Anger alerts us to danger and motivates us to act. Without anger, society would be in a sad state of affairs. Unfortunately, a lot of anger is really just a mask for more vulnerable, unpleasant feelings like guilt, inferiority, hurt, and fear. We don’t want to feel these things, so we feel angry instead. The thing is, all these other emotions that get hidden under anger are just as important and healthy. Emotions, whether they feel pleasant or unpleasant, provide information to us and the people around us, influence other people’s behavior, motivate us to action, and validate or invalidate our own thoughts and behaviors. If the only unpleasant emotion we allow ourselves to feel and others to see is anger, we miss out on the benefits that guilt, inferiority, hurt, and fear could provide. Sound confusing? Try the following Anger Log exercise as an experiment:
Think of a time that you felt angry. Rate your anger on a scale of 1-10, with 1 indicating almost imperceptible irritation and 10 representing a total loss of control. Write down the facts of the situation. What exactly happened? Next, write down what you did as a result of your anger. Did you cry, yell, threaten, hit someone, break something, isolate, run away? Write down the consequences of your actions, both for you and for the people around you. Now ask yourself if underneath that anger you might also have felt a little bit guilty, not good enough, hurt, scared, or some combination of the four. If so, write that down. Next, imagine that you had gotten under the anger and allowed yourself to feel and display one of those more vulnerable emotions. What do you imagine your behavior would have been if you felt and displayed fear instead of anger? Write down what you think you might have done differently, and write down what the consequences of that different behavior might have been. Which scenario had a better outcome: the anger or the more vulnerable emotions?
If you tend to get angry when it would be more healthy and productive to feel a different unpleasant emotion, you may have an anger problem. If your anger goes from 0-100 in the blink of an eye, that would be another sign of an anger problem. Does that mean you’re wrong, everyone else is right, and you shouldn’t be upset? Not at all. Unpleasant emotions should have a positive impact on our lives. That’s the whole reason we have them. If your emotions are causing problems instead of contributing to problem resolution, you need to change your feelings, change your behavior, or both. As a starting point, do the above Anger Log exercise once a day. Over time, you’ll find yourself becoming much more aware of the internal processes that contribute to your anger, which will help you to feel a more healthy range of emotions and help you to make healthier choices for your life.
Anger can be healthy or damaging depending on how we experience it and how it affects our lives and our behavior. If you’ve tried to work on your anger and haven’t been successful, please seek help. You’re worth it.