When I was in elementary, I had a tutor named Sarah. She was a great mentor. She was compassionate, wise, and someone I trusted. One day while she was helping me with my homework I blurted out, “Sarah. I don’t like it when I’m angry. I want to cut it off.”
“You want to cut off the feeling of anger?” she asked surprised.
“Yea. When I get angry, I can’t control myself and only bad things happen,” I said. “I yell. I say mean things. I hurt people. And sometimes I get so mad I want to punch something.”
“I see,” Sarah paused. “Sometimes I do bad things when I’m angry too. But you know what? You shouldn’t cut off your anger.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because anger is an emotion and emotions are what make us human,” she smiled.
“Oh okay,” I said and went back to my homework.
Anger is a Powerful Emotion
I think many of us can identify with Little Andrew and his relationship with anger. It is such a powerful emotion that sometimes we lose control. We say hurtful things we don’t mean. We take things too far. We act irrationally.
Because of this, it is easy to see anger only as a negative emotion. But anger can actually be constructive rather than destructive:
Anger tells you information about yourself.
Anger activates you into action.
Anger helps you fight for something you value.
Anger helps you build self-respect.
Anger Tells You Information About Yourself
Anger is a secondary emotion. That means it’s a response to a primary emotion such as embarrassment, disappointment, or fear.
In this way, anger is like smoke. Just like how smoke tells you that something is burning, anger tells you that you are reacting to a primary emotion. Therefore anger is a signal that something deeper is happening and can be used to learn more about yourself.
Anger Activates You Into Action
Once upon a time I was let go from work and I was devastated. I was depressed, I struggled with low self-esteem, and I couldn’t get motivated to do anything. But as I was thinking about my time at the company, I got angry. I got angry because I realized that there were a lot of things that weren’t handled properly. I got angry because I felt like I was never really given a fair shot. This anger gave me the energy I needed to step out of my sadness and move forward.
In this way, anger can activate you into action. It can also help you overcome emotions that keep you stuck like fear, doubt, and anxiety.
Earlier I mentioned that anger can make you act irrationally. It is precisely this trait that allows you to bypass the fear, doubt, and anxiety that are telling you not to do something. By getting angry and irrationally ignoring these warnings, you are now capable of moving past them.
Anger Helps You Fight for Something You Value
One of the reasons people get angry is when something they value comes under attack. This can be a set of beliefs, a family member, or even a physical object that they cherish. Anger is a signal that you can use to protect these values. It lets other people know that something negative will happen if they threaten your values in any way.
Alternatively, anger can also reveal your subconscious set of beliefs. For example, you may get angry in response to a joke. This can help expose a value that you may not have been aware of.
Anger Helps You Build Self-respect
One time when I was playing pickup basketball, my team was down 5-11. The other team only needed 2 more points to win. I started yelling at my teammates in anger to play some defense and play harder. In my mind, we had the better team. We shouldn’t have been losing. We went on to win the game after scoring 8 points in a row.
Afterwards I went up to my teammate Drew and apologized for yelling and he said, “Don’t be. We needed it.” My anger communicated to the team that we were better than how we were playing. It communicated to them that we could win if we fought. And they appreciated it.
In this way, anger can be used to build self-respect. When you choose to see yourself as a value worth protecting, you can then activate yourself with anger to fight and set boundaries. For example, anger can help you stand up for yourself when someone disrespects you. It can also help increase productivity when you’ve been lazy.
Hopefully by now you can see that there are benefits to anger. Like my tutor Sarah said, emotions are a part of what makes us human. So the next time you get angry, see it as an opportunity. Embrace it, dig into what’s causing it, and learn how you can use it to grow.
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