any of these things—forgiveness is a way you can take back control of your life and find peace. Haven’t you let this person dominate your thoughts long enough? For your own sake, let it go.
Discussion: What do you think is the purpose of anger? How do you deal with anger in your own life? Next time you feel angry, see if you can take action as soon as possible, either in a literal or symbolic way. If there is no action to take (or if you have already taken action), try to let it go for your own peace and happiness.