How to Experience Anger in a Healthy Way

I am writing this post at the start of spring, when energy is rising, like the sap in the trees. In traditional Chinese medicine, the internal organs associated with this season are the liver and the gallbladder. If the liver is out of balance, it can manifest as the emotion anger, so I am going to explore anger in this post. It is certainly an emotion that I have experienced strongly throughout my life, but over the years I have learned (and am still learning) to use it in a positive way instead of being consumed by the negative aspects of it. And of course, anger can manifest at the personal level, for example being cut up in traffic, and at the global level, for example with military aggression, lack of action on climate change or countless societal injustices.

Being Aware of Anger

In his book A Monk’s Guide to Happiness, Gelong Thubten explains that “Anger and fear can make us deeply unhappy: we become consumed by negativity, which even undermines our immune system. Carrying that resentment is like carrying a hot coal; the more we hold onto it, the more it burns us. Wouldn’t we rather put it down?” To let go of the hot coal of anger we first need to become aware of it. Many people are disconnected from their true feelings, so it is important to be able to recognise the emotion anger and all the forms that it can take. It can be helpful to know that irritation and frustration are forms of anger, as is hate. Scepticism and sarcasm are also indicators of underlying anger.

Anger as a Messenger

“Like all our feelings, anger is a form of communication, it brings us a message,” (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler in Life Lessons). That message could be that we are being hurt, psychologically or physically, or that our needs are not being met or heard. Or it could be that something is not in alignment with our values and beliefs. Anger is a natural response to certain situations, it is only problematic if:

  • we are not even aware of it
  • we try to suppress it
  • it is out of proportion to the stimulus
  • or we get stuck in the emotion.

Forgiveness as an Antidote to Anger

Very often our response to a situation hurts us more and for longer than the initial insult. Our reaction is the real enemy, not the person who offended us. We can control our own actions, but not theirs. We can use forgiveness as an antidote to anger, by realising that the insult was most likely not intentional or, if it was, that it came from a place of deep negativity and a lack of self control. Very often we do not really know what someone else is going through or what place their negative actions have come from, but we do know that we all struggle to control our emotions at times and so we can forgive that. Forgiveness does not condone the anger-inducing behaviour, instead it frees us from further suffering.

Breaking the Cycle of Anger

Meditation and mindfulness practices are one way that we can gain more control over our own emotions and so avoid inducing anger in others, helping to break the cycle. As Eckhart Tolle observes in The Power of Now “people who carry a lot of anger inside without being aware of it and without expressing it are more likely to be attacked, verbally or or even physically, by other angry people, and often for no apparent reason. They have a strong emanation of anger that certain people pick up subliminally and that triggers their own latent anger.”

Anger as a Motivating Force

Eckhart Tolle’s explanation of emotions and anger struck me when I first read it “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind - or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger.” That is how I try to look at anger now, as a form of energy, which I can transmute into something positive, into healthy action. If I feel anger, I look for the most appropriate, considered action to take in response. Instead of reacting, I respond. A recent article in Positive News resonated with me recently Chris Packham on why he’s angry, yet hopeful in which he explains “I was a very angry young man and I’m a very angry old man. But I’ve always done everything within my power to turn that anger into something positive.” And in her book How to End Injustice Everywhere, I was interested to see Melanie Joy describe anger as a motivating emotion. She also says that “Anger is an appropriate and legitimate emotional reaction to injustice.” Anger very much is a rising energy.

Exploring Anger through Journalling

Journalling can be a healthy way to explore any feelings of anger that you may have, starting with acknowledging the emotion. My recent post on journalling may help you with that. You could ask yourself these questions:

  • What effect is this anger having on me?

  • What message is this anger sending me?

  • Where is the other person coming from?

  • What is or was driving their behaviour?

  • Why should I forgive?

  • How can I forgive?

  • What positive, considered action can I take to help me move forward using the motivating energy of my anger?

I hope that you have found something here to help you use anger in a healthy way, as a force for good, both within and without, personally and in the wider world.