Anger can be an intense emotion making many individuals afraid of their anger or view it as inappropriate. When anger is misdirected, it can lead to poor decisions, interfere with relationships and can do harm to others. However, like all emotions, anger has a purpose. It serves to protect us. When channeled correctly, anger is a natural and healthy response to anything that is a threat to our emotional, mental and physical security.
The effects of anger on the body
Anger propels our body into productive action. When you get upset, your muscles tense up. Your brain releases epinephrine, causing a surge of energy throughout the body. Your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises and your breathing increases in preparation for physical action. The burst of energy can last several minutes so you can take immediate action to protect yourself. Your full attention goes to the target. Adrenaline is released triggering your nervous system into hyperarousal. Now you’re ready to fight. That adrenaline rush can be felt during a sudden attack of anger. Norepinephrine is also released, which helps to numb the pain.
Why do we feel anger
We’re often told that anger is negative, dangerous, useless, and unspiritual. Anger is also associated with shame, guilt, fear and anxiety. As such, we tend to suppress the emotion starting from childhood. This negative view of anger often results in the suppression of frustration, and this is often the source of many anger problems. The denial of anger can make it pathological, and this is problematic.
Anger is an important messenger
Anger is an indication that something is wrong, and it’s usually due to one of two reasons. One that a boundary has been crossed. Or, a need has not being met. To elaborate, anger can be due to the violation of one’s dignity, abuse, loneliness and isolation, love and acceptance, to list a few. Childhood neglect, rejection, misattunement or abandonment can also result in appropriate anger or rage. When these sources of anger are denied or repressed, they later become pathological anger and rage.
The usefulness of anger
Anger helps defend against uncomfortable feelings by invalidating the person or situation that makes you feel invalidated. Attacking the threat can make you feel superior thereby restoring your emotional and mental security. If we can’t comfort ourselves through self-validation, we’ll try to attempt comfort by invalidating others.
Anger can be an enticing emotion as it gives us a sense of control and power as opposed to feeling unsure and vulnerable. As you can imagine, if anger can fend off such painful and unbearable feelings, one might eventually become dependent and even addicted to the emotion. Anger is a way to provide comfort. It can serve as reassurance when our self-esteem is in danger, whether through criticism, rejection or invalidation. If we feel bad about who we are, our negative sense of self will have difficulty withstanding these threats
Working through anger
I’ve found great success when working from a mind and body perspective. When you’re angry your body gets ready to fight. Anger isn’t just a thought or a feeling; there’s a bodily response. Our nervous system goes into a state of hyperarousal. I help clients develop resources so that they don’t feel overtaken by their anger while providing them with anger management techniques. This way they can self-regulate and move out of the fight response and into a state where they can think clearly and feel appropriate. Clients become less reactive and more proactive.
Beyond anger management skills
Often anger is suppressed because one is afraid of the anger. This only makes anger more powerful and problematic. As such, acknowledgment of the anger and its full extent is a good first step when working through anger or rage. Also important is to recognize the origin of the anger, and to begin to tolerate the feeling of anger, as well as the other feelings that initially triggered the anger. It’s important to note that anger has positive potential that can have tremendous value when one’s energy isn’t stuck in its destructive power. Learning how to express and utilize the power of anger can be transformative.