Go Ahead, Get Angry!

Did you know that anger brings you gifts you can’t get from any other place? This may sound hard to believe, but all of your emotions bring you specific, irreplaceable gifts; anger is no exception. In fact, because anger helps you set boundaries and take your place in the world, it is one of the most vital emotions you have.

Here’s the problem: We don’t have any permission to listen to or work with our anger! We’ve all been taught to repress, suppress, ignore, violently express, snarkily express, or ridicule anger … and very few of us have been able to break through that conditioning to learn what anger is actually for.

We’ve heard rumors and old wives’ tales about anger, but the emotional truth is this: We feel anger because it has something important to teach us. Each of our emotions has a specific purpose and a specific message, and all of them are absolutely necessary.

We’ve all seen the problems people create with their anger, and after reading the comments from last week’s post, I think we should explore the gifts anger brings you.

The Gifts of Anger

Anger brings you the gifts of healthy self-esteem, well-considered conviction, healthy detachment, the ability to deal with conflict honorably, and the ability to set clear boundaries. Anger is vital, and if you can make good use of it, anger will help you protect yourself and others in healthy ways.

Here’s what anger can teach you: Anger is a sign that your (or someone else’s) boundaries or self-image are being threatened (this is different from fear, which you feel when your physical safety is threatened). If you don’t know why you’re feeling anger, you may repress it and throw its awareness away (this can lead to a loss of your self-image or a stewing resentment that gets in your way), or you may express it rudely or violently and hurt other people. Both choices — the repression and the expression — are injurious, and both stop you from figuring out what the heck happened to you and what you should do about it!

Because our emotional training is so poor, I created specific questions to ask when the anger (or any emotion) comes up (you can find these in my new book, The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You). Asking these questions does three things:

  1. It helps you identify your emotions, which is a first step toward emotional maturity
  2. It helps you understand what each emotion is for and why it arises
  3. It recruits the verbal and rational part of your brain, which supports your emotions and helps you take constructive, emotionally appropriate action

Each of these steps helps calm you down so that you can focus your full intelligence on your emotions. For instance, in the case of anger, you ask yourself: What must be protected? and What must be restored? These questions can help you understand what to do with anger.

If you don’t know what anger is for, you’ll either repress it (which won’t rebuild your boundaries or your self-image), or you’ll express it (in aggression that may hurt other people, but will still not rebuild your boundaries!). And sadly, the next time you feel anger, you still won’t know what it’s for! That’s why I created a third, mindful option, which I call channeling the emotion (which means listening to it and learning what it’s for).

For instance: Let’s take anger. Imagine that you insult me openly: “Karla, you’re acting like an idiot.” There’s no subtlety there; you’re threatening my self image, you’re breaking my boundaries, and I’m going to feel angry about it. What I do with my anger depends on my level of emotional awareness, and on the quality of our relationship.

Repression: I may flush all over and stop what I’m doing, but not say anything to you. Usually, I’ll spend the rest of the day thinking about what I should have said. But I won’t learn anything or rebuild my wounded self image. The anger will be wasted, and our relationship will suffer because you won’t have learned how to relate to me in conflict. When people use their anger properly, they can deal with conflict in honorable ways!

Expression: I may tell you to shove off, and you might increase the intensity of your attack: “No, you shove off, you dimwit!” And so forth. We’ll be expressing all over each other and raising our blood pressure and our cortisol, but we won’t be protecting or restoring anything. We’ll just do more damage to each other and our relationship, and again, the anger will be wasted.

Channeling: I will feel the anger and know that my self-image and boundaries are being threatened. Anger will give me the strength I need to let you know you’ve hurt me, but also to listen to what you’re saying, “Ow! That hurts! You know how much I value my intelligence! Are you saying I’m being stupid right now?” When I can access the strength that anger brings me, I can deal with the conflict and be honest about how much you’ve hurt me. And now you’ll know more about me, about yourself, about your approach to conflict, and so forth. My anger, properly channeled, will protect both of us.

You may continue onward with your attack, but I’ll continue to protect and restore not just myself, but you and our relationship. Anger is a wonderfully honorable and social emotion when we can channel it properly.

When you know what each emotion is for, you can act intelligently and express — not the emotion, but the truth of the situation. So go ahead and get angry … just do it right!

See you next Saturday!
Image: This cat is setting boundaries; approach with caution!


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogersyesterday

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogersyesterday

Thank you for sharing.

Nimue Pendragon

Let it rip, it's bad to suppress anger. Just don't hurt anyone.

Elisa Faulkner- Uriarte
Elisa F.3 years ago

Great info!

Chris R.
Chris R.5 years ago


Chris R.
Chris R.5 years ago


Emma S.
Emma S.5 years ago

This is interesting, so I'll keep this for reference.

Daniel R.5 years ago

I hesitate to critique this essay as it is so heavily invested in “self-image” that I fear its readers cannot imagine an alternative. I take no joy in disagreeing with so many people. (My “self-image” is neither embellished nor fortified by this.) I also take no pleasure in yet again rejecting the comforting and misguided teachings of “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is just another word for control. (So, too, is “channeling.”) I understand the appeal of control but I also recognize its emptiness. Control is an unnecessary illusion. Mindfulness is just another layer of self-delusion through which we must “process” existence. Simply, we are far too invested in the workings of the human mind.

Our self-image cannot be threatened because our self-image is imaginary. Let go of this mind-centered conceit.

Nothing needs to be protected. Nothing needs to be restored. Most importantly, we do not need yet another empty task to busy our selves with.

The author implies that “expression” of anger is “negative” but this is nonsense. Our choices are honesty or not; nothing further. “Expression” has nothing to do with retaliation or a threatened ego. Honesty requires no narrative.

All of these crowded mental constructs occlude space. (The more room I require for my narrative, the less space I have for our experience.) Let us drop narrative and share this space.

In the absence of self-image, anger has

Karina P.
Karina P.6 years ago

Thanks for the interesting article!

Kersty E.
Kersty E.6 years ago

Interesting and well written article. It takes quite a lot to make me angry. I'm much more likely to get upset and sad. Someone told me that resentment is suppressed anger and I do feel a lot of resentment about injustice, greed, etc. I neither have money nor physical strength, so I express my feelings by talking and writing.