The Upside of Anger

“Explain your anger, don’t express it, and you will immediately open the door to solutions instead of arguments.”Author UnknownI bet you didn’t know there could be an upside to anger. I didn’t know until I started researching the subject. We are taught from the cradle up that anger is bad, yet we live in a culture where anger is on display everywhere, everyday. Just turn on the TV or watch a movie; or better yet, get on a social media site online. Anger is being expressed everywhere, all the time. And there is a lot of unspoken anger in body language and eye contact, too. Wow, talk about a picture painting a thousand angry words. We live in an angry culture.

Handling anger is an important life skill, but most of us don’t handle it well. An angry outburst can destroy relationships and cause all kinds of damage that is often irreparable both to ourselves and to others. So what do we do when anger builds up and we don’t know what to do with it?

GotQuestions.org gives us some insight on the subject of anger from a biblical perspective:

Christian counselors report that 50 percent of people who come in for counseling have problems dealing with anger. Anger can shatter communication and tear apart relationships, and it ruins both the joy and health of many. Sadly, people tend to justify their anger instead of accepting responsibility for it. Everyone struggles, to varying degrees, with anger. Thankfully, God’s Word contains principles regarding how to handle anger in a godly manner, and how to overcome sinful anger.

Anger is not always sin. There is a type of anger of which the Bible approves, often calledrighteous indignation.” God is angry (Psalm 7:11Mark 3:5), and it is acceptable for believers to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). Two Greek words in the New Testament are translated as “anger.” One means “passion, energy” and the other means “agitated, boiling.” Biblically, anger is God-given energy intended to help us solve problems. Examples of biblical anger include David’s being upset over hearing Nathan the prophet sharing an injustice (2 Samuel 12) and Jesus’ anger over how some of the Jews had defiled worship at God’s temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-18). Notice that neither of these examples of anger involved self-defense, but a defense of others or of a principle.

That being said, it is important to recognize that anger at an injustice inflicted against oneself is also appropriate. Anger has been said to be a warning flag—it alerts us to those times when others are attempting to or have violated our boundaries. God cares for each individual. Sadly, we do not always stand up for one another, meaning that sometimes we must stand up for ourselves. This is especially important when considering the anger that victims often feel. Victims of abuse, violent crime, or the like have been violated in some way. Often while experiencing the trauma, they do not experience anger. Later, in working through the trauma, anger will emerge. For a victim to reach a place of true health and forgiveness, he or she must first accept the trauma for what it was. In order to fully accept that an act was unjust, one must sometimes experience anger. Because of the complexities of trauma recovery, this anger is often not short-lived, particularly for victims of abuse. Victims should process through their anger and come to a place of acceptance, even forgiveness. This is often a long journey. As God heals the victim, the victim’s emotions, including anger, will follow. Allowing the process to occur does not mean the person is living in sin. (Quote source and complete article at this link.)

Whether it’s the long term unresolved anger as described above, or the immediate anger of road rage, and our general impatience at having to endure anything we don’t like for longer then three seconds, anger is a major problem in our society today.

In an article titled, Anger Management: Your Questions Answered,” by the Mayo Clinic staff, they state:

Anger isn’t always bad, but it must be handled appropriately. Consider the purpose anger serves and the best approach to anger management.

Anger itself isn’t a problem—it’s how you handle it. Consider the nature of anger, as well as how to manage anger and what to do when you’re confronted by someone whose anger is out of control.

What is anger?

Anger is a natural response to perceived threats. It causes your body to release adrenaline, your muscles to tighten, and your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Your senses might feel more acute and your face and hands flushed.

However, anger becomes a problem only when you don’t manage it in a healthy way.

So it’s not ‘bad’ to feel angry?

Being angry isn’t always a bad thing. Being angry can help you share your concerns. It can prevent others from walking all over you. It can motivate you to do something positive. The key is managing your anger in a healthy way.

What causes people to get angry?

There are many common triggers for anger, such as losing your patience, feeling as if your opinion or efforts aren’t appreciated, and injustice. Other causes of anger include memories of traumatic or enraging events and worrying about personal problems.

