Is anger a problem? This is what I asked a group of my students recently. Most of the class expressed the belief that anger is a problem, because, they said, it acts as a gateway to behaviors like violence, feeling out of control, and poor choices that destroy relationships. Most of the class agreed that anger is bad, always leads to more bad things, and so is something you should “get rid of.”
I thought this was very interesting. I asked the class if they’d ever been angry without falling into violence, being out of control, etc. Everyone raised their hands. We concluded that anger does not always lead to violence, destruction, etc. It is not a one-way street to doom. I asked them if anyone had ever gotten rid of their anger. No hands were raised. Everyone agreed that most of their attempts to get rid of anger only made it harder to deal with.
Of course, anger, like any emotion, can cause problems if not handled well. But anger itself is not a problem: it’s an emotion. However, seeing anger as a problem tends to cause problems. Beliefs such as “I’m not allowed to be angry” often cause people to bury or deny feelings of anger. Thoughts such as “I shouldn’t be angry” may get in the way of resolving a situation where anger has arisen. Thoughts like “Anger is bad” often link to thoughts like “I am bad for being angry.” These kinds of beliefs and thoughts are not particularly helpful when one is angry. They certainly don’t make anger go away.
The solution to the “problem of anger” is recognizing that anger is an emotion. Anger communicates important information about being hurt or feeling wronged, it arises when a boundary or limit has been crossed, and it signals our values about what is just, fair, and acceptable. This is information that is useful to know, and in that sense anger can be very helpful. Anger then becomes an ally and teacher. Learning from anger supports, informs, and empowers you, and helps you solve your problems.