“Lower your anger!” “Get rid of that anger” “Your anger will kill you” We’ve all heard these before and it always means the same thing: Anger is bad. But what we forget is that anger is an emotion – and a very necessary one at that. In many ways, anger is no different than love. We are all born with it and it is part of our DNA. So why should we try to get rid of it? Why is anger such a negative thing?
Perhaps we should reconsider anger. Perhaps we should see anger as a fuel – a source of power – and instead of trying to reduce it, learn to use. That’s right use it – to reach our goals.
Let’s take a look at anger form an evolutionary perspective.
Anger is instinctual — a survival mechanism we employ in very dangerous situations. We use anger when under attack and our life is in danger: pulse rate increases, blood pressure rises, breathing becomes faster, and the mind focuses on one thing: to eliminate the threat. This threat—anger—fight cycle is hardwired. Some people are just better off focusing anger to survive than others, but we ALL experience the psychological and physiological effects of anger when in danger.
But anger doesn’t have to be only an instinctive response. Just like any other emotion, we can learn to control anger – to leverage it if you will, to reach our goals.
And this is the paradox.
Common wisdom teaches us about balance, oriental religions talk about Yin and Yang, and not being able to have one without the other, and we can’t get away from the fact that if we want to love, we need to have anger as well. We get angry because something matters to us – and never more than when we love. The most passionate people understand passion as a mixture of both anger – intolerance for the way things are –and love – desire to make things better.
Yet we ALL love our comfort zones and nobody likes to get out of that zone. Naturally, some people have a wider comfort zone than others, but we all have them. Nevertheless, change and learning happen outside of our comfort zone. To get out of our comfort zone we can use different emotions, including anger. Real need for change happens when we are tired of being at the same place. Let’s look at a few examples.
A person decides to leave an abusive relationship and change only after “having enough.” Until that very bottom is reached, that person is staying in her comfort zone. She might express desire to change, she might attempt to do it, but she will make excuses and fall back into her comfort zone. Real change will only happen after she gets ANGRY at the perpetrator and herself for accepting that situation.
The addict is in a similar situation. He will continue to fall back until one day he will be ANGRY enough to stop accepting the status quo and make the decision to fight for change.
ANGER can be used to facilitate an escape from any other dangerous situation, but it could also be used to grow.
In ultra running, athletes running races of 100 miles or more fail at finishing on average 50% of the time. Yet some athletes never fail. And interestingly, anger helps to process pain—and nowhere is this as important when pushing the limits of physical endurance. But we all push our limits at some point – an addict pushes his when he chooses to finally put the bottle down, and a depressed person pushes limits too when she finally chooses to go after the life she really wants. And we can all increase the proverbial finishing rate if we learned to use anger for what it is meant for – to fight for something the really matters.
So why not learn to use ANGER to reach your goals? Learn to control anger instead of anger controlling you. Just imagine what you could do when you get ANGRY enough to reject failure.