Anger is an emotion that often gets a bad reputation. It certainly deserves it, considering how destructive it can be. Anger is also discouraged in multiple cultures and religions. Many people would discourage you from stoking rage but it can be a useful emotion. It’s often recommended that you squash anger, wait for it to dissipate, or repress it. This is a disservice because anger matters.
Mental health experts recommend processing and examining anger. In many instances, people who are rightfully angry, such as marginalised people, are often told they should turn the other cheek. But this only serves to make people who should be rightfully angry that their frustrations don’t matter. This also leads to situations where if you don’t address your anger, you end up feeling guilty or that you deserve the oppression you’re facing.
Learn from anger
Emotions are an evolutionary trait that helps you guide your response. If something makes you angry, it can be a warning that it’s something that’s bad for you, that needs to be fixed or avoided. Anger is a sign of a violation, danger or neglect. It’s also protective. When used to determine the shortcomings of your environment, anger can make you take steps to advocate for yourself.
Anger also helps you determine boundaries. For example, if you’re in a hostile work environment where people constantly fail to respect your personal space, you can put your foot down and get them to stop. In addition, if you’re constantly undermined at work because of a disability, gender or being of a different religion, anger can help you stand up for yourself. If you ignore your anger over such issues, you can end up feeling guilty for thinking you deserve better. In other instances, you can end up with self-loathing or low self-esteem which can affect your mental health.
Anger can also push for positive political action. If you have a residence or workplace that doesn’t take into account your needs, you can stand up and advocate for your rights. This doesn’t mean that you have to confront the authorities directly. Different circumstances call for different strategies. If you’re underpaid because of your identity, you can take legal recourse. If your whole department is underpaid, you and your coworkers can organise industrial action.
Anger is a great motivator for finally taking action on what has been frustrating you. Whether it’s a change you want to apply to your behaviour or making your workplace more equitable, being angry is an asset.
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Anger as a bad thing
Of course, anger is still a destructive emotion that can lead to violence, malice and bigotry. This kind of anger doesn’t need to be harnessed. If what is making you angry has no legitimate reason, the problem is you. When you find yourself angry because someone is different, for example, if they are a member of the LGBT community, examine why you need to feel so strongly about something that has nothing to do with you.
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If your first response when you feel angry is violence, you need help processing your anger. This can be caused by trauma, unprocessed emotion or being allowed to get away with such behaviour. This kind of anger is destructive, and not useful. But you shouldn’t just let go or try to tamp it down. Learn to process your triggers and express your anger through healthy ways, such as journaling.
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How to process anger
Studies show that repressed, uncontrolled anger can lead to anxiety, high blood pressure and headaches. It leads to flooding of stress hormones such as cortisol which affect appetite, and sleep health. Emotions aren’t supposed to last a long time. They’re just a signifier of your environment.
Anger can feel like a panic attack. It’s sudden, grows worse and either ends with you crying or, in worst case scenarios, violent. The first step is to sit in the emotion. Don’t try to act out or react. Avoid making any decisions when you’re full of rage. Don’t try to communicate through it because you could say something regrettable. Instead, process why you’re feeling angry. If your boss says something offensive, don’t cut back. Vent to a trusted friend to let the emotion go through you. After, use that reaction, the fact that you got angry, to determine what you can do to ensure your boss never makes you feel unsafe at work. This includes different actions from having a heart-to-heart conversation with them or reporting them to HR. Anger fuels you to keep pushing for healthy change. It’s like a vaccine against complacency.
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Be aware of your emotions. If you’re quick to anger, something is unbalanced in your emotional and mental health. You may need to talk with a mental health professional to see if you have a disorder or just need a better way to fine-tune your emotional response.
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