You also have unique anger triggers, based on what you were taught to expect from yourself, others and the world around you. Your personal history feeds your reactions to anger, too. For example, if you weren’t taught how to express anger appropriately, your frustrations might simmer and make you miserable, or build up until you explode in an angry outburst.

Inherited tendencies, brain chemistry or underlying medical conditions also play a role in your tendency toward angry outburst.

What’s the best way to handle anger?

When you’re angry, you can deal with your feelings through:

  • Expression. This is the act of conveying your anger. Expression ranges from a reasonable, rational discussion to a violent outburst.
  • Suppression. This is an attempt to hold in your anger and possibly convert it into more constructive behavior. Suppressing anger, however, can cause you to turn your anger inward on yourself or express your anger through passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Calming down. This is when you control your outward behavior and your internal responses by calming yourself and letting your feelings subside.

Ideally, you’ll choose constructive expression—stating your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them.

Can anger harm your health?

Some research suggests that inappropriately expressing anger—such as keeping anger pent up—can be harmful to your health. Suppressing anger appears to make chronic pain worse, while expressing anger reduces pain.

There’s also evidence that anger and hostility is linked with heart disease, high blood pressure, peptic ulcers and stroke. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, The Upside of Anger: 6 Psychological Benefits of Getting Mad,” by Dr. Jeremy Dean , British psychologist and founder/author of PsyBlog, he writes:

We tend to think of anger as a wild, negative emotion, but research finds that anger also has its positive side.

There are all sorts of good sensible, civilized reasons to avoid getting angry. Not only does it make you feel bad, it makes you do stupid things without noticing the risks and it can be self-destructive.

As a result civilized people do their best to suppress, redirect and mask their anger. Most of us treat our anger as though it’s unreasonable, unshowable and unmentionable. But like all emotions anger has its purposes, which can be used to good effect.

1. Anger is a motivating force

You sometimes hear people talking about using anger as a motivating force by ‘turning anger into positive energy’. In fact anger itself is a kind of positive energy and a powerful motivating force. Research has shown that anger can make us push on towards our goals in the face of problems and barriers.

In one study participants were shown objects they associated with a reward. Some, though, were first exposed to angry faces. Those shown the angry faces were more likely to want objects they were subsequently exposed to (Aarts et al., 2010).

When we see something as beneficial, we want it more when we’re angry. So, when used right, constructive anger can make you feel strong and powerful and help push you on to get what you want.

2. Angry people are more optimistic

It may sound like an odd thing to say, but angry people have something in common with happy people. That’s because both tend to be more optimistic.

Take one study of fear of terrorism carried out in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In this study those experiencing anger expected fewer attacks in the future (Lerner et al., 2003). In contrast those experiencing more fear were more pessimistic about the future and expected further attacks.

3. Anger can benefit relationships

Anger is a natural reaction to being wronged by someone else and it’s a way of communicating that sense of injustice. But society tells us anger is dangerous and we should hide it. What does this do to our personal relationships?

Oddly enough research has shown that hiding anger in intimate relationships can be detrimental (Baumeister et al., 1990). The problem is that when you hide your anger, your partner doesn’t know they’ve done something wrong. And so they keep doing it. And that doesn’t do your relationship any good.

The expression of anger, if justifiable and aimed at finding a solution rather than just venting, can actually benefit and strengthen relationships.

4. Anger provides self-insight

Anger can also provide insight into ourselves, if we allow it. A sample of Americans and Russians were asked about how recent outbursts of anger had affected them (Kassinove et al., 1997). 55% claimed that getting angry had lead to a positive outcome. On top of this one-third said that anger provided an insight into their own faults.

If we can notice when we get angry and why, then we can learn what to do to improve our lives. Anger can motivate self-change.

5. Anger reduces violence

Although anger often precedes physical violence, it can also be a way of reducing violence. That’s because it’s a very strong social signal that a situation needs to be resolved. When others see the signal they are more motivated to try and placate the angry party.

If you’re still not convinced that anger might reduce violence, imagine a world without anger where people had no method for showing how they felt about injustice. Might they jump straight to violence?

