People often think of anger negatively. They imagine it’s something to be shunned and ashamed of and don’t recognize all emotions have their place.
Just like love and the other emotions we label positive, so-called negative emotions have a purpose. They propel you to make changes and improve life.
On a grand scale, the usefulness of anger is obvious. It can incite progress and stop inhumanity. On a smaller scale, though, the reason your anger exists might not be clear.
People get angry when they aren’t happy. They know this, but don’t always think about the next step.
Anger’s a nudge to do something positive.
Unhappiness shows something’s wrong. You have an unmet need. Maybe you need security, love, honesty or something else, but you haven’t got it and you’re upset. One way of expressing your needs aren’t fulfilled is to get mad.
Often, though, an angry outburst has the opposite effect to the one you desire. It can make people hostile and defensive, so if you want them to help you meet your unmet need, you’re screwed.
How to make anger work for you
Anger will benefit you only when used at the right time. Use it on the wrong occasion and it will damage you. You’ll regret things you say and do, and people will dislike or fear you.
To make anger work for rather than against you, see it differently. Rather than view rage as a problem, recognize it wants to tell you something important.
Rising signs of anger are like a barometer for your emotions; they indicate there’s a need to fulfil. If you look at them this way, they will subside.
Potential symptoms, or rising signs, include:
Tightening of the jaw
Justifying self-talk (your inner voice says you have every right to rage)
When you note the approach of anger, you have a choice. You can think “I am unhappy. What do I need to help me feel better?”
If you don’t think you have a choice, try mindfulness to expand self-awareness. When you learn to observe what’s happening in your head, you step back from it as a witness and detach.
In a detached state, you’re better able to think separately from your passion. Your anger is one thing, and you another. As you can act independently, your resentment won’t take over and rule you.
When you note anger’s on its way, ask yourself what you can do to improve your state of mind.
Can you leave a difficult situation long enough to instill calm?
Listen to gentle music and take deep breaths until the relaxation response kicks in and helps you gain control?
Figure out how to express your needs in words and get someone to help you?
Channel your anger into something positive?
Change your environment so it suits your requirements better?
When we are angry, it’s normal to go over why we are upset. We repeat negative stories in our head until we are more stressed. A useful approach exists though.
Instead of telling a story along the lines of “why” a problem has come about, we can consider “what” to do next to stimulate positive change.
Swap why for what in your self-talk.
For example, if a driver steals the parking space you were about to go into, there’s no point raging. If you go over why you’re mad, your mood will worsen. Think about what to do, though, and you’ll shift out of fight-or-flight and your stress will diminish.
You could wait until your heartbeat’s a normal rate again before moving on.
You could consider the driver didn’t see you and forget the matter.
You could make sure you get to the car-park earlier in future when you need not fight for a space.
Anger isn’t a negative emotion when you use it to help you. We need to get angry occasionally so we stand up for ourselves and aren’t treated badly. Most of the time, though, anger’s a sign we have an unmet need, and it’s time to do something helpful.