The Wisdom of Your Emotions: Anger
Updated: Jul 6
“It’s important to realize that anger is not necessarily the same as aggression.
Aggression involves attack, whereas anger may or may not.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters in Spiritual Bypassing
What point does anger serve? Isn’t anger bad? Isn’t it better to be zen?
These are the questions I hear people asking once they have been traumatized by their anger. Perhaps your relationships have been damaged as a result of anger. Perhaps you have previously experienced depression as a result of being angry at yourself. Whatever the case may be, many of us can relate to anger as a destructive emotion in some way.
I want to ask you though, was anger itself destructive or was it the way it took you over that led you to do regretful things? In other words, who was responsible? You or your anger?
“Ridiculous !! How can I be asked to separate myself from my emotions?” I am hearing some of the readers thinking this. Long ago, I also believed I was guilty and powerless. I was guilty, because I am the one who lashed out at my loved ones due to my anger. I was powerless, because I could not help but lash out as the anger surged from within.
Dr. Gabor Maté speaks regularly about the topic of healthy anger. So just when is anger healthy?
In order to answer this question, it is useful to view anger as energy. Like other emotions, anger is a psychological energy that has its own unique qualities. The quality of anger feels something like a burning fire within; it pushes one to speak or act aggressively. Thoughts associated with anger are usually judgmental, demeaning, blaming, and even hateful. Images or metaphors associated with anger are usually fire or some kind of blindness. Anger appears to be power; it can even substitute for courage temporarily. It is, however, the kind of compulsive power that destroys rather than heals.
As energy in general and as psychological energy in particular, anger needs to move. Its needs for movement and circulation are great, which cannot happen effectively unless it is acknowledged and accepted as it is.
But how can you effectively acknowledge and accept anger? Usually, anger is signaling to you one or more of the following:
 Something important to me has been violated
 I feel powerless…I have no control.
 I feel frustrated because (see points 1 and 2).
There are perhaps other messages the emotion of anger is trying to deliver. My experience with anger, in any case, is that anger wants me and you to see that something is wrong. Healthy anger, then, begins with acknowledging and reading the message it is delivering. It is done by becoming intensely present to your anger and its felt sense in your body, and by identifying its origin with words and sentences. Slow and deep breathing, as well as the concentration and expansion of your sensory experience (vision, smell, touch, hearing, etc.) helps tremendously; so does temporarily avoiding sources (including people, sounds, and images) which may inflame the emotion of anger within you.
Spaciousness is created within you through the process of acknowledgment and decoding of anger as described above. This practice affords the room for anger to “move” through your mind. It is about giving room to the freight train to run out of steam so to speak. Judgment of your anger (i.e. “it is wrong to be angry”, or “I should not be angry”) will shrink your interior spaciousness and add more steam to the freight train.
Photo credit (Lunar eclipse): Photo taken by Martin Brechtl, retrieved from Unsplash.
Note: the moon being eclipsed by the shadow of earth is somewhat like when anger takes us over: our inner light is obstructed temporarily and darkness gets to reign
Secondly, healthy anger becomes “healthy” as you choose to express this emotion in a conscious manner. Emotions repressed or expressed in an unconscious manner are harmful. To repress your emotions is to ignore it or to redirect your attention via distractions such as food or sex. To express your emotions in an unconscious manner is to lose connection with your center, from where you are able to call upon the more helpful aspects of your self, including reason, wisdom, patience, and understanding. As you choose to express the anger within you in a conscious manner, you will come into contact with other emotions from which the anger has sprung, such as sadness, as well as the initiating memories which contain the original or related traumas. The conscious experience and expression of anger, or any powerful (in the negative sense) emotions requires you to decide the when, the where, and the how. It is worthwhile to reiterate here that it is you who decide, not your anger. Inner mastery is made possible by your recognition that you are not your emotions.
If possible, choose to express your anger after you have given yourself the time to experience its full range of associated feelings. Choose when to express your anger by choosing to do so when you are most stable psychologically. Choose where to express your anger by finding a safe environment where you may remain physically and psychologically safe as you say and do the things you must in order for this anger to be processed. Choose how to express your anger by considering the possibilities listed below:
Say or shout what you have to say with the full force of your being
Physically strike a soft object, such as a pillow or blankets. Choose something that can absorb your physical blows without hurting you.
