Anger is one of the six basic emotions (the other five re happy, sad, anxious, disgust, surprise). All emotions urge us to take action; when we’re angry we want to attack physically and/or verbally. Wait, so can anger be a good thing?
Evolutionarily speaking, anger plays two roles. It’s the “fight” in our fight-or-flight response, and it focuses our attention on troubling problems in relationships, communities, and the world. In an imminent life-or-death situation, being driven by anger can be life-saving. In all other circumstances anger can inform us of conflicts that need to be resolved and inspire us to join causes for social change.
We tend to think of anger as a negative emotion that is destructive or a necessary evil in a fight. It’s true that anger can be so intense that it drives us in a way that makes the anger the problem instead of the problem that started it. But, when anger is informing rather than driving it can lead to constructive problem solving. In fact, anger can also be in service of love. It tells us to right personal and societal wrongs. Martin Luther King, Jr. realized that non-violent resistance was a way to channel anger, stating, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”
The ideal way to embrace anger as a useful source is to not be afraid of it. Become familiar with how anger feels in your body: Clenched jaw, rigid or puffed up posture, a tense body, heart racing, heat in your face. This will be helpful for the instances in which you don’t notice you are angry until all of a sudden things like someone’s high enthusiasm or their mere breathing seem to irritate you, and you lash out on them by saying something mean…
There are several constructive ways to cope with your anger. Here are some options:
- Effectively communicating your anger in a way that maintains your relationships (talking it out instead of yelling).
- Walking away from the situation or using breathing techniques to reduce the intensity of your anger.
- Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.
- Journaling/Sketching to sort through your thoughts about the reasons you’re angry and where it’s originating from.
- Exercising or going for a walk outside to reduce the intensity or channel it in another way.
Greenfieldboyce, N. (2019, January 20) The Power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Anger. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/02/20/691298594/the-power-of-martin-luther-king-jr-s-anger
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training manual (Second edition.). New York: The Guilford Press.