The power of anger – a force for good

Let’s talk anger.

Like many, I tend to keep my rage quiet. Why? Because from a young age you’re told anger isn’t cool, it’s NOT a good look.

For a little girl growing into a woman society tells you anger is unseemly; it’s not something a female should show, so the practice of masking it becomes embedded.

If you do get mad there’s a gamut of pejorative terms just waiting to be stamped on you like a bingo card. Aged six and having a tantrum because you’ve not yet learnt rationality? Behaving like a spoilt brat! Trying to discover your identity at the age of 14 amid the swamp of hormonal internal turmoil? Typical sulky teenager! Super busy in a high performing job? She’s a career bitch! And – oh yeah – let’s not forget the ‘nagging wife’ and ‘bitter old battle-axe’. Full house!

Most women I know put enormous effort into dressing their anger in deferential clothing and working hard not to get angry. “Oh, I’m just really stressed”, “I’ll be fine, I am just tired”, “I’m probably overreacting”, “It’s OK – I’ll be OK I am just feeling a little emotional.”

OK, let’s stop this right now.

A dose of anger, like a spoonful of sugar-coated medicine, can be good. It’s OK to feel the full range of human emotions, including anger. Letting it fester or mismanaging it is unhealthy and unmanageable.

By denying our anger, we deny who we are. Millions of years ago our ancestors used anger to deal with predators, either by fighting or fleeing. In a modern civil society we still harbour these emotions but don’t have fierce-looking woolly mammoths with sharp pointy tusks standing menacingly before us.

We cannot erase anger because it exists within us as a mechanism for survival.

So we have to get better at dealing with it.

How?

By understanding what’s causing it, feeling it, listening to it and looking after it.

Just this week I felt deeply irritated when someone didn’t acknowledge something I felt particularly proud of doing. I seethed over this apparent injustice. But, hold up – what was really going on? I paused to look in more detail.

It was then I realised I’m on high-alert having recently marked the passing of my uncle; someone from my childhood summer days who was so full of life. Precious, fragile, hazy memories of times filled with adventure and fun and happiness.

Anger is often a secondary emotion that masks something else. Articulating this is difficult but putting words down on paper helps me unravel the scenario going on inside my mind.

Anger (and a damn good cry, natch), forces us to take a closer look at ourselves. It lights the fire of creativity and galvanise us into action. It allows us to explore our emotions, harness them and be our true selves.

Once I saw this, it did not matter to me whether someone else had noted my contribution or not. Nor would I allow their action (or inaction) to define my emotional state. And, hell, I’ll shout about my own achievements myself thank-you-very-much.

Having uncovered it, stayed with it and listened to it, I chose to look after it. I ran, childlike, in nature. I explored Dartmoor’s rugged landscape and experienced a life-affirming sunset; the type that leaves you open-mouthed and filled with a sense of awe.

While it no doubt causes discomfort, accepting anger and using it productively can offer the greatest comfort of all.

Just a brief final word on anger: the starting point is always to distinguish the good from the bad. Bad anger (short tempered, paranoia, tearful or depressed) can be signs of chronic stress and you’ll need to tackle it by asking your doctor for help.

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