Take a variety of physical postures that allow you to symbolically embody the power you want. Kung fu postures often help with this.
Along with the physical interventions mentioned above, express facially the anger you feel
Be prepared to open up to the related emotions that will come up after the initial steam has been let out. I will write more about this below. Meanwhile, you may come up with your own way of expressing your anger. The point is to address the underlying psychological trauma or blockage that has led to the triggering of anger. The three signals related to anger as mentioned a few paragraphs above are useful for this.
Rarely should anger be expressed at a person without some kind of previous processing as suggested above. Should you feel strongly that you must express your anger towards a specific person, you would be best served by thinking of this potential confrontation as an opportunity to be truly vulnerable and frank. Good discernment is required that you do not expose yourself to someone who can re-traumatize you. How “soft” or “hard” you want to be in your mannerisms and mode of communication requires intention and an openness to your gut feeling as the situation unfolds between you and this other person.
Thirdly and lastly, anger becomes truly healthy as you support its natural tendency towards sublimation, which is its natural process of metamorphosis into emotions which are closer to your true nature. The image below from the book Ask and it is Given written by Esther and Jerry Hicks shows the range and progression of emotions, which can take you farther away from your true nature or close to it.
Be aware of the thoughts, however dark or distasteful they are to you, that lie just behind or next to the emotion you are experiencing. The game here is to discover thoughts that are related to emotions that will take you up the ladder towards your true nature. While the thought related to anger might be “I am so angry I can kill that person”, a higher thought and emotion, even if it does not exists within you yet, could be “it is ALL his fault” which is the emotion of blame. Seek out or intentionally choose thoughts that will take you closer to your higher emotions. A sense of relief will indicate to you that the thought you have chosen is actually a thought that exists within you. If you feel no sense of relief by choosing a certain thought, then move on to other thoughts.
For example, my sequence of thoughts and related emotions might move from “that f*cking asshole” (blame) to “how can I be so stupid to trust him” (blame) to “I’m so hurt by what he did” (disappointment), to “I will never be able to trust another person again” (pessimism), so on and so forth. Keep looking for thoughts that would invite a variety of emotions by trying it on like clothes. Some will fit, some will not.
Most of all, know that there is no need to force things. In any case, if you are willing practice sitting still with your emotions, you will find that emotions, whatever their form and substance, will naturally morph and shift. This process of sublimation requires patience, a certain inner distance from your emotions, and the practice of making sufficient contact with your emotions to be able to see their logic without judging it as right or wrong or good or bad.
I have written many words about the emotion of anger and how to deal with it. So what is its wisdom you might ask? Here are my thoughts, which I invite you to consider through introspection and self-examination: Anger will not only alert to you the fact that you are far away from your true nature of joy, freedom, and empowerment, which you will feel as anger literally releases poison into your body, anger will also help you to heal unhealed traumas, if you are willing to open up to the sadness and hurt from which anger breeds. In revisiting the underlying inner conditions which gave rise to one’s sense of having been violated or having been rendered powerless, conscious contact with the emotion of anger will take you deeper into your journey of healing and wholeness.
The truth is we are always on this journey. We forget sometimes, but life has a way of reminding us at the right moments. When life happens, and when the intensity of our emotions comes at us like tidal waves, we can learn to face them courageously and skillfully. Thus are we availed a wisdom that reunites us with our wholeness, which in turn grants us the perspective to more fully embrace life itself.
Photo credit (Night sky at Atacama desert): Photo taken by Ondrej Sponiar, retrieved from Pixabay
The expansive state that is both an embodiment and expression of our true nature can be entered into as we reflect on the limitless night skies and the universe.
Photo credit (Volcano erupting), first photo found at the top of this essay: Photo taken by Toby Elliott, retrieved from Unsplash. Note: Indulging in one’s anger or repressing it can have disastrous effects, much like the volcano erupting