Emotions are powerful tools that help us connect with the environment, other people and ourselves. Emotions such as guilt and anger warn us of the effects of our own actions and the actions of others. When you notice your words have hurt someone, for instance, you feel guilty and, at times, angry at yourself. A need to repair the relationship arises. You apologise. Therefore, negative emotions also trigger actions that lead to positive changes.
Although guilt is considered a negative emotion, most agree on the positive effects of its triggered behaviours. Unfortunately, this attitude tends not to apply to anger, since it is largely misunderstood. Anger is judged indiscriminately. It is considered destructive, or solely as an impulse that must be controlled. While aggressive displays of anger hardly go unnoticed, their causes often do. However, anger expression in its unhealthy and abusive forms should not override anger’s purpose.
The anger alarm
Anger helps us identify unmet needs. Anger that follows feelings of rejection reminds us of our need to be loved. When we feel angry for not achieving our goals, we connect with our need to create a life that has meaning. Feeling loved and living a meaningful life increase wellbeing. Wellbeing promotes physical, emotional and relational health.
Anger also lets us know our boundaries have been crossed. When we say no and are not heard, we feel unimportant and disrespected. Feeling less than or alienated connect us with the need to be valued and belong. When our existence is validated, we feel a greater sense of connection with ourselves and others, which, in turn, makes us more eager to engage in life.
In The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift, Rosenberg (2005) brings our attention to the significance of anger as an empowering warning system. He explains that anger brings our attention to the needs we want to have met and suggests a change of focus from the judgement that we make of ourselves and others when triggered by anger to what we need and want.
A healthy relationship with anger is one which allows you to see beyond it. Anger is highly energising and even addictive since it triggers feelings of strength and righteousness. We need to train ourselves to resist the pull to move in this direction. A mindful attitude towards anger helps you focus on what truly matters: identify and connect with unmet needs, be them yours or others’. This process, although productive, does not materialise overnight. It requires dedicated practice. To create a healthy relationship with anger, allow yourself to try this process out and make mistakes, over a reasonable period, until it becomes internalised.
Rosenberg, M. B. (2005). The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift. PuddleDancer Press