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:
- It helps you identify your emotions, which is a first step toward emotional maturity
- It helps you understand what each emotion is for and why it arises
- 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).