Befriending Anger

If one were to view our news and entertainment, it would be easy to conclude that America is obsessed with, and practically worships anger. Yet, in practice, anger is treated as some mystical demon to be avoided, kept hidden, and at best,”managed”. 

Perhaps it is time to demystify anger. Anger is an emotion. Emotions are bioenergetic forces. Anger is a natural force designed to facilitate engagement with perceived threats. In and of itself, anger has no qualitative value, it is neither good nor bad. 

There are two primary ways we run afoul with anger. One is by placing it into the “bad” category. This leads to suppressing anger, which places a strain on the nervous system. This strain on the nervous system eventually leads to nervous system disorders, immune system dysfunction, and/or, explosive behaviors. Much of what we call depression results from internalizing anger and turning it back on ourselves.  Some depression has a primarily bio-chemical source. That is not what I am referring to here.

The second way is perceptual. We can fall into the trap of perceiving people, places, or things as dangerous to our safety, that do not pose a threat. This leads to two common problems. We may behave angrily or aggressively toward people places or things when it is uncalled for, or we perceive the phantom threat, experience anger, interpret the anger as bad, and then suppress it. Either way, we manage to turn a perceived threat into and actual one. We either act out in ways that are socially harmful, or we kick the can down the road to manifest as health problems, relationship problems, or future acting out. 

How can we develop a healthy relationship with anger? I find the term “anger management” mystifying. The anger management movement of psychotherapy merely teaches people more skillful means of suppressing anger. What is really called for is learning how to have a healthy flow of anger A healthy relationship with anger involves an understanding of what we are projecting onto people, places, or things that lead to our unwarranted perception of threat. It also means expressing our anger in non-aggressive ways. There are not many people within our culture that believe on a gut level that it is alright for them to be the person that is angry.

I remember a moment in a Psychology Of Meditation class in grad school. The instructor inquired; “ How many of you had good modeling of anger in your family of origin?” Not one person raised their hand.  I also recall from the years of working with eating disorder patients in the hospital, the vast majority of eating disorder patients come from families that “do not get angry.”  Of course that is the belief that is held. What is actually true is that everyone is either turning the anger in on themselves or expressing it indirectly, usually both.

Our relationship with anger, or any emotion or feeling, can heal in a relationship where every aspect of our humanness is welcomed. Anger can transmute into a creative force in our life when we befriend it. Once anger is allowed to flow in a healthy fashion we are no longer prone to project it out into the world, creating fantom threats. Instead of managing anger, we can dance with it and incorporate anger into our vitality. 

This is how I work with anger in my practice; I welcome every aspect of you, all of your humanness into the room and our relationship. You do not need management from the outside. What we all need is to accept freedom and responsibility from the inside. And perhaps develop a bit of compassion for who we are.