Embracing Anger to Catalyze Growth

Anger gets a bad rep a lot of the time. It’s easy to imagine why. When we think of someone being “angry” we might think of someone having a fit of road rage, a toddler having a meltdown or someone shouting their opinion over others. It’s true, that anger can look like that. Like any emotion left too long unaddressed, anger could flair up and overwhelm any one of us on a stressful day.

You may have heard the message from a loved one “please don’t be angry” when they have made a mistake, implying that anger is something to be avoided. However the truth is that anger is a very important and necessary emotion, and can be seen as a blessing when you learn to harness it. You can gracefully connect with anger within even the most loving of relationships, and anger expressed in a healthy way is an important element of any genuine relationship. Like any other emotion, anger serves a purpose to communicate to others. Anger communicates that something is amiss and displeases us, and that we are hoping for something different to happen instead. Anger can motivate us to advocate for ourselves and others, to make our lives more fulfilling.

It can be so easy to internalize a message that anger is a shameful thing to express. Right up there with “confrontations”, which many of us instinctively avoid, anger is to-the-point. But, when we are able to lean into the discomfort of owning our anger, and embracing it… we have the choice to use that anger to enrich our lives.

For example, I have been experimenting lately. When I notice that I am angry, I take a moment to ask myself: “what about this really bothers me?” I try to get right to the root of what is causing me distress. For example, it may look like (on the surface) that I am just angry at the traffic for slowing me down, a remark made by an acquaintance, or something not panning out as I had hoped at work. However, I ask myself… so, why does that matter to me? If I sit with a curious outlook for a few moments, I can usually connect what is really at stake (this takes a lot of patience, I will admit). Perhaps I am anxious about showing up late at a meeting, and I am anticipating feeling judged or embarrassed about making someone wait for me. Perhaps, I have too many things on my plate that day and I am just plain overwhelmed. Or, I am trying to aim for perfection at work and setting myself up for disappointment.

Fortunately, once I figure out the real why behind my anger, I can focus my efforts on fixing the real issue. I can reevaluate how many tasks I give myself the next day. I can make sure to leave myself extra time for the commute. I can assess whether my expectations for myself are realistic and fair to me. This is an empowering lesson to learn, because I have found that there is always a very good reason for feeling anger, and that anger can act as some much needed breadcrumbs to help us stick to the path toward true contentment and happiness, if we will only listen to the signals our body gives up. Plus, building this insight has helped free me from feeling ashamed of my anger!

I invite you to experiment with the same idea: next time you feel angry, give yourself a moment to take a breath and reflect on what is really causing you to feel anger. If you can find the root cause, you may just notice you feel more empowered to act on what will actually bring you greater happiness (and finally let go of feeling shame when you are upset)! A lot of the time, this attitude of curiosity toward our anger can naturally let us feel more compassion toward ourselves. If this topic peaked your interest, and you would like to build insight into the reasons behind your anger (or any other emotion for that matter), I welcome you to consider exploring this topic within a focused therapy session, where you can start to build a new relationship with anger.