The myth about anger
A while ago the BBC carried an item about the effects of anger on health.
The argument runs that people who control their anger rather than expressing it are healthier.
This is a common myth, and I want to explain why it is wrong. And why expressing your anger is actually better for you in the long run, provided you do it in the right way.
The myth about anger is that it is a ‘bad’ emotion we should suppress, when in fact it is a healthy emotion we should learn to channel respectfully.
Bodymind creates anger for a purpose
The brain produces anger and uses a very sophisticated circuitry to do that – running from the thalamus, through the amygdala and then on through the adrenal glands and the sympathetic nervous system. So we know anger must have an important purpose. Dismissing an emotion like that as harmful or ‘bad for your health’ is just disrespectful.
The purpose of anger is to ensure that you are treated with respect, protected against exploitation, have your wishes taken seriously, or to cue you towards self-defence.
Your righteous anger
Without anger we would be defenceless against attacks on ourselves or the people we love, against exploitation, cruelty and injustice. What keeps Aung San Suu Kyi fighting against the military in Burma? Her desire to keep her father’s dreams for Burma alive are important, to be sure. But I suspect that her passion keeps her going when others would just give up.
Even Christ was furious when he noticed the wide boys outside the Temple degrading the holy places. All prophets, all heroes, all crusaders against injustice (think Martin Luther King) have possessed that righteous anger. But they also knew how to channel it in the right direction.
People who don’t do anger well make three common mistakes:
- They bottle up anger and later on, once the pot fills to boiling point, they explode in rage (which creates stress and damages your health)
- They express frustration but don’t follow up and ensure that they get what they need (for example; you yell at your daughter for not keeping her room tidy but you don’t enforce the rule – so it happens all over again).
- When they express anger, they shout, swear, call names, blame, scream and try to make the other person feel as bad as possible. Thus damaging the relationship.
The reason for these mistakes is simply a lack of education in emotional intelligence. We are told as children that anger is ‘bad’, ‘destructive’, ‘self-indulgent’, etc. So we aren’t given permission to explore the emotion in more depth. At the same time we watch the adults around us having tantrums and so we conclude that anger must be an evil thing.
Anger is a hot emotion
Anger is a ‘hot’ emotion. Meaning that most people feel it powerfully in Bodymind, rising and demanding fast expression. But that doesn’t mean your body wants you to go into a rage. What it means instead is that your body is warning you that something deeply important to you (or the people you care for) is at stake and you need to act quickly.
Incidentally, nearly all so-called ‘anger management’ classes are not in fact about anger disorder at all. They’re actually about rage.
You can use my assertiveness process to channel your anger into words that get people listening to you and ensure that you actually get what you want. Instead of just blowing off.
Just as important as using a formula like this is to practice expressing your dissatisfaction every day. No matter how trivial your complaint is, make your likes and dislikes known. If you get them out at an early stage then you can stay calm and you won’t get angry. Nor will you explode in rage. Or get stressed. Or unwell.
One more point. Anger can be divine. Especially when you speak up for the defenceless, the innocent, for those who live in hunger, terror, torture and exile.
It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people. To focus your energies on answers – not excuses.
W. A. Ward.