What is anger? Where does it come from? Feeling angry is a natural, biologically necessary emotion built into the very core of all human beings. Within the range of angry feelings, individuals might experience mild irritation all the way to profound rage. Stress, tension, frustration, hostility and resentment are also part of the anger spectrum.
The many sides of seeing red
Anger isn’t necessarily always a bad thing: it has many sides. For example, anger can come with a strong surge of energy and feelings of power and personal agency, and in this way might feel empowering for some. What can make anger so unpleasant, however, for the person feeling it and for others in its wake, is how it manifests, particularly when it remains untended—stuck, stagnant or sharp.
Moving through anger
Given the multifaceted nature of anger, how can we move through it? Psychologist Dr. Jesmen Mendoza explains that we are able to “resolve anger when we can hold another accountable for the perceived injustice without tying it to expectations.”
Coping comes when we express—in safe, brave and self-compassionate ways—the unfairness, slight or wrongdoing we feel.
And these expressions of anger must come “without being bound to the other person taking responsibility,” as this lies out of our control and may in fact never happen. As such, Mendoza notes that we each need to uncover and practice ways to “transform our anger into something productive or constructive.”
Avoiding our anger, Mendoza points out, can result in “more anger, a quicker escalation at a later time when that anger is activated, destructive behaviors and a skewed sense of how the world might actually be.” Instead, “It is best to figure out how to articulate and relinquish one’s anger in an assertive way.”
The impact of staying irate
Anger untended or inappropriately expressed can have significant impacts on our emotional well-being, physical health and relationships. For instance, research shows that anger in the form of outbursts can increase risk of heart attack and stroke, and affect general heart health.
Contribute to a gentler society
At the root of anger, Mendoza highlights, is a broader issue of “citizenship and responsibility-taking. We can’t talk about anger without opening up to learning how to take full responsibility for our lives and our actions.” Not only can “a proper expression of anger actually leave you with energy to thrive,” says Mendoza, but honoring and communicating our anger in healthy ways contributes to a more “responsible way of living and may unlock a kinder and gentler society in the end.”
- Recognize the injustice.
- Feel your full feelings.
- Appreciate your cultural context.
- Articulate your anger safely and appropriately.
- Name accountability.
- Release expectation.
- Engage in anger-transforming activities.
- Pay attention to avoidance.
- Heed physical, emotional and social impacts.
- Seek the wisdom and support of allies—family, friends, practitioners.