From talk show hosts and political party candidates to newspaper headlines and popular books, so much of what we see and read has to do with anger. Anger has become big business. This certainly makes sense, given the extent of the problems we're facing today. Still, it makes it all the more important to understand this primary human emotion that many think of as bad or dangerous and others are eager to quickly embody and act out. Since much has already been written about anger as a negative emotion, let's consider how anger can be positive. Let's consider how your anger can actually be a gift. Here are four ways:
- Anger gets you more in touch with yourself.
- Anger shows you where you're habitually triggered.
- Anger focuses you on your power, and, potentially, on creativity you may not even have known you have.
- Anger shakes up the status quo.
As we've certainly been seeing politically and socially, you can't be complacent when you're angry. Things that may have been bothering you for a while become intolerable. Problems that may have stayed just under the surface in your mind take center stage thanks to anger. Your anger demands your attention, opening up an inner dialogue between you and the problem and helping you gain clarity about what's really important to you. No matter what your level of anger, from irritation to rage, you feel it because something matters to you. While your anger helps you clarify what's important to you in the world around you, that's only half of what anger can show you. And it may not be the most important half.
Clearly your anger focuses you outward, on what's bothering you, but what makes anger really effective is using it first to help you focus inward. One of anger's key gifts is that it can shine a light on your inner world. Try keeping an anger diary for a week -- just a simple one where you write down the focus of any anger that you experience during the week and add what you wish had happened instead. Then, at the end of the week, look at your anger episodes to discern the pattern that will inevitably be there. Do you become angry when you feel disrespected? When you feel pressed for time? When you feel taken advantage of or misunderstood? Notice your pattern, and, if you want to take it a step deeper, think about who in your family of origin may have shared that pattern. Taking time for this exploration will show you both the outer and the inner cause of your anger, and that dual knowledge will help you decide on your best course of action.
Action will inevitably be required. Anger is insistent. It demands a solution, and sometimes that demand leads to surprisingly creative results, especially if you've taken the time to explore your anger deeply. Do you remember a time when your anger demanded that you ask for help with a task? Find a better way to be in relationship? Reprioritize your schedule? Or your life? One of my clients used her anger to help her focus more deeply on her relationship with her family, and her exploration of her trigger pattern as well as her interpersonal communication, led to a more honest and satisfying relationship with her sister.
This is the ultimate gift. The change that may have seemed too difficult to even contemplate becomes possible given the power of your anger. In fact, throughout history, a lot of the changes the world has made have come about with the help of anger. If you simply react in anger, you'll probably end up causing more problems than you solve, but if you explore your anger, both its outer focus and its inner origins, you can make beneficial changes that you might not even have dreamed possible.
Marcia Cannon, Ph.D., MFT is a marriage and family therapist who has taught people how to use their anger positively for more than fifteen years. She conducts talks and workshops on the gift of anger process for organizations and groups nationwide. She is the author of "The Gift of Anger: Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peace."