The Benefits and Hazards of Anger

What is anger?

Rationally and objectively defined, anger is an emotional response to a perceived or actual injustice.

When you’re truly angry, you believe someone has done something wrong. “Wrong” is the standard to which you consciously (or subconsciously) subscribe.

Often, when we think we’re angry, we’re actually not angry. It’s possible you’re frustrated — and it seems like anger. Or it’s possible you’re hurt — and it seems like anger.

Frustration refers to when you feel blocked, or are blocked, by circumstances. Traffic is a common example. You don’t really know who to be angry at. The other drivers? The occasional rude or bad driver? The people who build or manage the roads? You’re just angry. But this isn’t necessarily injustice; it’s more frustration.

Hurt is very common after a person disappoints or rejects you, in romance or perhaps business or friendship as well. You feel angry, and perhaps express it. “Hell hath no fury….” It’s said to be only women, but it’s really a lot of people (not all people) who respond to hurt in this way. It seems like anger, but it’s really hurt, disappointment or rejection.

It’s possible you’re angry at forces beyond your own — or anyone’s — control, forces such as nature or biology, for which no person holds responsibility. In these cases, you’re angry at someone or something that doesn’t really exist, or (crazy as it sounds) at reality itself.

This last comes up in therapy sessions all the time. “It sounds like you’re angry,” says the therapist. “I am,” replies the client. “Who are you angry at?” Pause. “I don’t know. I guess it’s God. But I don’t know if there’s a God. Or if you even believe in God.” It doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s not really possible to be angry at unseen or unnamed forces. Only a person — an actual human being — is capable of wrongdoing, whatever you perceive wrongdoing to be, or however you define right and wrong (assuming you do).

Is anger healthy? Yes, but as I’m saying, it’s important to understand what you really feel, and whether it’s anger or not.

An inability or unwillingness to feel anger is unhealthy. A psyche without anger would only be possible in a world without injustice. But so long as human beings possess choices, some will choose right ways and some will choose  wrong ways — and you’re always going to have emotions about the ones who choose the wrong ways. You might insist, “There is no right and wrong,” or, “I don’t know what right or wrong is.” But your emotions will always suggest otherwise. You believe something.

It’s important for anger to be proportional to the actual injustice. And it’s important not just to stay angry, but also figure out what to do about it.

Often, there’s little or nothing we can do about another’s injustice. We can hold someone accountable, to the degree possible and appropriate. That means something. If you experience no anger, you won’t ever hold people accountable as you might or should. You’ll create (unwittingly) all kinds of abuse and toxicity around you, sending the message to others that you may be treated as a doormat or worse.

At the same time, you also need serenity. Serenity means acceptance of the fact that while you can hold others accountable, you cannot change their minds, not if they don’t wish their minds or actions to change. Let it go and surround yourself with what’s important to you. Ignore the rest, as much as you can.

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