That's right. Anger is NOT a definite sign that you — or anyone else — is toxic.
Emotion is one of the most important characteristics of human beings. It is also valuable.
Happiness, anger, joy, sadness — we all experience these feelings. Yet, it is hard to describe the sensations in words, especially when it comes to the level of intensity. So over time, we simply began to attach values to these emotions, labeling them as positive or negative.
Take ‘anger’ for instance. The word itself has a negative connotation, or at least it has developed one over time.
This may be because of social, cultural or religious reasons, but anger is definitely something we all consider unpleasant. Compared to "positive" emotions like happiness and joy, anger is usually frowned upon.
It's important to recognize that labeling emotions as either positive or negative is not always the best way to go about it. Emotions are temporary phases that come and go based on different circumstances. When the circumstance meets our needs, we experience pleasant emotions. When the circumstances do not meet our needs, we experience unpleasant emotions.
But that doesn't mean that all unpleasant feelings are toxic. In fact, they can be quite useful if utilized properly.
While the potential benefits of anger may not be so obvious, there are quite a few. Here are just 5 examples:
1. Anger is one of our survival mechanisms.
Anger is a part of our primary survival mechanism and is rooted in our most primitive need to live.
When an animal is threatened or attacked by a dangerous predator, it feels anger as a signal to fight and retaliate to stay alive. Our self-defense and fight responses stem from fear and anger. Understanding the purpose of anger and how anger works helps us survive and defend.
Martial arts are perhaps the best example of this, where people overcome fear and manage their anger effectively. They channel out this anger in a disciplined way to defend, compete and win.
2. Anger motivates us to act.
Anger and irritation is created when someone or something blocks your needs and desires. As such, anger motivates you towards achieving your goals and finding solutions to your problems.
Think of a common life example. You work at an office where there is a fellow employee who works just as hard as you. At the end of the month, he gets a positive appraisal and you don’t. If you get angry, it might be because you were disappointed that you were not praised, or because your colleague has been appreciated more than you were.
If you look at anger in a positive manner, it would motivate you to be more competitive and work harder to become a better employee and to ultimately be appreciated by your boss.
3. Anger raises our awareness of injustice.
When we get angry, we feel like things are out place. Things are not the way they are supposed to be and need to change.
How would you feel if you were denied your basic rights? Surely it would lead to anger, but with that, it would instill a thought in your mind that whatever is happening to you is unjust.
At the macro level, this can take the shape of mass protests, civil wars and revolutions. History is full of such examples.
Another example is that of voting rights for women. The very idea that men could vote but women couldn’t prompted feelings of gender inequality. Women became angry, which led them to becoming more fully aware of the injustice, which led to change.
4. Anger pushes us to reveal the parts of ourselves we try to keep hidden.
An interesting thing about anger is that it often hides deeper issues. It is often that underneath anger, there is fear.
Fear of losing control, fear of being alone, fear of being rejected, etc. This is why people are afraid of anger, and by avoiding anger, it gets bottled up at the unconscious level to ultimately become destructive. It is important to follow the trail of anger and dig down to the core issue to address the blockage in your life.
If you are able to resolve the deeper issue underneath anger, there is a good possibility you will stop being angry and become more effective.
5. Anger can be a catalyst for self-improvement.
Anger can prove to be a positive force for change. Getting angry sometimes makes you wonder about what is and is not important in life. It provides an insight about your own faults and shortcomings. If harnessed constructively, it can lead to positive outcomes and self-growth.
For instance, if you know that certain things make you angry, you can work to improve your response to these triggers, and by doing so, improve your overall quality of life.
I once heard this statement long ago, and it has remained with me ever since:
"A flame, like emotion, is a primitive force. Left unchecked, it's chaotic, destructive. But if controlled, it can be a powerful tool. The lamp controls the flame, as you must learn to control your emotions."
Moshe Ratson is a Relationship Expert and Marriage Therapist in New York City. Contact him to learn how to manage anger and how to deal with anger in intimate relationships.