Life & Culture

It’s healthy to listen to our angry feeling

Anger is always seen as bad but perhaps we need to channel it effectively rather than fight against it or try to squash it away


Shot of a young businessman looking displeased while using a computer at his work desk

Jewish literature warns against a bad temper. The Mishnah instructs: “Do not be easily provoked to anger” and the Talmud explains that anger can cause a sage to forget his wisdom or a person destined for greatness to fall short.

Yet according to tradition the Almighty Himself expresses anger at least for one moment every day.

Nobody knows when that moment might be although biblical prophet Bilaam harnessed this moment of divine wrath to curse the children of Israel.

Anger is a powerful emotion and one that is deeply misunderstood. On the surface it can be scary, fuelling uncontrollable and destructive behaviour.

But what lies underneath? Many therapists believe that anger is a secondary emotion. Irritability and anger can be a symptom of depression, for example, but anger can also be used as an emotional alternative to other difficult feelings. Loneliness, vulnerability, hurt, disappointment or rejection. It is easier to express anger at others than to describe a feeling as uncomfortable as feeling left out.

Anger can also be the “fight” part of our “fight or flight” reactions triggered when we feel under threat or unsafe. It draws out energy from deep within while clouding reflective judgment and thoughtfulness. Such unbridled intense emotion is hugely powerful once unleashed.

Do we honour anger in our communities and give it enough of an outlet? It’s not clear. In schools children are encouraged to “control” their anger, to take deep breaths and count to ten. But are these strategies really working and are there enough outlets for legitimate or even helpful anger expression?

When anger is pushed down it rears its head overwhelmingly when given half the chance. Perhaps incidents such as aggressive football brawls are due to anger erupting from years of being repressed. Last year UK’s football policing lead said that football-related violence was getting worse.

This must be partly because we have fewer opportunities to display real, raw aggression. Rather, the rage bubbles under until it is given permission to escape and at that point it explodes.

It is still more socially acceptable for boys to express anger than girls. Statistically, more girls tend to turn the anger inwards and self-harm rather than have aggressive outbursts.

Many people who self-harm refer to feeling numb and needing to self-harm to engender some sort of feeling and more connection with themselves.

If our lifestyle involved more acceptable outlets for aggression perhaps these numb teens would feel more alive and would not have to express anger towards their bodies.

In 2008 rage rooms were invented in which customers pay to safely smash the contents of a room. Surprisingly, most customers are women. There is no evidence that these experiences help longer term with anger management.

But their popularity highlights society’s confused and uncomfortable relationship with anger expression.

Interestingly rage rooms started off in Japan — a culture in which serenity is highly valued.

But ask any customer-service personnel in the UK and they’ll have multiple stories a day of angry customers who become enraged at first-world problems that our grandparents would only dream of. We have become an angrier world while trying our best to build a smoother, calmer one.

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation to a group of women. “If your partners were here,” I asked, “how often would they say that you were annoyed with them?”

The responses were pretty high. Many wives in particular routinely use anger, either passively or actively, as a means of communication.

Using anger in this way means that there is a high level of misunderstanding because anger prevents genuine, more vulnerable emotions to be expressed.

It effectively blocks emotional intimacy from developing. When a couple become angry at each other, partners feel threatened by the aggression and the meaning of the message is lost.

If even the Almighty expresses anger every day, anger can’t be all bad. We need to rethink what healthy anger expression looks like and provide more outlets for it. Anger needs more room in our lives.

It helps us feel alive and mobilises us to act fast. It brings an intensity into our relationships that might not be there otherwise.

We need to channel anger effectively rather than fight against it or try to squash it away altogether. We need to encourage our children to understand their own anger and listen to the messages that it contains.

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