Anger is positive. Here’s why.
People aren’t born afraid of their anger. They learn it.
As children, yelling, screaming, or hitting lands you in the time out chair or, in the old days, gets you a spanking.
Religious education reinforces the fear. Wrath is listed as one of the seven deadly sins in Christian theology. Even Buddhists loath anger. It is described as a negative emotion that shows weakness.
So anger seems to either land us in hell or disturb our inner peace. No wonder we have learned so well how to deny that we are angry or hide it from ourselves.
When I observe that a patient is angry in my office, I will often get the response: “I’m not angry. I am upset” or “I’m not angry. I am hurt” or “I’m not angry. I am frustrated.”
There is no limit to how well we deny or defend against the admission of our natural anger.
It’s not like this is some new human struggle. Thousands of years ago, the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, had this to say about anger: “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.
Watch Sharmin Ali’s TED Talk on anger and how you can put it to constructive use.
As a result of my 35 years of experience as a practicing clinical psychologist, I have come to a different conclusion about anger. I believe that anger is your best friend.
Anger is as natural as breathing. Just watch an infant. There is no hesitation to cry, yell, or scream of something doesn’t feel right. The child uses their emotion to tell everyone that something is wrong. It’s their signal to the world to change something — change a diaper, feed the child, entertain them, or put them to sleep.
The same is true for us as adults. We need our anger for three reasons — to identify who we are, to solve relationship problems, and to stand up for ourselves.
Before I go any further to explain why anger is so positive, I want to clarify one point.
Natural anger is different than rage. Natural anger is your backbone, a warning signal that a problem exists. It is quiet in your mind, like the thought, “Hey, that’s not right”. It’s not loud, but it is strong.
In contrast, rage occurs when natural anger is bottled up for too long. In a rage, people try to silence each other, hurt each other, make them stop what they are doing, shame them into submission, or physically do harm to them.
There is no space for collaboration, negotiation, or a win-win solution. When rage is present, there is only a winner and a loser, and a very damaged relationship. I don’t believe in rage, but do believe in its lower level cousin, natural anger.
Let’s examine the three reasons how your anger issues and anger problems can benefit you to see anger as your best friend:
1. Anger creates your basic identity.
The first is to form your basic identity — who you are, what you believe in, and who you like or love. You form two selves as you grow and develop, and need to choose which one to follow as an adult.
There is the Natural Self that is formed around our natural emotions, like happiness, sadness, and anger. Those emotions signal actions that define who you are, what you value, and who you love.
The second self, the Self For Others, is formed to conform to the family rules defined by your parents. Guilt and shame form the emotional foundation of this self. You feel calm inside when you follow the rules and get shocked back into place by shame and guilt if you break the rules.
Even thinking about breaking the rules can trigger the guilt and shame. These reactions are particularly powerful as they were instilled from years of training when you were most vulnerable, a blank slate to be written upon.
Fear signals an impending clash between the selves. When your natural anger flashes about some rule that doesn’t feel right to you, fear opens the door for a rush of guilt and shame. You now become horribly confused. What initially felt right now feels terribly wrong.
How can something be right if it feels wrong? The answer is to follow your anger and ignore your guilt and shame. There is truth in your anger and no truth in shame. Your anger is the voice of your Natural Self. Follow it and you will be true to what you really believe, not what you are supposed to believe.
2. Anger can be used to solve relationship issues.
The second use of anger involves relationships and solving problems with other people. In order to be healthy and productive, relationships need to stay in balance.
Your needs have to matter as much as the needs of others. When the balance point tips in favor of others, natural anger will be triggered. It is the voice of balance telling you that you must take your own needs into account.
3. Anger can free you.
The third use of anger is to support your freedom and independence, to break the ties that bind you to how you were raised, and enable you to follow your heart and dreams.
When you excessively deny your own needs, you should feel angry. You are giving away your natural rights and surrendering them for the comfort of doing what you were told to do. While there may be less anxiety if you go along, there is also a loss of freedom and independence.
With anger comes shame and guilt, but if you can ignore those feelings, and follow your anger, you will find not only yourself but also the path to your dreams and true inner peace.
Dr. Stephen Van Schoyck is a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice in Bucks County, PA since 1984. For more information on his approach to emotional health, contact him directly or enroll in his monthly newsletter to get blogs like this delivered to your inbox.
This article was originally published on YourTango.com