I hear it all the time.
“I’ve been told my whole life that anger is bad, sinful, wrong.”
This is usually in response to me affirming and validating a person’s anger over some injustice or boundary violation.
I get it. Growing up a Christian in the South, I knew that anger was not a feeling that a good Christian could just indulge in. As a girl with a vicious temper, I learned early that turning my anger on myself or inanimate objects was the only valid expression of that anger. I struggled for years to learn how to control my temper. I was horrified to realize, in my mid-30s, that I actually enjoyed losing control. Screaming at my printer, throwing chairs into the wall, breaking CDs with my bare hands: I did it and I enjoyed it.
Was that wrong? Was it sinful? Was I (am I) a bad person?
There is nothing wrong, bad, evil, or sinful about anger.
Let me say that again.
The emotion of anger is not wicked, weak, vicious, ignorant, unenlightened or uncivilized.
Anger is just a feeling. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not a referendum on your character. It is not a sign of hidden sin. It is not an emotion that God hates. It is not a sign that you are not enlightened. It is not bad karma. It’s just a feeling.
Too many of us are walking around suppressing our anger because we feel guilty about it. But there’s no need for guilt! Suppressing and denying our anger only harms us. Just because there are precious few socially acceptable ways to express anger doesn’t mean that we should hide it all the time!
So what’s REALLY wrong with anger?
Anger distracts us from fulfilling our life’s purpose. Because we believe anger is negative, the anger itself becomes the problem we are trying to solve, when in fact, anger is a signal that there is some OTHER problem that needs addressing. This is common in abusive relationships: the abuser teaches the victim that when she feels anger, she is in the wrong.
But every emotion we have has the potential to be creative or destructive. Love, jealousy, anger, joy, pride, sorrow, pain: all of these are purely neutral. It is how we react and use the emotions that results in good or evil, right or wrong, creation or destruction.
When we suppress anger, we harm ourselves. Often this suppressed anger comes out in passive aggressive actions, communication explosions, or illness. When we express anger destructively, we hurt others with our words and actions, destroy physical things, or hurt ourselves. Finally, uncontrolled anger is a distraction from our message. If we speak with uncontrolled anger, as women, we will be judged emotional, hormonal, ineffective, and hysterical. Our words will lose their power. But when we CONTROL our anger: that’s when the power comes into play.
How can we do this?
First, allow yourself to feel your anger. I’m not talking about venting or expressing it. Just feel it. Sit still and let the emotion of raw unfiltered rage wash over you. Feel the tension in your body. Feel the desire to move growing in your arms and legs. Notice your eyebrows draw together and your jaw clench. Just allow the feeling to exist instead of trying to push it away with deep breathing or angry texting or slamming doors.
Second, discharge the anger. If, after 5 minutes, you still feel tense and flooded with adrenaline, do something active. Run around the block. Scream into a pillow. Rip up a newspaper. Write an angry letter. Punch a pillow. Deep breathing can be helpful here too, but there is a physical build up of adrenaline that must be used, so if your deep breathing doesn’t result in a reduction of physical symptoms, then try something else!
Third, decide what you will create with your anger. Are you going to take action about a social justice issue by starting a petition, calling your Senator, or calling your boss? Are you going to defend yourself against slander by going to the person talking about you? Are you going to channel your anger into writing the best book ever?