So many of us have convinced ourselves that it's wrong to feel angry. We shouldn't feel angry, we think, because there are healthier ways to respond when something is wrong. We see anger as something to be "dealt with" or "managed" as if its presence can only destroy. That, however, couldn't be further from the truth. Anger is a good thing. Anger doesn't destroy; it heals.
Now before you read another word, I want to make sure I'm clear: I'm talking about anger here, not rage. But actually, the fact that I need to clarify this, is exactly the problem. We lump destructive rage together with a completely normal and healthy emotion. When we do this, the only conclusion we can come to is that it's wrong to feel angry. Not true!
Steps of the Healing Process
Instead, I see anger much like I see the pain from a twisted ankle. It doesn't always happen immediately, but soon after you twist your ankle, you'll feel pain. As much as you don't like it, that pain plays a central role in the healing process.Here's what pain does:
- It serves as a signal that you'll need to take care, or favor a part of your body, until it is fully restored.
- Pain, along with the accompanying inflammation, starts the healing process by sending signals to your brain to work its hardest to heal that particular area of your body.
- Pain serves as a barometer telling you whether or not the injury is improving, or if you need more medical attention.
When We Make the Pain Go Away
But because we don't like to feel pain, many of us take some over-the-counter pain reliever to make it go away. As helpful as it seems though, it's often counter-productive. I'm not a doctor, but from what I understand, for many day-to-day injuries, taking a pain reliever can slow the healing process. At times, it actually puts us at risk to hurt ourselves even more. Without pain, we don't usually favor the injured area until it's fully healed. Our brains don't send the right amount of chemicals it needs to heal. And, there is no clear measure of whether or not we're getting better. Without pain, we don't heal efficiently.
The Emotional Healing Process
Anger is no different. Anger is a normal and appropriate response when something is wrong in us, in our relationships, or in the world around us. If you've been through trauma, like abuse, your anger makes sense. What happened to you was wrong, your anger is not. Therefore just like physical pain, anger is a signal that we need to pay attention, slow down, and take care of what's wrong in order for it to fully heal. Anger shows us exactly where we are hurt, so that we can make it a priority to work on that part of our lives. Anger, then also serves as a barometer, telling us if things are getting better. If our anger is getting worse, turning into bitterness or rage, we need to take another course of action to keep ourselves emotionally or socially healthy and safe.
When we ignore, stuff, or self-medicate in response to anger, we only prolong the healing process. Instead, allow yourself to safely feel anger while you heal. If you're feeling confused about why you're increasingly angry or bitter about something long after it has happened, something is still wrong. Pay close attention to what your anger is telling you. Enlist help from a friend or counselor if you feel stuck. As you pay attention to your anger, ask yourself these three questions:
- What is making you feel angry (Is it a relationship, a specific conversation, where you live, your own behavior or reactions, your financial situation, etc)?
- Can something be done to address it or make you more safe? What is the first step?
- After attempting to address it, based on your anger, is it getting worse or better?
Pay attention to your anger with this Anger Inventory.
Feeling angry is a normal and healthy reaction that tells us when something is wrong. Pay attention to it, and it will show you where and how to heal, and when you safe and healthy in that area of your life.