We all get angry. Whether it’s at the driver who cut us off in traffic or at the obnoxious person talking on a cell phone in a movie theater, all of us know what it’s like to feel irritated. Although some of us may be more prone to extreme anger than others, there’s not a person alive who hasn’t felt mad at someone or something. The irony is that while anger is a universal emotion, it almost always has a negative stigma associated with it.
Women in particular often feel shame when they experience anger, as they may feel that it makes them a bad person or signifies that they aren’t handling a situation properly. Just the word “anger” can bring to mind images of physical retaliation, violence, and abuse. However, there is a clear distinction between feeling angry and behaving aggressively. Of course hitting, punching, or harming someone is never appropriate (with the exception of self-defense), but when it comes to the emotion of anger, there are actually some practical benefits to it.
While aggression is damaging to relationships, the internal cue of anger can actually be empowering.
The main advantage of feeling angry is that you have a natural, physiological signal that something is wrong. Anger is just information in your body telling you that something needs to be attended to. It doesn’t need to be a moral issue at all. Anger can motivate you to take a stand or set a boundary if necessary. For example, if you’re being mistreated by a colleague at work, you likely will feel angry as a response. If channeled properly, this emotion can help you advocate for yourself and address the problem.
So since it’s not “bad” to feel anger, what’s the best way to express it? In a word: directly.
If someone in your life is making you upset, it can be beneficial to approach him or her and say, “I’m mad at you.” This may sound harsh, but it’s so much better to be forthcoming than beat around the bush. If you don’t address a problem directly, you’ll address it indirectly. When you feel that anger creeping up (and we all do at times), practice saying, “I’m mad,” “I’m angry,” or “I’m upset.” Communicating this assertion may be uncomfortable, but it actually shows that you value the other person enough to express what you’re truly feeling (instead of simply ignoring him or her).
There’s an important distinction to be made between being legitimately angry and just complaining. Although there’s no shortage of problems in our world to vent about, constant negativity brings everyone down, so I’m not suggesting you whine or grumble. But still, if someone that you’re close to has said or done something that makes you angry, I encourage you to not ignore that feeling but instead to use it to problem-solve. We may have been socially conditioned to suppress this emotion, but I’m of the firm belief that those who are unaware of their anger or try to conceal it actually end up creating more problems for themselves. Bottling up negative feelings is harmful to your relationships and your emotional well-being. By being honest and addressing a problem, you can maintain–and even strengthen–your connection with another person.
Please don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that it’s good to frequently become (irrationally) angry at small things. Yes, people can overreact, and yes, there are certainly individuals who have a real problem with anger management. I am simply saying that when you get angry, take a closer look at the reason, and determine how you can best use this feeling to make a positive change.
It’s a really important emotion, so don’t ignore or bury it!
What are your experiences with anger? What underlying challenges or needs is your anger masking? How can you use this emotion to problem-solve in your relationships with others?