6. Anger as negotiation strategy

Anger can be a legitimate way to get what you want. In one study of negotiation participants made larger concessions and fewer demands of an angry person than one who was happy (Van Kleef et al., 2002).

So there’s some evidence that anger can be used as a negotiation strategy, but it’s more complicated than that. You can’t just lose your rag and expect to win everything you want.

Anger is likely to work best when it’s justified, if you appear powerful and when the other side’s options are limited (Sinaceur & Tiedens, 2006Van Kleef et al., 2007). In the right circumstances, then, it’s possible to both get mad and get even.

Deadly sin or constructive emotion?

I say anger can reduce violence, benefit relationships, promote optimism and be a useful motivating force, but it can just as easily be destructive.

That’s the wonder of human emotions: happy isn’t always good and angry isn’t always bad (although it may feel that way). An unhappy person is also more likely to spot mistakes and an angry person is highly motivated to act. We need reminding that even scary and dangerous emotions have their upsides, as long as they are used for the correct purpose.

The likely features of constructive anger are:

    • that the person who caused the anger is present,
    • that it is justified and proportionate to the wrongdoing,
    • and it is expressed as the first step in trying to solve a problem rather than just venting bad feeling.

People seem to unconsciously understand the benefits of anger. One study found participants who were about to play a game requiring them to be confrontational were more likely to listen to angry music beforehand or think back to things that have made them angry (Tamir et al, 2008). They then went on to perform better in the task because they felt more angry.

Used right, anger can be a handy tool. But use with caution as people find anger the most difficult of all the emotions to control. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, The Last Word on Anger,” by A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher and author, he writes:

“Angry men are blind and foolish,” Aretino wrote, “for reason at such times takes flight, and in her absence anger plunders all the riches of the intellect.” When given expression it plunders all the goods and fruits of peace too, and is indifferent to the suffering of bystanding innocents. The angry man’s desire is to vent his heat, to appease himself by doing harm, not pausing to consider whether the greatest harm will eventually accrue to himself rather than his opponent. And when anger drives, such is the usual outcome.

The ancients debated anger extensively. For the Stoics it was an emotion of weakness, to be quelled as part of building self-mastery and detachment. In a sequence of three carefully considered “Moral Essays”, Seneca analysed anger, “the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions”, and urged the classic Stoic remedy: the restraint of the heroic mind. Failing that, he said, “there are two rules: avoid anger if you can, and if you cannot, in your anger do no wrong”.

Others saw anger as an emotion capable of great power and good effect if wisely directed. “It is easy to fly into a passion,” Aristotle remarked, “anyone can do that; but to be angry with the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, in the right way, with the right aim; that is not easy.” His view is that knowing how to be appropriately angry is an essential part of the moral life – providing that it does not overthrow reason and become merely destructive in consequence. “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good,” is Beecher’s modern Aristotelian gloss.

But in vitriolic conflicts there is neither appropriateness nor proportion, so the arguments of history and justice become lost in vengeance. Rabidly angry men want only to fight; they want to inflict anguish on their enemies, and then obliterate them. It is hard to imagine, even if great-souled people stood up on both sides and agreed peace and a modus vivendi, how such hurt could be assuaged. “No man is angry that feels not himself hurt,” Bacon said, and the trouble is that adversaries have invariably become such because of hurts, real or perceived.

Each side in an angry conflict, of course, wishes to win. But what would winning involve? Hard men think it involves breaking and trampling the enemy, killing him or driving him away either geographically or into a psychological diaspora of submission. But it takes scarcely any thought, so long as it is calm thought, to see that victory is never achieved until anger subsides and both sides gain at least some of their aims. (Quote source here.)

With all of that being said on the topic of anger, the bottom line on the subject is found in the last statement in A.C. Grayling’s article above (not noted in the above quote) that is found in Proverbs. 16:32. I will end this post with that verse: He who is slow to anger…

Is better than the mighty . . .

And he who rules his spirit . . .

Than he who takes a city . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Christian’s Guide For Anger Management” (12:01) by Columbus Cody III:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here