Understanding the Purpose of Anger
Anger is a normal emotion that can be experienced as various degrees of emotion: irritation, frustration, aggravation, exasperation, rage and fury. Anger can also be expressed differently, depending on the situation, the individual, and the degree to which we are mad. Some people are quick to blow their lid, others seem to tolerate nearly endless irritation before they “explode,” some people rarely exhibit any signs of anger whatsoever.
I’ve had clients tell me that they would like to “get rid of” their anger. I understand this to mean that feeling angry makes them uncomfortable and/or they do not like how they express their anger. I always educate these clients about the importance of anger, and every emotion, for that matter.
Our feelings are like messengers. They provide us important information about ourselves and our environment. Getting rid of a difficult or painful emotion would not be adaptive because it would be like choosing to give up your five senses. Just as we rely on our sight and hearing to provide information allowing us to safely navigate the world around us, we depend on our emotions to clue us in to the climate of our interpersonal (and intrapsychic) worlds.
Experiencing anger lets us know when something is amiss–a relational boundary has been crossed, we have been unfairly treated, or we are not getting what we need in a relationship. While having this emotion feels very uncomfortable to many of us, don’t shoot the messenger! The anger is not the problem. Whatever is causing the anger is the problem. That’s where we need to focus our attention and see what needs to change.
That said, is it possible for anger to become a problem in itself? Absolutely! If you feel surprised or scared by the You that emerges when you are angry, or you find yourself losing your temper on a regular basis, or the people in your life are telling you your anger is a problem for them, then it is a good idea to examine your anger and the ways you express it more closely. The “problem” may be that you do not know how to express your anger appropriately. You may have a low frustration tolerance, which can signal other underlying problems like a mood disorder. Or you may not be attending to the problem that is causing the anger, so it naturally keeps knocking on your door in an attempt to get you to pay attention.
Don’t be so quick to dismiss anger as a “bad” thing. Anger, like each of the emotions, provides an opportunity to get to know ourselves better. This, to me, seems like one of the major tasks (and enjoyable aspects) of living.
See also October’s blog post, Learning to Let Your Anger Work for You.