Did you know there’s a positive side to anger? Most of us try to avoid it as much as possible, because it feels bad to be angry or to have others mad at us. Actually, there’s an important purpose to anger.
Anger is a spontaneous emotion that acts like a personal security alarm. When it sounds, it alerts us to the possibility danger within or around us. Like our home security systems, most alarms are false, but you don’t know until you investigate.
The same is true with anger. Most of the time, there is a misunderstanding or misjudgment that has created a false alarm. Yet, if it’s a real intruder, you want to be alert so you can protect yourself. When you feel angry, it means there’s a potential violation and you must explore to know if there’s real danger or it’s a false alarm. On the other hand, if we believe every alarm is real, our natural sense of trust will be compromised. When this happens, we invite unnecessary anxiety and worry.
My client Mary had been divorced for 6 years, yet she was still so furious with her ex-husband for cheating that her health was suffering. When I prompted her to gently close her eyes, she sensed the smoldering volcano of rage in her belly, and was shocked. She had no idea! Graphically seeing the personal cost got Mary’s attention, and she willingly engaged in an imagined dialogue with her ex. She was able to speak freely without fear of rejection or retaliation, and her fury began to lessen. It was as if the rage inside her was emptying along with the words she was expressing. As the feelings poured forth, she began to feel more relaxed and gracious, understanding that this activity is for her benefit—not his. She was able to gain insight into how she had contributed to the decline of the relationship, helping her feel less victimized. When this process was complete, Mary felt very optimistic about her life and future relationships. The next day, she called her ex-husband to apologize for her part in their divorce, and her health immediately began improving. Mary’s ownership of personal power shifted her out of prolonged helplessness into responsible action, and she feels like a different woman.
When you notice you’re feeling angry…Here are 4 important actions to take:
- Anger, like all feelings, is a physical experience. Therefore, so it’s important to allow your body to discharge the tension of it. Focus on how it’s expressing in your body, and allow it to physically express in whatever way works best for you—maybe running, kickboxing, banging a pillow—as long as it is safe for you and those around you.
- Write a dialogue with whomever you are angry—speaking for both sides.
- As the initial tension is physically and emotionally released, you automatically feel better able to discern if there’s a real danger or not and what went amiss. For example, Mary discovered there was no actual danger anymore, and that she isn’t a helpless victim in relationships.
- Take steps to keep yourself emotionally safe in the future. This may include:
- Honestly talking with others to avoid misunderstandings
- Getting clear about your boundaries with yourself and possibly speaking them to others
- Making requests and responding to others’ requests
Anger is an urgent message from the intuitive body (right brain feeler) that you could be in danger and it’s time to find out. As a personal security system, it helps keep us emotionally safe!
Dr. Deborah Sandella is the author of Goodbye, Hurt & Pain: 7 Simple Steps to Health, Love and Success. She is an award-winning psychotherapist, university professor, and the originator of the groundbreaking RIM Method, which is a heavily-backed neuroscience tool for reducing stress and improving the quality of life.