Also like anger, lemons are balancing agents. They cleanse and set the pH in your body in balance. At the same time, they were never intended by nature to be digested as a main course.
The health benefits of lemons are many, in other words, if you know when and how much to use in proportion to other ingredients, and so on.
Similarly, anger is an emotion that activates, as an agent that helps you regulate and reset the balance of seemingly opposing inner strivings — to stay connected to your self and life around you — yet never meant to be overused as an emotion to hide or to hide behind.
The need to clear common misunderstandings?
If it’s surprising to hear that anger is a potentiality healthy emotion, this speaks to the need to clear common misunderstandings before moving to understand its potential benefits (as well as its risks and harmful effects when over or underused). Here are a few:
- Anger is not a “right” granted or “natural” for some to express but not others.
Anger is an emotion that is critical to our personal health and happiness regardless of age, status or gender. It has nothing to do with conforming to social norms, though cultural mores often dictate taboos on who may or may not express anger. Anger is a key emotion that helps us to take action to stand up for ourselves in relational interactions where other emotions, such as fear, hurt, sadness, shame, guilt, may otherwise paralyze us from standing up (in healthy ways) to protect our sense of agency and choice. It’s important to look at mores (subconscious beliefs) that have conditioned us to regard anger as an emotion that is “approved” for some, i.e., persons in “authority” positions to express, i.e., parents, husbands, employers, etc., and systematically blocked as taboo for others, i.e., women, children, etc.
- Blasting others with anger does not work.
Blasting others with angry outbursts not only fails to gain others cooperation, it also erodes our relationships and thus our ability to influence others. It’s clearly a “shoot self in foot” behavior, and leads to feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness (factors that can also make anger dangerous). Those who over rely on angry outbursts to feel appreciated or gain cooperation often believe its the only way to be heard, valued or get others’ “respect.” They hold a misguided belief that anger, shame or intimidation can be used to “teach” others to give them the caring response or attention they yearn to receive. In reality, the opposite is true. This defensive way of relating to others causes distance, isolation, disconnect instead in the relationship. It also activates the other’s defenses, and passive-aggressive strategies of resistance, such as withdrawal, silence, denial, lies, etc. The belief that angry outburst or shame can win over another’s heart or appreciation is like holding a bogus treasure map.
- Suppressing anger does not work either.
Anger that goes unrecognized, denied or dismissed also does not work. It becomes a captive, bottled-up force inside that can submerge persons into sadness, despair, loss of hope and depression. Those who dismiss, deny, suppress and in general reject the emotion of anger, often believe anger or conflict is a troublemaker that causes more harm than good. Their greatest fears often have to do with avoiding anger and conflict, and their experiences have taught them to associate anger with rejection, not being loved, or good enough, etc. They may go out of their way to avoid upsetting others or rocking the boat; however, they stew inside instead, hiding their anger, perhaps even from themselves. There’s no avoiding anger, however. To avoid anger is to build pools of resentment or even bitterness, or worse, to cut ourselves off from positive action-activating resources inside.
- Expressing anger defensively is the problem, and not anger itself.
The habit of expressing anger defensively is harmful, regardless whether its passive stewing inside or aggressive venting or blasting others around us. And that brings us to the real problem, that: We tend to use one extreme or the other of expressing anger. Rather than learn how to express anger effectively (and treat anger as a relationship and life enhancing agent), we either overly rely on angry outbursts to be heard or valued, or look for ways to avoid anger, upsets, conflict. Both patterns of expressing anger can lead to damaging effects on relationships, and pose risks for violence, emotional abuse and out of control outbursts.
In sum, there’s no avoiding anger.
It’s not about who has the right to express it. Whether we hide our anger inside or hide behind angry outbursts, both defensive patterns block communication and the formation of healthy relationships.
So what is it about? It’s about how and when, and how much. It’s also about what we intend to create — a conscious intention we set that guides each choice we make. It’s a conscious choice to express anger effectively, not defensively (more often than not …).
When defensive, it causes distance in our key relationships, and imbalances in our emotional states (either engulfed by anger or disconnected from it). When effective, anger allows us to grow and strengthen emotional intimacy with our self and others.
And, by the way, if you’re not a “friend” of anger at present or think you will never be, there’s good news. Like the taste for lemons, you can develop yours for this emotion, perhaps even come to enjoy how it can enhance other life flavors, especially as you begin to see the amazing benefits.
In Part 2, the risks and harms of expressing anger defensively, and the potential benefits of expressing anger effectively.