Anger has gotten some pretty bad press in the past couple of decades (centuries, maybe?). I’ve heard things like “my anger doesn’t serve me”, “anger is evil and unnecessary” and “I refuse to get angry”. From early in our childhoods to well into our adulthood and beyond, the message that often gets repeated is something like: Anger bad. Happy good. How unfortunate!
Not only does your anger protect you, it also signals that a boundary has been crossed or an injustice has occurred, and it is your body’s innate wisdom alerting you to this fact. I often reference the fantastic sociologist and scientist, Karla McLaren, who is a pioneer in emotion research and emotion linguistics. Her book “The Language of Emotions” is a must-read for anyone who struggles with understanding emotions. In this book, she refers to anger as “The Honorable Sentry” that helps us maintain our boundaries, communicate effectively with others, and restore our dignity.
THE WRONG ASSOCIATION
For most individuals, anger is associated with violent rage, interpersonal arguments that go south, being mean to others, or hurting someone intentionally. Essentially, it’s learned that anger is something to be ashamed of and repressed. None of these represents what anger wants us to do. To lash out and hurt another person only leads to internal and external pain, and drives us into potential despair, depression, and physical discomfort. To repress may even be more dangerous, because it pulls your further away from your authenticity, it creates a deep imbalance both emotionally and physically, and creates more opportunities for pain and boundary violations to occur in your life. You become more vulnerable if you shun, dismiss, or deny your anger.
HOW TO WORK WITH ANGER
So, what’s the healthy approach to working with your anger instead of betraying and denying it? First it’s important to understand the nuances of anger, the way your body feels when anger arises, and the messages you received about anger. Anger comes in many forms, and most of us don’t like to admit to anger so we use words like: annoyed, frustrated, pissed off, irritated, irked, upset, etc. If these feelings come up for you, that is anger doing its job. It’s telling you: “Something doesn’t feel right. My boundary feels violated…I don’t like what is happening”. Excellent, now you know that anger is present.
The second is that anger usually manifests in our bodies in many ways: tightening of the stomach, heat rising from your face, quick breathing, intense focus, and a keen awareness of your surroundings. When these two feelings and sensations happen you’ll likely experience two things (since we are often taught two black-and-white forms of expression): the desire to attack or the need to suppress and slap a wobbly smile on your face.
There is ALWAYS more than one way to respond, and it does not have to be those two ways. In fact, it shouldn’t be. The other option you have is working with your anger, or as Karla McLaren says, “channeling” your anger so that you can right the wrong with honor and reassert your boundaries safely and appropriately.
Acting assertively is often the best choice, because it respects your rights and the rights of the person who wronged you. You’re not saying “you’re a piece of shit and I hate you” nor are you saying “oh, you’re right, I guess it’s all good”. What you’re saying with assertiveness is “I respect myself by alerting the other to the transgression, stating that it was unwelcome, and calmly acknowledging their humanity in that all humans make mistakes”. No one gets hurt, the boundary was re-established, and you get to go on with your day!
The next time you experience anger, take a moment to pause and do a little personal inventory. What happened that caused the anger? How can you effectively respond to it without resorting to lashing out or repressing? Your anger is not evil, bad, or something to fear. It is your own personal alarm system that wants, more than anything, to keep you safe and protected.
Check out Karla’s website at www.karlamclaren.com or get one of her amazing books to learn more about the wondrous world of emotions!