What do you think of when you hear the word anger? For over 20 years, I've led workshops dealing with emotions. Whenever I ask for a word association to anger the responses are invariably 99% negative. Why is it that of all the emotions anger has such a bad reputation? Why do so many people have a totally negative view of anger? Is all anger bad? Can this unwelcome and potentially destructive emotion be considered a gift rather than a time-bomb?
One reader wrote: “For many years I've struggled with my anger. I can go along for a while and it doesn't bother me and then, all of a sudden, I lose my temper and say and do things I'm usually sorry for. I'm not the only one in my family with an ‘anger problem.’ My father has a reputation for being ’hot-headed.’ He doesn't get angry very often but when he does, watch out. Dr. Oliver, here's my question: Is there any place for anger in a healthy family?”
My answer is a qualified yes. In fact, the 5th key to building strong families recognizes that “A healthy home is where people express anger in HEALTHY ways.” Most people view anger only as a problem, something negative to be avoided. They've only seen the painful and destructive side of uncontrolled anger.
The surprising truth is that when a person understands anger and learns how to express it in healthy ways, it can be an ally and actually lead to increased trust, greater intimacy and stronger relationships. As a clinical psychologist and family therapist I've spent hundreds of hours with people stuck in their effort to grow, or digging out of the fallout from the painful effects of uncontrolled anger that was ultimately caused by their unwillingness to learn how to deal with their anger.
There are several reasons why it is important for us to understand the emotion of anger:
1. Anger Is A Fact Of Life:
Everyone experiences some form of anger. Webster defines anger as “emotional excitement induced by intense displeasure.” Anger is a strong feeling of irritation or displeasure. Anger provides physical and emotional responses that prepare our mind and our body to act. It is up to us whether we use that energy in constructive ways or abuse ourselves and others.
2. Anger Is A Frequently Experienced Emotion:
The emotion of anger is experienced much more frequently than most people would like to admit. When we begrudge, disdain others or when we are annoyed, repulsed, irritated, frustrated, offended or cross we are probably experiencing some form of anger. Dr. Henrie Weisinger has demonstrated in several research studies that most people experience the emotion of anger a minimum of 8-10 times a day.
3. Anger Is One Of The Most Powerful Emotions:
Healthy anger can provide tremendous energy to right wrongs and change things for the good. If we have been hurt or wronged it is easy for us to experience anger. The next step is that our human nature wants revenge. When we allow our anger to be in control it can easily distort our perspective, block our ability to love and thus limit our ability to see things clearly. There are enormous benefits in allowing ourselves to experience and express anger appropriately. There are also potentially devastating consequences in allowing ourselves to be controlled by our anger.
4. Unhealthy Anger Has Tremendous Potential For Harm:
Not only is anger an uncomfortable emotional state, it is also a potentially dangerous one. Uncontrolled anger can lead to destructive actions such as emotional, verbal or even physical abuse and violence. Most of us have only learned unhealthy ways to deal with our anger. When we stuff, repress, suppress, deny or ignore it we become a walking Mt. St. Helens ready to explode. When we “let it all out” and dump on those around us we can weaken trust, destroy relationships and reputations
5. Healthy Anger Has Tremendous Potential For Good:
Since we usually hear examples of uncontrolled anger it's easy to forget that anger can have a good side. Anger is always a secondary emotion caused by a primary emotion such as fear, hurt or frustration. Anger can be a signal, an alarm, a warning sign that something is wrong, that a boundary is being violated, that we are in danger, that there has been an injustice.
Remember that anger is energy and we can choose whether we are going to spend it or invest it. While we may have minimal control over when we experience anger, we have almost total control over how we choose to express that anger. As you choose to harness and direct that anger-energy in healthy, positive and constructive ways, you will discover one of the most powerful sources of motivation available to mankind.
Do you or someone you love struggle with unhealthy anger? Over the past 30 years I've seen literally thousands of people change their anger patterns. You can choose to learn creative ways to invest your anger-energy, develop more effective anger management skills, and learn how to approach anger from a Biblical perspective.
If you'd like to learn more about how to make your anger work for you, I've written several books that you will find helpful. If you're a man, pick up a copy of Real Men Have Feelings Too. Women will find Good Women Get Angry a good resource and children will enjoy the story Hip Hop and His Famous Face. If the problem is affecting your important relationships feel free to call one of our Center for Healthy Relationships staff at (479) 524-7444.
The energy of anger, when wisely invested, can provide greater focus and intensity and lead to greater productivity. Martin Luther said: “When I am angry I can write, pray and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations are gone.”