Why does anger matter and what to do with it?

Warum ist Wut wichtig und was kann man damit tun?

Anger gets a bad rap in the therapeutic and spiritual community. It's labeled a "negative" emotion, and for good reason. When anger takes over and we react to it, it can erupt like a volcano and mess up our relationships.

But the truth is that anger is not inherently a bad emotion. In fact, anger, like all emotions, has a purpose and is a necessary part of being human. Anger matters and you can learn to work with it in a helpful way.

Why is anger important?


Anger arises in response to a problem in our environment – or at least something we perceive as a problem. This is a sign that you don't feel safe and that action needs to be taken. Anger alerts us when our boundaries have been crossed, a violation has occurred, or when we feel treated unfairly.

We need anger to alert us to situations that need to be addressed in order to feel safe or respected. Anger is an energizing, mobilizing emotion. It gives us the energy, focus and determination to take the necessary action.




The Anger Problem


The problem with anger is that we usually 1) don't recognize anger until we lose our temper and 2) the action our "reactive" self believes it should take is to blow up at someone. Most therapists would agree that the blow-up option is not effective (or pretty).

In order to work with anger in a helpful, not harmful, way, we must be aware that it arises, catch it, and work with it consciously. It means responding, not reacting to anger.


The first essential: presence




Learning to be more present in the moment, in your body (an awareness technique), will help you catch anger when it arises, and more likely before it reaches a boiling point. Presence draws your awareness and attention to the present moment as it is, with receptivity and non-judgment. Just notice and be with what you observe about your anger.

Be aware of the sensations you experience when you start to get angry. Are you clenching your jaw? Do you tense your shoulders or clench your fists? Are you starting to feel the ball in your stomach or frown? Write down what you notice and pay attention as often as you can when these sensations arise.

You may not be able to record all of these observations in the moment when you are irritated or angry, but try to increase your awareness of them by practicing being present as often as possible. The more aware you are of the signs of emerging anger, the stronger you will be to respond rather than react to it.


The Inquiry


If you have time after noticing that you are angry, sit down and ask yourself about it. What caused the anger? What am I afraid of? What do I need? What would I like to say right now?

It's fine if you want to scream and say profanity, as long as you don't say it to anyone else. Write everything down. Then ask yourself, what would be a helpful response to that anger? An action you can take to help you feel safer or more comfortable is also to safely consider a response that could improve the situation rather than a reaction that is likely to make the situation worse. How can you respectfully express your needs and stand up for your truth?


If you don't have time to think, a quick and easy way to work with anger is to 1) acknowledge it and 2) take 5 deep breaths. Feel the breath in your body, going in and out slowly. Counting to 5 for each inhale and exhale helps you slow down. This can give you enough time to calm down and concentrate and decide how to respond. When we are in the heat of the moment, the best course of action is to take a quick pause with our breath to buy time to assess the situation.

You can then revisit the anger later and use journaling and inquiry techniques to clarify the anger's message for you. It really is your inner defender trying to protect you and remind you to value yourself. Anger matters – and so do you.

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