Making good use of anger? Come on, really? We are taught from a very young age that anger is wrong and to express anger is even worse. So what the heck am I doing trying to say it can be useful? Stay with me on this one. It makes sense.
LESSON ONE: CONTRARY TO WHAT MANY BELIEVE, ANGER IS NOT A PRIMARY EMOTION. IT IS A REACTION TO A DEEPER UNDERLYING EMOTION.
One of my clients has spent years operating under the idea that she has a problem with anger. She was told this over and over by those close to her, most often when her anger was directed at them. Through her therapy work and willingness to face the ‘hard stuff’, she has learned that her anger is most often a reaction to the hurt that surfaces when she experiences familiar childhood feelings of being unlovable and unimportant. Like so many of us, she has chosen adult relationships which replicate those of her childhood. She works to redeem her inner child by proving herself to be loveable and important. When this was not received in the relationships she built, she was hurt and reacted with anger. Most often anger is simply the tip of an emotional iceberg.
LESSON TWO: ANGER CAN BE DIRECTED AT SELF, OTHERS, OR THE UNIVERSE AT LARGE. ONE THING IS CERTAIN, IT IS OFTEN MISDIRECTED.
Consider the woman who discovers her husband has had an affair. She is hurt by the betrayal and reacts with anger. Her anger seems to diminish as there is apparent reconciliation. It is, however, redirected with a vengeance at the person with whom he was unfaithful. This is a common and damaging misdirection. It masks the hurt and abandonment which remain unresolved in the relationship with her husband.
We have all seen (or BEEN) the angry driver whose face becomes contorted as he spews profanity, obvious to lip readers. Is he really so angry at the person who beat him to the merge point? No, this is a reaction to a deeper emotion. Maybe something as simple as being beat to the merge recreates the image of his father screaming ‘loser’ as he allows a goal into his team’s soccer net. Although it would be painful, this driver would benefit from working to understand what lies beneath the surface and causes him to react in anger to total strangers.
LESSON THREE: ANGER CAN BE UNHEALTHY AND DESTRUCTIVE. CONVERSELY, IT CAN BE HEALTHY AND USEFUL.
When we give free reign to anger and do not work to understand the source, it is unhealthy and always destructive. The function of anger is lost if it is randomly spewed into the universe. It becomes bitterness and rage, causing self-abandonment as life becomes joyless and relationships are destroyed.
As a reaction, anger is a warning sign of something deeper…something unresolved…something painful. Heeding that warning can allow us to go through the process of acknowledging our pain and understanding the impact it has on life choices. Armed with that knowledge, we are able to move forward aware of triggers which cause unhealthy choices. We can understand and avoid the reactivity caused by the self-abandonment of denying our pain.