OK – I know this notion is going to sound crazy to some people.
See, we have vilified anger for centuries. We have extolled its negative traits and aspects and totally ignored its virtues. We have made it out to be a dangerous, harmful, unwelcome feeling and we have encouraged it to be stifled and suppressed. We have even tied feelings of guilt and shame to a completely normal and healthy emotion – and it is hurting us individually and as a society.
Anger is normal. I repeat: ANGER IS NORMAL. It is a completely natural reaction to stimuli, just like joy, laughter, and happiness. Unlike joy, laughter, and happiness which result from positive occurrences in life, anger responds to negative and frustrating stimuli.
The problem is not anger itself, but the fact that the consistent suppression and avoidance of anger has rendered us incapable of PROCESSING and USING this strong and powerful emotion. Instead of recognizing the fact that we can refine and direct our anger toward making positive changes in life, we avoid it all together. People equate anger with violence and explosion – results that absolutely represent our inability as a whole to control and use anger as a catalyst.
When my anger comes, I want to embrace it! I want to see it as an indication that I feel slighted, hurt, used; I want to see it as an indication that someone or some circumstance is unfair to or threatening me and I want to use it to foster change.
Now here is the thing – I have to learn to breathe through the explosive, violent, vengeful feelings or thoughts that anger breeds. I have to inhale and exhale mindfully and think of how to best use my anger. I have to be rational and control my urge to lash out – or else I have to find a constructive way to use that urge.
Of course, I can just let it out right away, directing it precisely at its intended target. Maybe that is the key we are missing in working with anger: Conscious and deliberate, CALM, rational, and focused expression toward the person who caused the anger to begin with.
Let’s say that again… Conscious and deliberate, calm, rational, and focused expression of anger and frustration toward the person who caused the discomfort to begin with.
This means talking to the people who brought us to the point of a tissy in the first place – quickly – not exploding, NOT SHOVING THE EMOTION DOWN.
When we suppress and repress our natural feelings, we create an unhealthy environment inside and outside of ourselves. Our relationships suffer. We project our anger onto innocent bystanders, like our children or the goshdarned telemarketers.
It is the equivalent of filling up a cave inside ourselves with a whole bunch of explosive emotion, and add to that scattered pieces of guilt, frustration, negative energy. Every time we think about the person or the situation tied to our anger, it just throws more tinder and explosives into the cave. Every time we think about the frustrations linked to the situation that made us mad to begin with not only causes a little explosion inside, but also loads in more shrapnel and ammunition and booby traps of shit feelings and even more anger.
THAT is what makes anger dangerous, really – well, aside from not learning how to constructively deal with it in the first place.
You see, when we have that cave full of explosive feeling and all kinds of scattered and sharp emotions that we keep adding to, and we finally get either to the point of dealing with it or it gets ignited because it is just too full… well, you can see how that would turn ugly quick.
Releasing explosive, angry, pent up emotion without any skill in expressing or venting it can get violent. It can get loud. It can get scary. It can be directed at the wrong people.
Continuing to shove it down can quietly eat a person alive from the inside out by continuing to blaze within – never being released, causing internal damage.
Unexpressed anger and frustration has been shown to link to a variety of illnesses, including liver disease, digestive disorders, TMJ, heart disease, depression, cancer, suicide, addictive behaviors, and a host of other issues. (http://stevencohenphd.com/anger.htm, http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/anger_problems.htm)
It is well documented that pent up exasperation and rage hurt the person holding onto these kinds of feelings.
So why hold onto anger and frustration at all? Why not recognize the power of negative emotions and learn how to use it constructively?
Just think about it for a moment. Fire can be a destructive force, or it can be a useful force – the same with explosions! An explosion can destroy a car or it can propel a car. Anger can hurt everyone around you – including yourself – or it can be used as a tool for refining your life.
I know which I would prefer…
If you need help with transforming your anger and frustration into positive catalysts for life change or help with expressing it productively, click here to schedule an appointment!