Good or Bad?
Is anger a good emotion or a bad emotion? The answer is Yes!
Many people believe anger is bad and that they are bad when they get angry. Not so. Anger is just one of many emotions, and it can be a terrific tool to show you where you need to do some inner work. Your anger may be telling you that you need to set a boundary, or that you should defend someone who is being attacked.
So let’s look at anger through a close-up lens. There’s no denying it carries a power-pack of emotional energy. The bite comes when we don’t understand it or use it well.
Wisdom from the Masters
So what do the masters—ancient and modern–have to say about anger?
Aristotle – “Anyone can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everyone’s power and is not easy.”
Epictetus – “Whenever you are angry, be assured that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit.”
Horace – “Anger is a short madness.”
Robert Ingersoll – “Anger blows out the lamp of the mind.”
And as a wise old grandmother once said, “You can’t afford to give someone a piece of your mind because eventually you won’t have any left for yourself!”
Yet, anger itself isn’t the problem.
Your Default Settings
The behaviors that beg to be indulged when you feel angry can truly be in no one’s best interests. If your brain’s default settings are set too low and anger automatically turns into behavior—whatever you feel like doing at that moment—you’d best watch out. And that goes for our own anger or someone else’s. Anyone within close proximity of a person out-of-control and acting in blowup mode may well want to make themselves scarce for a while.
Anger usually wants an audience. To quote the 1976 movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Self-righteous anger wants to be heard, and wants everyone within earshot to agree. “It’s my way or the highway.” Anger is indeed very powerful, and it can—uncontrolled—take on a life of its own. It tends to get people’s attention.
So what exactly happens when we blow a fuse?
Frequently when something happens that sets us off, we find ourselves reacting to old ‘hurts’ that we are not even aware of because they are hiding beneath the surface, being held in our subconscious brain. We put up our dukes and come out fighting in defense of ourselves.
You know the well-known admonishment to ‘Count to 10’ before you do anything you will later regret? The wisdom behind that is related to your brain chemistry. When a person is angry his brain shuts down and he can’t think straight. Plain and simple.
Maybe you think you should confront an angry person and think it is cowardly to walk away. Au contraire! If you want to confront someone about their anger, they literally won’t be able to hear you until they’ve had a chance to cool off.
Your brain’s limbic system operates in your subconscious brain. It knows no sense of time. To your limbic system, today is the same as any other day, including when you were a ‘screaming me-me’ two-year-old. This portion of your brain is designed to protect you at all costs from any perceived threat, and it is not tied to the calendar!
When you are fully triggered into an anger/fear state, your limbic brain will put you into fight/flight/freeze mode, whichever response is your own personal default. When you are in that mode, your limbic brain takes over and your pre-frontal cortex, or ‘supervisor brain’ as I like to call it, goes offline in deference to the perceived emergency. Catch this—it will take a minimum of 90 minutes before your blood flow is regulated and your executive functions can come back on line. So this cool-down period is absolutely vital.
Don’t try to go against Ma Bell!
What to do when you’re ‘spittin’ mad’
When you have been triggered to an angry state (your internal reaction—not anyone else’s), do this:
- Find a quiet place where you can sit for a few minutes.
- Will yourself to breathe deeply.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Imagine a young puppy sleeping and with each breath his little belly fills with air before he lets his breath out again. Envision yourself as this little puppy without a care in the world.
- Take a walk in a quiet place for a few minutes.
- Just continue to be.
- When you are breathing has normalized, get a drink of water or make yourself a cup of tea and then you can more accurately process what just happened and whether your response was appropriate or more than the situation actually called for.
I didn’t promise you that this would be easy! Particularly if you are used to giving up control of yourself to an angry outburst. If, however, you rehearse this in your mind and choose to use these coping mechanisms, over time you will have changed your brain’s default position. And that is an accomplishment! Time to pat yourself on the back!