The Gift of Using Anger

Written by Meaghan Heighway, LMHC-P

“Usually, when people are sad they don’t do anything. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” (Malcolm X)

Anger. This little word can have such a huge meaning in our lives, and even then it is often misunderstood. Depending on what we learned about emotions growing up, we may view anger as something to be avoided, something to stuff down, or something that lights an inner fuse within us leading to the inevitable explosion. No matter what we learned, most people would agree that anger is big, and often feels overpowering. This leads to fear about being angry – we may have memories of times when anger caused great damage (as we understood it) and so we do our best to avoid that which terrifies us. This is completely normal and understandable, if we’ve had experiences with anger in the past that made a lasting (and negative) impression. But… what if anger was misunderstood?

Every human being shares common emotions, such as happiness, fear, sadness, anger, etc. This is one of the areas that we all have in common, in experiencing these inner states. But where it differs is how we have seen these emotions be played out in our and others’ lives, and this may give us an inaccurate view of the emotion itself. For example, if we have memories of a parent abusing someone, we probably associate certain emotions (like anger, or fear) with those memories. But have we ever stopped to consider that perhaps our parent was misrepresenting those emotions? What we gauged as them expressing anger, was merely one way to act upon the experience of anger.

Anger isn’t good, or bad, innately – it simply is, and that’s where we are handed the gift of how we choose to use it. Often, anger is seen as something that needs to be controlled (which is why we sometimes hear about classes for anger management, etc.). But while all emotions need to be brought under our will, often we are missing the gift that anger is waiting to hand to us. Namely, anger is energy – it can galvanize us, give us fuel and motivation to right a wrong or make changes or take a new step. The opening quote by Malcolm X notes that when we’re sad, we often don’t see that as a time to move forward and change something. Being depressed or experiencing a loss tends to sap us of our energy. But anger, is something that can potentially add to our energy, and be a motivator.

For example, let’s say someone you loved was in an abusive relationship. Finally, they gathered the courage to leave, and found supports to move on to a new portion of their life. But what about the anger at the abuse that was suffered? They have a choice, then, to how they will respond to the past injustice. Sometimes, anger masquerades as depression – it is fury turned in towards ourselves, perhaps centered on what we did or did not do. But if we were to consider turning the anger outward, then we are handed a tool, if we use it constructively. Some ways that our friend could use the anger over past hurts could be:

Considering getting counseling so that they can continue to channel the anger effectively, by using guided support and techniques to better understand and use this gift.

Joining a support group for people who were in abusive relationships and are formulating a new life, to find a sense of solidarity and a way to reach out.

Volunteering at an outreach for other people who may still be in abusive relationships or who are trying to get out.
Anger is energy, and can be used for good or ill. The more we learn about anger and its role in our lives, the less we need to be afraid of it as if it were an unknown enemy. One of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves is learning about anger, and how we can use this God-given emotion to better fuel our desires and needs. By using anger constructively, we have the amazing potential to bring about change.

This article is part one of a two-part series on anger – check back soon for our concluding article on the issue of anger, called: ‘Unwrapping the Gift of Anger.’

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is intended to educate, inform and entertain. This does not represent psychotherapy, therapeutic assessment, or any other form of therapeutic intervention. This should not be used as a substitute for consultation and treatment with a licensed mental health professional. If you have questions related to the material contained in this site please contact CCM or a licensed mental health professional of your choice.

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