Is it ever appropriate to be angry? When I scream at the top of my lungs and turn red in the face, have I achieved anything at all? Or have I just made myself look out of control and foolish? Are my temper tantrums a character flaw, or can they serve as a catalyst for positive change? We all know the negative side of anger-high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, aggression, broken relationships, depression, violence, etc. But is there a positive side to anger?
Psychologists have found that anger can help define relationship problems, give people a feeling of control during difficult times, and help in the psychological healing process. It can be a positive force in politics and work interaction. A controlled expression of anger has affirmative health benefits as well. Many cultural changes have come about as the result of anger. Two examples are the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Suffrage (the right to vote.) Anger often spotlights injustice. An example of a group fueled by constructive anger is Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Americans became united in their anger against terrorists, and felt a sense of patriotic empowerment. President Bush also used the emotion of anger against our attackers, to solidify support for the “War on Terrorism.” In some respects, our nation’s anger has helped us cope with our fear, concerning terrorist attacks. Anger can bring people together to act for the common good.
Anger can create the emotional energy necessary for change. It can alert us to the fact that something is wrong and needs correction. It is a natural response to perceived threats. If it is expressed appropriately, it can even bring people closer, as we learn to let people know what we want and need. Sir Henry Bulwer wrote, “Anger ventilated often hurries toward forgiveness; anger concealed often hardens into revenge.” Assertive behavior is stating your position clearly and directly, without the loss of self control. As a result of discussion, necessary changes for the better can be made, and problems can be resolved. When anger is repressed or denied, it is often turned inward, and becomes depression. Unexpressed anger can also lead to headaches, digestive upsets, and sleeping problems. Passive aggressive behavior may also occur, where the anger is expressed in indirect, subtle ways, rather than overtly. And most dangerous of all, simmering anger sometimes leads to violence. Anger that is pushed down or denied, will always resurface, usually in a destructive, unhealthy way. It may result in unexpected, explosive rages.
Writer Anne Dickson feels that anger is the most misunderstood emotion of all. In an attempt to explain the positive side of anger she writes, “…It provides the impetus to learn new skills…It pushes you to express yourself in writing or singing or painting; it can push you on in a career, or to some goal that you see as fulfilling; because of it you can survive crises and disasters and illness…” She feels that anger can be a source of energy and determination that propels a person to act powerfully and assertively. It can also be a creative force.
Anger can help in dealing with physical illness. Many patients are better able to aggressively fight their disease, when they are able to express their anger at their situation. Mental health can also be enhanced through a healthy expression of anger. Victims of violence, or physical or sexual abuse, often find anger to be a necessary part of the healing process. This expression often changes their perspective of themselves. Anger provides a sense of empowerment that allows them to see themselves as survivors, not victims. They are able to release feelings of shame, and place the responsibility for the mistreatment on the perpetrator.
Having outlined the benefits of healthy anger, it is still important to state that we are responsible for how we express our anger. Sometimes it is better to take a break and walk away from the situation, in order to get your thoughts in order. Deep breathing helps, as well as exercise and physical exertion. Self talk and visualization can help with relaxation. Journaling, listening to music, or taking a warm bath also help to soothe our emotions. Confiding in a supportive listener can provide a release from the tension of the situation.
Society encourages us to conceal our anger, and we often comply, because of fear of rejection and loss of relationships. But the healthy expression of anger can help us to experience personal growth. We can learn how to let go of past resentments and become more proactive. We also give our bodies a chance to decompress from stressful tension, when we express our anger in a purposeful way. As we begin to rid ourselves of our negative emotions, we free ourselves to enjoy the positive ones. When anger is channeled properly, everyone benefits.