I’ve spent a good amount of time in my life believing that I could or should be working to a point where I no longer feel anger. Spiritually, I’ve believed anger to be a selfish emotion used to get what it wants by force. I have seen this at work many times and have never been able to make peace with the consequences anger results in. I’ve been hurt by the anger of others and my anger has hurt others. I’ve spent periods of my life submitting to another person’s will for fear that they will respond in anger if I do not. I long thought that the only way I could change this was to respond with equal force. I practiced this and got better at it, but I never have felt like it was something I wanted to do if I didn’t have to. All of this searching has led me to is this: when used in any situation other than that which poses a threat of physical or psychological harm, the hurt that anger brings about far outweighs the benefit of accomplishing whatever goal the anger intends. This turns into a cycle, as one person’s anger is received by another as a threat and anger is often the chosen response. Anger begets anger.
I am writing about this today because I am feeling angry. I notice when I write that phrase “I am feeling angry” I am afraid of judgment and of scaring others away. This has kept me from expressing my anger many times. Here, I’d like to make the distinction between using and expressing anger. Using anger is what we do when we intend to accomplish a goal with our anger. Things like blowing up to get your way or getting angry to deter people from asking more questions are examples of this. Expressing anger is when the anger is spoken about, but not in a way that holds others hostage or coerces them into a specific course of action. This can sound something like “I’m feeling angry that nobody’s listening to me,” or “I feel angry because we aren’t doing what I wanted to do!” When we express anger, we validate its purpose and give it a voice. This can give others the ability to change course without feeling like they are being pushed into it. And when others don’t change course? Expressing that anger almost always lessens its effects on us and allows us to get at what’s beneath, which is fear or sadness.
Anger protects us from situations that may cause us harm. There are times when this is valuable, but for most of us, these situations are fewer now than ever before in human history. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t feel anger, though. In fact, anger gives us good information about what we need to do to protect ourselves. Also, by feeling the anger, we often expose the fear or sadness that’s underneath. We should listen. Once the message has been received, though, we have the ability to take that energy and use it to accomplish our goals without hurting others; to express our anger without using it. When we do this, we create stronger, more trusting relationships with others and open ourselves up to a deeper understanding of our deepest motivations.