The Upside of Anger

the-upside-of-anger-angry-birdI used to think that anger was always bad. Growing up, I got the message that it was an unacceptable emotion. And as a young adult, I thought that it was somehow “unspiritual.” More recently, however, my perspective has changed.

I still don’t think that anger is a fun emotion to feel or a fun “place” to hang out (and I’m extremely wary of those who make it their home), but I’ve come to see that there is an upside of anger.

As I now see it, here are three of anger’s biggest benefits:

1. It allows you to practice self-acceptance and self-awareness. You don’t have to judge yourself for feeling angry, any more than you would judge yourself for feeling hungry or thirsty, hot or cold, or happy or sad. The feeling is simply an indication of where you are in that moment. No, you wouldn’t want to spend most of your time feeling angry (any more than you’d want to spend most of your time feeling hungry, thirsty, or tired). But the anger does provide valuable feedback — much like a car’s low-gas warning or your hand’s pain if you touch a hot stove — which can help you shift to a more positive place. (For instance, acknowledging a negative sensation, such as thirst, can inspire you to take positive action, such as drinking more water — thus helping you feel better in the short term and, in the long term, improving your health and avoiding dehydration.)

2. It might be a step in the right direction! As I’ve learned from Abraham’s “Emotional Scale,” anger is sometimes a step toward love, freedom, and joy! For instance, if you’re feeling depressed, afraid, or powerless, anger can motivate you to get up and do something to empower yourself. Again, you don’t want to spend your whole life in this place, but if you’re “just passing through” from depression to a more hopeful place, anger may be an important way station on your journey!

3. It launches “rockets of desire” toward a better-feeling place. Perhaps the greatest benefit of anger (and another great Abraham-Hicks lesson) is that knowing what you don’t want (whatever’s making you angry) helps you clarify what you do want (something that’s the opposite of, or at least very different from, whatever’s making you angry). And the strong emotional charge that generally accompanies anger can help you manifest a more desirable state…IF (and here’s the key caveat) you shift your focus away from the undesirable cause of the anger and toward something that feels better to focus on!

Let’s consider an extreme example:

Although we all have different triggers that make us angry, let’s look at one near-universal source of anger: Imagine that you’ve just read a history book or watched a film about Hitler and the Nazis. There’s a good chance that you’d be pretty angry! And, in my mind, there’s nothing bad or unspiritual about this anger. (To me, it’s just the opposite — evidence that you have a heart, a brain, and a pulse!)

Perhaps you’re angry at a man whose xenophobic conspiracy theories and racially motivated ideology (based on a twisted notion of national “purity”) resulted in  the attempt to eliminate members of one of the world’s largest religions from his nation, the persecution of homosexuals, and the bullying of his opponents. Perhaps you’re angry at those who put this man into power through a free election — giving him control of the nation and its military (thus allowing him to become a ruthless tyrant rather than remaining a schoolyard bully or a street-corner crackpot). Or perhaps you’re angry at the millions of people with misgivings who, nonetheless, appeased him or normalized his bizarre behavior and blatant lies, docilely allowing them to spread and grow into the deadliest conflict in human history.

Your anger here would be perfectly understandable, natural, and perhaps even healthy.

But, again, this anger is not a place where you want to spend a significant amount of time. Life is too precious to spend most of it feeling angry (or any other negative emotion).

So what do you DO with that anger?

Let’s run this example through the three “upsides of anger” mentioned above. (While I don’t want to dwell on something negative, it might be helpful to see these principles in action — and, hey, if we can do it for something this extreme, we can do it for anything!)

First of all, acknowledge and accept your anger. Don’t judge it as bad, wrong, or unspiritual. Just notice it and take in the message it’s giving you (in this case, that Nazis, xenophobes, homophobes, and anti-Semites don’t make you feel good).

Secondly, if you’d previously been feeling depressed or powerless, realize that your anger may be a sign that you’re heading in a positive direction. Or, if you had been feeling better, noticing the dip into anger can help you avoid slipping into even more negative states (such as despair — which could easily happen when contemplating something as extreme as our current example). The anger might be the trigger that makes you say, “Enough! NEVER AGAIN!”…and then do something about that thought!

And thirdly, you can follow the “rockets of desire” launched by the anger — in other words, shift your focus toward desirable states or conditions in the opposite direction from the anger. In this example, thinking of a violent, xenophobic bully might make you think how nice it would be if the world were filled with (or at least led by) those who embraced other nationalities, races, and religions with open-minded intelligence, peace, and love…and then take inspired action to move toward manifesting this highly preferable reality!

Above all, be gentle with yourself.

If you’re feeling angry (today or any other day, for any reason) don’t beat yourself up for feeling what you’re feeling (any more than you’d beat yourself up for feeling thirsty or tired). And don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to shift instantly from anger to peace, love, and joy! It might take some time for the anger to run its course; and even when it does begin to ease up, you might initially only have access to slightly-less-negative emotions, such as worry or frustration.

But know that you won’t stay in a negative place forever. And know that allowing yourself to feel what you’re feeling can have tremendous benefits in the long run. You can use your emotions as “rocket fuel” — leading you to take inspired action. And when you’re ready, you can ride those rockets toward a life where peace, joy, and love are the norm, and a world where goodness abounds.

2 thoughts on “The Upside of Anger

  1. Thank you, Dan. Needed to hear this today. I know anger is fuel, but it helps to be reminded that it is a phase, and I needn’t beat myself up for it.

  2. Thank you. I needed this today. I’m struggling with so much anger right now because of a personal situation. I know that the change in focus requires me to forgive my partner, and to forgive another person but not fall into the trap of believing her, which is so hard for me.

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