Anger is probably the most difficult emotion for people to experience and accept. There are a number of things that can be said about it. Firstly, as is true of any emotion, we cannot choose not to feel anger – it comes whether we like it or not. Secondly, it is not the same as temper. Some might like to think of different degrees of anger, with temper at one extreme and repression/suppression at the other. I find, however, that it is more helpful to separate the feeling of anger from our response to it. We cannot control whether we feel anger or not, but we can control our response – whether we repress and ignore it, let it smoulder and feed it, or erupt with it, we ultimately have a choice, although many may feel that they have no choice or control. Much has been written on how we should manage our anger, but for the purposes of this article I would like to focus on what it is telling us, and there are three things to be said:

1. Anger often comes as the result of a blocked goal: we have wanted something to happen, and it hasn’t and we feel angry. It may be red traffic lights making us late for an important appointment, or simply someone not behaving as we think they should toward us. Thus by exploring that underlying goal we can learn something about our internal views on life.

2. Anger often rides on the back of another emotion; for example we may have been made to feel insignificant and worthless or something has happened to make us feel threatened or insecure, and we feel angry. Again, exploration can result in increased self-awareness and greater psychological strength. It could be argued that this is the same as the first point, that we have a goal of people treating us so that we feel valued and important, or that we are never to feel threatened or insecure; this is true – but I find it valuable separating it out as there is a difference between the two.

3. Suppressed, unexpressed anger often leads to irritability and short-temperedness, usually with someone or something totally disconnected with the original cause of the anger. It is not uncommon for someone to be angry about something at work or outside the home, and to lash out at the children, or dog!

I have found that the starting place with anyone who feels anger is to get them to accept it. It is not unusual for someone to say ‘I rarely if ever get angry’; but exploration of those times of irritability, short-temperedness or frustration may indicate otherwise. As I said in my article on frustration, we may well experience anger and pain, but the intensity of these feelings will be greater if we resist and deny their presence. The challenge then is to explore what emotion or blocked goal has been the trigger of our anger, and what does that tell us about our values and outlook on life. We may then feel that we want to change things, but that can only come out of this place of initial acceptance.

This is a brief and superficial look at anger. Hopefully, enough has been said to show that it in itself is worthy of our attention if we are to understand ourselves better and become stronger, more secure people.

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