BY SOFO ARCHON
This is the transcript of a video published here.
Anger is perhaps the most misunderstood emotion.
People tend to view it as negative or bad, and hence as something to suppress or fight against. And a lot of “spiritual” teachers and self-help coaches agree. But the truth is that anger is neither bad nor negative. In fact, it is there for a very important reason:
To help us live a better life.
How exactly? By bringing our attention to our unmet needs and what’s preventing us from meeting them, as well as by urging us to take action in order to meet them.
You can think of anger as a warning light on a car’s dashboard — It shows us that there’s something not quite right that we need to promptly attend to in order to avoid getting into serious trouble. And we have two options: We can either pay attention to our anger and act accordingly, or neglect it and face the consequences resulting from that.
Let me give you a simple example to illustrate the purpose of anger:
Imagine that someone you know behaved in a way that hurt you. If you’re like pretty much any other person alive, anger will naturally arise within you because of that. Why? To urge you to find a way to deal with that person in order to avoid getting hurt by him or her again in the future.
In other words, anger is there to help protect your well-being.
Now, in response to that, you could express to that person how you feel about what he or she did, as well as request him or her to start treating you differently. You could also let that person know that if he or she continues behaving the same way, you will distance yourself from him or her.
That is a healthy way of expressing anger, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. On the contrary, it is a tremendously beneficial thing to do, both for your personal wellbeing and that of your relationships.
But here’s the problem:
Instead of expressing their anger, people tend to suppress it.
There are several reasons why they do so. For example, some people suppress their anger to avoid interpersonal conflict, others to not be judged or disliked by people, and still others to just not appear bad in their very own eyes, for as we have already seen, a lot of people think that feeling angry or expressing anger is wrong.
That last reason is usually because some people equate anger to rage. In reality, however, rage is only one form of anger – an unhealthy, perverted one, in fact – which often results from suppressed anger.
As we saw earlier, anger can actually be gentle and kind, but when it turns into rage, it becomes violent. Let us return to our example to show you what I mean.
If you didn’t express your feelings of anger toward the person who hurt you, you’d likely keep on getting hurt by him or her, and thus with time accumulate more and more anger within you, which at some point would most probably explode into rage. But again, anger is not to blame here; what’s to blame is its suppression. In other words, expressing anger in a healthy manner prevents the onset of rage.
Now, other than rage and its obvious negative effects on our relationships, suppressing our anger can also be detrimental to our health. Here are just a few of the mental and physical health impacts of suppressed anger:
Chronic stress, paranoia, anxiety, depression, emotional numbness, headaches and digestive issues.
Another common problem with anger is that, when filtered through judgment, it can quickly be diverted to hate. For example, when we judge someone who has hurt or wronged us as inherently evil, inevitably we start feeling hate toward them, and want to hurt them back. For someone who is inherently evil can’t really be changed – it can only be fought against and won over.
You see, while anger urges us to examine and change the conditions that brought us pain, hate turns our healthy desire for change into toxic energy and throws it at some external “enemy” — a former best friend or romantic partner, a politician, the super rich, and so on. In reality, of course, that enemy is usually only a projection of our own making, which hate doesn’t allow us to see. Rather, hate locks us in its limited perspective and has us wage a war – a war which, even if we win, doesn’t bring us peace or healing — on the contrary, it intensifies our suffering, which leads us to further anger and judgment, thus entrapping us in a vicious circle of hate and conflict.
Now, to avoid misunderstanding, I’m not suggesting or implying here that we should tolerate abusive behavior. We shouldn’t. My point is simply that, unless we understand the conditions that give rise to abusive behavior, we will never be able to effectively cope with it. On the contrary, our efforts to do so will most likely be counterproductive.
Anger is a wise friend to be embraced and understood – not an enemy to be avoided or suppressed. But when we express our anger, we need to be extra careful with how we do it, to avoid channeling into hate. Then, anger can help transform our suffering into joy and freedom.