Don’t hate on anger

Anger gets a bad rap.

Out of all the emotions, it’s the only one people don’t seem eager to embrace. No one really relishes wallowing in anger like they do disappointment, sadness, and especially fear. (Don’t lecture me, some people enjoy their pain. You know I’m right.)

While there are certainly enough books on managing anger or letting it go, there aren’t as many trying to explore what anger may be trying to tell us.

Things like, “Hey, this person’s not good for you.”

Or, “Look how that lost opportunity really meant something to you.”

And the always popular Twisted Sister-esque, “You don’t have to take that anymore.”

We can learn from this scorned emotion before we start trying to shoo it away. Anger can give us valuable data to discover some things we need to work on.

Anger isn’t a bad emotion.

One of the first things I like to tackle with my clients, especially with kids, is the perspective of emotions as good or bad.

First of all, we therapist types like to think in terms of healthy or unhealthy. That removes some of the character shaming that can come from labeling things as good or bad.

Because if we think of emotions as good or bad, we might be tempted to think of ourselves, the carriers of those emotions, as good or bad.

And nobody wants that.

If I hold a pen in my hand, and with said pen I stab you in the hand, is that pen a bad pen?

What if I took that same pen and wrote you a beautiful note extolling your wondrous virtues? Is the pen now miraculously a good pen?

If you’re keeping score at home: it’s neither. Pens are neither good nor bad. They’re just pens, for corn’s sake.

The devil is in how they’re used.

Anger protects softer emotions.

Anger is sometimes called a “hard emotion.” It lays over the top of softer emotions like fear, vulnerability, hurt, and disappointment.

Consider, if you will, the plight of the beetle.

Beetles have a pretty hard exoskeleton. It’s designed to protect the vital organs just under that hard shell, and it’s quite durable against many natural predators.

But when you step on a beetle (by accident or on purpose, I’m not judging), what immediately comes splattering out? White, gooey, soft liquid. That’s the real existence of the beetle.

Lying just under its supposedly impenetrable exterior was its own true nature, where the real beetle lived. That hard shell was doing a bang up job. Until it wasn’t. Now the beetle is exposed and in our little scenario, likely dead.

Wow, that’s really gross, Lori.

It’s easier to be pissed off and angry than to admit you’re hurt and scared. Because that means you’re out there and you can be hurt even more. And then you have to do something with that hurt. Who wants that?

Better to just avoid flat-footed humans and keep that outer shell in place.

Stay angry, my friends.

Anger is an indicator of what we’re not getting.

Think about the last time you got angry at someone who cut you off in traffic. I know you can think of something because everyone these days has a bad traffic story.

Why did you get so enraged at a perfect stranger, someone you’ll never see again and who has nothing invested in your life?

Think about it.

What would have happened if, in cutting you off, they hit your car and caused you to spin out? And what if you suffered a traumatic injury as a result of that collision? That stranger’s actions would have kept you from arriving at your destination safely, which was your intended goal.

Not to mention possibly changing the trajectory of your life, maybe keeping you from achieving your life’s dreams.

Believe it or not, all this goes through your mind when you get cut off in traffic (in addition to any relevant profanity).

We get angry at people because their actions are blocking us from our goal.

  • We get angry at a spouse who cheats because they are blocking us from our goal of a healthy marriage and a strong family.
  • We get angry at an abusive parent because they are blocking us from the unconditional love and acceptance we’re supposed to get from our parents.
  • We get angry at a boss because their actions may keep us from advancing in our careers.

Breaking free from all that anger really isn’t the goal. Without anger it would be hard to know what’s bothering us.

And of course, I’m not talking here about anger that results in violence. We all have to make responsible choices about what we do with that anger.

But we can use anger to measure our discomfort in certain areas, and ask ourselves some real questions.

Should I leave? Should I forgive? Should I set some boundaries? What’s really going on here?

Seeing anger as a diagnostic tool, rather than a character flaw, can open your mind to discover a way forward in some very difficult situations.