The Secret About Anger You've Got to Know

Anger is one of those things lots of people know about, but not everyone understands. There are so many misconceptions about what anger is and isn’t, and today I’m going to let you in on a big secret that’ll help you release your anger and feel calmer and more compassionate.

Let me start with a question first. Is anger a positive or a negative emotion? Well, that’s actually a trick question. I don’t want you to think about emotions as either positive or negative. If you think of them this way you’ll try to chase the “positive” ones (happiness, love and pleasure) and avoid the “negative” ones (anger, anxiety and sadness). That’s no good because then you end up doing things you shouldn’t like drinking, drugs, eating unhealthily, spending money and chasing relationships in your quest to feel the good feelings and avoid the bad stuff.

Instead, I want you to think of emotions as either being healthy and moving you forward or unhealthy and keeping you stuck. There are times when being content can keep you stuck. For example, have you ever stayed in a relationship or job long past when you should have left? Exactly! You might have previously viewed contentment as a “positive” emotion. BUT, it was keeping you stuck so, guess what? It’s unhealthy! That’s why this is a better way to look at your emotions.

That brings us to today’s topic: anger. Anger is actually a healthy emotion. Think about it. Anger is often very motivating. You know, like when you think your butt is looking too big so you get pissed and get yourself to the gym, or if you’re upset about the latest political campaign and it motivates you to start working the polls (that’s polls, not poles – not sure that “working the poles” is as healthy as “working the polls” – but I digress).

The problem is that a lot of people think they’re experiencing anger, but what they’re really experiencing is rage, and that’s an unhealthy emotion. That’s because rage equals anger plus helplessness. It’s the combination that’s the problem, not the anger on its own.

Feelings of anger come and go. Rage stays with you all day. A lot of clients come to me and say they have an anger problem. In the past, they were told to do things like “counting to ten” and “breathing through their feelings.” They end up with me, because this doesn’t work. It didn’t work because they were focusing on the wrong thing. They were focusing on the anger, instead of on the helplessness.

If you want to feel better and really change how you feel, you need to move your attention to the helpless feeling you’re experiencing, not the anger.  As luck (or years of therapy) would have it, there’s actually a quick and very effective way to stop feeling helpless: Taking Action. If you want to stop feeling helpless, you need to take some action. No matter how small the step, if you just do one thing, you’ll start to feel different. You’ll start to feel empowered.

For example, let’s say you’re furious at your boss because he’s been treating you unfairly (we’re going to assume your boss is a “he” for the sake of discussion). Maybe he favors another coworker or maybe he’s just always riding your ass.  You feel helpless because you need this job and whenever you’ve tried to talk to him in the past, he’s shut you down. What you really are in this case, is enraged. If you focus on how angry you are at him and try those tools to stop your anger, it’s not going to work long-term.

Instead, you have to start taking action to deal you’re your feelings of helplessness. This might mean investigating night classes you could take so you could get a degree, or training and eventually get another job. Even though the degree would take awhile, you’d definitely feel better once you started that process. Or, maybe you start looking for a new job in the classifieds, or within your network. Or maybe you start documenting all the things your boss does that are unfair so you have them for a future showdown. It’s about taking your power back.

All of these actions will change your mood. I’m not saying you won’t still get angry, but you’ll no longer feel helpless. So, you’ll get mad, but it’ll be fleeting – it’ll go away – it won’t stay like a cloud over you 24/7.

Kate Rufener