Anger, Friend or Foe?

What is anger? It is a subjective, physiological, and emotional reaction, causing an energy flow, rather as electricity can be low or high voltage. Sometimes we have only mild irritation that merely glows, while at other times we may have an overload of rage that can blow our fuses or damage others as well. The anger response comes from our fight-or-flight reactions in our brainstems or limbic system. Fight is experienced primarily as anger, while flight is mostly felt as fear.

Why do we have anger? Like all of our emotions, it has a purpose. Like fear, it is a protector feeling. Anger’s purposes are self-protection and self-empowerment, stimulation to solve problems, motivation to right wrongs. Angegts and problems. Healthy and benign anger energy strives for settlement and works for peace through approach rather than avoidance. Anger supports our desires for relief from the problem, rousing us to face and confront disturbing issues, The word confront comes from two Latin words that mean up front, face to face with. Anger helps us face the music and gives us the blessing of assertiveness.

When do we have anger? When something is vitally important to us and we cannot just ignore it or the situation. We can ignore only things that seem trivial and unimportant to us. Our anger ignites to help us deal with moments of perceived threat and loss. Anger also operates in displeasing, unacceptable situations. Surprisingly and of great importance in working with relationships- anger can sometimes be a defense to cover up other uncomfortable feelings (fear, pain, guilt, shame, or disgust).

Disappointments, frustrations, humiliations, personal attacks and insults (verbal or physical) often set our anger energy in motion. We have anger as often as we find anything that is not right. Problems trigger it. Conflicts trigger it. Anger is usually normally about injustice. Its existence is always a normal reaction and therefore legitimate, if we are reading the situation accurately.

Unfortunately, some of us do not perceive reality and are reacting to delusions and deceptions. To pick up a stick to ward off an imaginary bear is understandable, once we know what is being seen and heard. Perhaps too much of our anger is like that, warding off imaginary hallucinations of reality, which are not there. These are not warranted because they are unreal. The anger may be valid if you grant the illusion. Illusions are dangerous. Paranoia is dangerous.

Believing his fantasy that I was a threat to his marriage, a former counselee threatened me. He told me he had a gun loaded for my death, and he soon found himself questioned by the police as a result of his threats. Thank God he soon moved out of the country and getting well. One of my colleagues had his tires slashed by a paranoid patient. Many doctors and other helping professionals are victims of those who accuse them of fictitious wrongs.

Whether anger particulars are illusory or real, the misguided approaches of saying, Don’t be angry or encouraging someone to stifle and stuff anger will not work. Therefore, anger, like any feeling, depends on many events, happenings, or other situations. It is dependent upon these causesnot independent in and of itself. When we are put down, demeaned, or shamed in any way, anger must result, whether it is acknowledged or not. It is a reactive effect, not an origin nor a source in itself. Anger is always derivative. It derives from what we see, hear, and think, whether accurate or distorted. Anger itself does not know if our data is correct or not. It takes us as we are and without any benefit of doubt. Anger does not think; it reacts. Like a computer, what goes in comes out. Good stuff or garbage. It makes no judgments.

Is anger morally bad? No. Is it morally good? No. Anger, like any feeling, is neither good nor bad. It just is. We can’t help having it. Then what is wrong with anger? The wrongness arises when someone has too much or too little anger and uses that anger in unhealthy, hostile, unproductive, even destructive ways. Anger comes in degrees and can be misused and misdirected. The feeling itself is not wrong. The behavior we choose to express it can be very wrong. We can underuse anger, or we can overuse it.

Too much anger energy we call rage, and rage constitutes a major social problem. Today we are witnessing the dangers of road rage. When anger turns to rage, we become stupid. Doctors I have known maintain that our brains become oxygen-depleted, because blood rushes to our arms and legs for fight/flight, and we find it hard to think straight. Some people experience seeing red and become out of control. That is why the conventional strategies of counting to ten and taking deep breaths work. I have heard medical men also say that such calming and breathing tactics really do help us in getting oxygen back into the brain. Only when we are able to think again can we respond constructively.

Someone with too little anger energy presents weakness and vulnerability. If our protest response never rises above a low level, we find ourselves subjected to abuse, becoming doormats for other people. Anger is useful and good when it enables us to assert ourselves, face up to threats, and protect ourselves with appropriate boundaries to fortify our rights. Anger energy produces manageable strength so long as the anger remains within controllable limits. It is our choice and no one else’s.

We can choose our behavior? Yes, indeed. Even more surprising, we can also choose our thoughts and our wants, in addition to choosing our actions. We cannot choose not to have feelings, including anger. All feelings are emotional reactions to our other primary realities. Then can we control our feelings? You bet! We do it by using the freedom we have to shape our primary reality (our perceptions, thoughts, wants, and our actions). That’s how feelings are managed and regulatedby becoming aware of what we perceive and by choosing what we think, what we desire, and what we do .The most crucial influence is our thinking, which mostly determines how we use or misuse our feelings. Feelings are meant to serve, not master us.

The best way to think of anger is this: Am I using my anger energy FOR or AGAINST? Another way to approach the matter would be to consider what the anger is protesting, reflect on the anger-issue, and then thoughtfully choose to use that anger energy FOR the self and others. As a Christian, I would modify the saying of personal choice to If it is to be, it is up to me and THEE, Lord. Dealing with anything as powerful and as useful as anger needs divine assistance. Anger management needs all the help it can get.

Anger FOR myself and with God is resolute courage and determination.
Anger FOR and WITH others and God is mutual encouragement and fortitude.
Anger AGAINST myself and without God is shamefulness and self-loathing.
Anger AGAINST others and without God’s help is belligerence and hostility.