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  • April Griffin

Anger - the most misunderstood and least popular emotion

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Anger is a widely misunderstood subject- anger brings up images of rage and violence that are often negative and rarely evoke positive images. Anger is one of the main reasons people come to counselling.

You may find yourself easily angered so much that is comes up like an automatic response or a knee jerk reaction. For other people you might find yourself rarely outwardly angry at others, and instead direct your anger inwards towards yourself.

How can anger manifest itself so differently from person to person? When is anger acceptable? Should I try to control my anger, or is it better to let it out?

These are questions that has been thought about across cultures by experts and everyday people alike.

First off, it is important to remember that anger, like all emotions, is a valid, and healthy emotion.

Anger is a signal to ourselves that a boundary has been crossed, protection is needed.

Anger is felt bodily, and these feelings in our body can be clues to help us detect our anger so we can take wise action. We may feel hot, tightness in our chest, increased heart rate and an urge to stand up to others, hit or yell; this is our fight response. This response is hard-wired into our brain and body and helps protect us from danger instinctively with little response time.

Anger is a signal to others. Whether we are aware of being angry or not- our body signals of anger tell others to stay away, to listen to us, or to do what we say.

Anger can be expressed in helpful ways to assert one's rights individually and collectively, but it can be expressed in harmful ways for example in situations of intimate partner violence. With mindful awareness we can slow down and choose expressions of our anger that can both express our needs and respect others.

Every culture, workplace and community has different thresholds and ways of expressions of anger that are acceptable; acceptable forms of expression may be different depending on gender, social status or profession. For example for women in western/European culture it is less acceptable to express anger directly than it is if you are man.

Expressing too much anger can cease to be effective due to cultural and social norms and result in consequences, rejection, or challenge depending on the situation and your status and identity. To put it simply: helpful expressions of anger in one context could be unhelpful in other situations.

Some expressions of anger can be hurtful or harmful to others even it is acceptable in your family. For example verbal abuse towards others is psychologically harmful to children even if it is tolerated by members of a family.

Some people believe it is helpful to “vent” or express your anger fully. However, this is not helpful if others are harmed or if it fuels more intense anger and thoughts that justify hurting or harming others.

Expressing anger can be helpful when it results in good boundaries, self and collective advocacy, and when its expression leads someone to understand and mourn what is underneath the anger.

If you find your anger is harming your relationships than it is time to seek a deeper understanding of what is behind your anger and find healthy ways to express yourself.

Anger is often considered to be a secondary emotion meaning that, before someone is angry, likely they experienced another emotion first or underneath. For example, if a child is angry that a classmate called her a name, it is likely that underneath she also feels sad and hurt.

This exploration of hurt may lead you to dig deeper into your past, understand patterns of coping in your family of origin, intergenerational oppression and trauma, process old wounds and hurts, and find tools to express your anger in healthy ways.

Reach out today if you want to dig deeper into understanding how to understand and transform your anger in a new way.

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