Anger Management

Anger is a normal part of life and in fact a very worthwhile human emotion. Anger is an expression of the fact that we do not want something the way it is. It is an active expression of our disagreement or discomfort with the way things are. If anger did not exist as part of our emotional vocabulary, we would simply experience the pain of being the passive recipient of the events that we do not like. Anger allows us to take an active role in relation to such events and allows us to register a protest against them.

Anger is a valuable emotion because it can make us aware of our discomforts and can serve as the initial step toward seeking change. In a tacit way, anger communicates a wish and offers alternatives, “things shouldn’t be the way they are, they should be this other way.” It is up to us to understand and evaluate the wish carried by our anger. Do we want to pursue that wish? Are we willing to take positive steps toward making that wish become a reality? What if our anger represents an unrealistic wish, a wish for things that we know cannot exist? Do we still want to hold onto that wish or do we want to let it go?

The way that we experience, reflect upon, and express our anger determines the impact of our anger and whether or not it serves a helpful or hurtful purpose. Some of us grow up in families where anger is recognized as an unsafe, threatening, or negative emotion. This kind of belief or perception about anger creates a negative judgment against one’s own anger and can prevent the person from acknowledging, understanding, and exploring the anger and the reasons for it. In many instances, this kind of outlook hinders the person from having empathy for the pain behind their own anger. An unbiased and nonjudgmental acceptance of one’s anger is the primary step toward effective anger management.

Managing one’s anger is not about avoiding anger or doing away with it, but about clearly acknowledging, understanding, and dealing with it. Finding productive ways of working through and if needed, communicating one’s anger, is the key to successful anger management. Knowing that anger does not have to be destructive or harmful, knowing that anger does not have to abolish love, knowing that anger does not have to be insulting, blaming, or damaging, allows us to find helpful and constructive ways of dealing with anger.

Anger is often an insular emotion. It does not necessarily take into account other facts, other feelings, and other points of view. When we take into account both our anger and what we truly hope to accomplish with our anger, when we consider both our feelings and other people’s feelings, when we think about what we feel compelled to do as well as what is best for us and others, we have more room to create compassion. A broader perspective allows compassion to develop both for our own feelings of anger and for those toward whom our anger may be directed. In this way, our communications about our anger have a chance of offering and inviting understanding as opposed to simply venting anger.

-- Dr. Haleh Stahl

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