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That Old Devil Called Anger

Anger is an emotion that many people find difficult to experience. It is an emotion often thought of as ‘bad’ or ‘negative’, something that we should strive to ‘get rid of’. Yet without anger we simply wouldn’t survive.

Anger and survival

Think of a small baby who is screaming and yelling because they need to be fed or changed or because they’re uncomfortable. They don’t ask nicely (because they don’t know how to yet), so they scream with all the anger they can muster. And it generally gets results: they get fed/changed/soothed and they calm down.

This need to survive stays with us; and so does the need to experience anger. The primitive nature of anger can also be felt physically. We feel our heart racing, our head pounding with the adrenalin, our eyes feel like they are bulging and our body can become tense and poised as if ready to attack. It can be as frightening to experience these physical changes as it is to be on the receiving end of them.

However anger is a normal and healthy emotion. It can help in the fight against injustice or prejudice, and propel people to take positive action. Many charities and campaign groups have been set up in the wake of an injustice, and undoubtedly propelled by angry feelings. Anger can energise us to take action and help us make changes in our lives and in our relationships.

 It is appropriate to feel angry if you feel strongly about something or feel an injustice has happened.

It is appropriate to feel angry if you feel strongly about something or feel an injustice has happened.

The danger of 'bottling up' anger

Anger turned inward, however, can cause immense and complex problems that can lead to destructive behaviours. In some people the need to deny their anger can lead to problems such as drink and drug addiction (to mask the feelings completely), or depression and anxiety (which serve to repress the anger, and turn it inward).

Others may find themselves so overwhelmed by their feelings of anger that they explode with violent outbursts towards others (as seen in cases of domestic violence). Unresolved anger can lead to physical problems and illnesses, damage relationships and friendships, cause problems at work, as well as leading to depression and anxiety. Unresolved anger can often lead to a lifetime of misery.

How to manage anger

The key to managing anger is gaining an understanding of those ‘buttons’ that ‘get pressed’ every time you feel angry. For some people unlocking the door to depression and anxiety might be about finding and acknowledging those events and experiences that have caused such immense pain and anger.

There is no need to feel shame in acknowledging feelings of anger, and much to be gained by confronting your feelings. You can learn how to recognise your anger and express it appropriately. In this way you can learn to effectively solve problems and deal with whatever life throws at you. The power really is in your hands!