Anger can be frightening, both for the one receiving it as well as the one experiencing it. Anger is a strong emotional response. It can have a range beginning at mild annoyance and advancing all the way to blinding rage. It has been said that anger is a secondary emotion, covering one of several primary emotions, namely fear, hurt, or frustration. Anger is powerful. It can be dangerous if not understood and controlled. It has definite, measurable physical effects such as elevated blood pressure, increased adrenalin, muscular tension and rigidity.

An involuntary response

To some degree, anger is an involuntary response. When we experience fear, hurt or frustration, but are unable to recognize and express those feelings appropriately, we often experience anger. For instance, I feel hurt because my friend did not call me to let me know she couldn’t meet me for dinner. As I sit alone at a restaurant, my surface emotion is anger (and humiliation) at being stood up. Underneath that, however, what I really feel is hurt that she did not care enough to let me know something happened. When I leave her a third phone message, though, I don’t tell her how hurt I feel; instead I reveal how angry I am that she didn’t have the courtesy to call.

Expressions of anger

There are several ways that anger can be expressed. Most of us have plenty of experience with the unhealthy ways. One is the "Conflict Avoider," the person who suppresses their anger to appear calm and controlled at all times. These folks take the blame on themselves, become over-responsible and don’t acknowledge what they really feel. The second variation is the "Exploders," those whose anger is obvious to anyone and everyone. They can be cruel, sarcastic in a blatant way, critical, hostile and generally unpleasant to be around. The third style is the "Passive-Aggressive" folks who are more subdued in their expression, using tactics such as procrastination, subtler sarcasm, lack of consideration and the silent treatment to make their point.

Healthy anger

In contrast to these, healthy anger can be used productively to find solutions and restore relationships. Fear, hurt and frustration are legitimate and necessary emotions. When we feel anger, it is wise to ask "What underlying emotion am I experiencing?" When we know which one it is, we can own that feeling and figure out why we feel it. Then we can address what is in our power to address.

Examples of managing underlying emotions might include:

  1. The man afraid of losing a job can choose, instead of bellowing his anger at his family, to talk about his fears with his wife, together examining the alternatives and how they would manage if this happens.

  2. The parent who is frustrated by her teenage child’s uncooperative attitude can choose, instead of further alienating her child by nasty sarcasm which is undermining the child’s self-esteem, to call a family meeting and set new guidelines, saying clearly and respectfully what she will do if cooperation does not improve.

  3. The spouse who is hurt by her husband’s lack of attention, instead of being cloyingly "nice" while inwardly making plans to see a lawyer, can make an appointment to talk openly about one or two things she would really like him to do for her to make her feel more special and ask what she can do to make him feel that way also.

Anger expressed in healthy ways serves useful purposes. It signals that something needs attention; it can motivate positive change; it’s physical manifestations can be harnessed as a source of energy; it can drive us toward greater trust and intimacy in relationships as we reveal our primary feelings and ask, in appropriate ways, to have our needs met. Use your anger for good. This is what God made it for.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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