The Gift Of Anger

How do you feel about yourself when something makes you angry?

I’m not talking about the little flares of anger that happen when the barista gets your order wrong or someone cuts in front of you.

No, I’m talking about the type of anger you feel when a family member provokes you again when you’ve told them clearly that it upsets you.

The type of anger you feel when someone you were counting on bails on you, and acts like you’re the difficult one for getting upset.

The type of anger you feel when you’ve done everything you know how to do to keep the peace with your partner, and they just keep demanding more and more.

The type of anger that erupts and seethes and burns up what caused it.

Once that anger has subsided, how do you feel?

Do you feel ashamed? Liberated? Frightened of your own capacity for rage?
I think we have a really complicated relationship with anger in our culture. Coming from a religious home, anger always ranked high among the sins I was supposed to avoid.

But there are two types of anger, as I now see it.

Our belief that all anger is bad or negative really does us a disservice in the process of getting to know ourselves.

I absolutely believe that we need to learn to regulate the explosive, reactive, unjustified anger that’s triggered when someone touches an open wound or prejudice in us.

Immature, selfish, spiteful anger is obviously to the detriment of us all.

But I also believe in righteous anger.

This is mature anger — the type that blooms when injustice takes place or when a boundary is violated. It’s expressed consistently, consciously and constructively.

It’s the anger that protects us when we are under threat, and that allows us to protect others when they can’t protect themselves.

Righteous anger is critical for our self-regard and for driving change in situations that are unacceptable.

I spent this morning writing about a time in my life when I was deeply, viscerally angry.

For a long time I felt queasy looking back on that period, shocked by the scale of that rage.

I was too close to the problem to understand it then, but looking back, I understand it was a righteous anger: my boundaries had been trampled and my right to be heard ignored.

Like just about every other worthwhile thing I’ve done in my life, I turned to books and writing to figure this one out.

I read The Gift of Anger by Arun Gandhi (Mahatma Ghandi’s grandson), whose simple reflections on his grandfather’s righteous, non-violent anger were both moving and inspiring.

I read Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, and discovered that until I faced my anger and expressed it in a mature way, I would never feel completely comfortable in my own skin.

I read The Truth by Neil Strauss, and realised that the current of resentment that had flowed through my life, and tendency towards martyrdom, were the result of unspoken anger over long-ago hurts.

As everything I was reading coalesced, one day I took to my journal and started frantically trying to uncover everything I had buried, swallowed, swept away.

I needed to look at it, feel it, and start speaking the truth of my life without a moment’s further delay.

What came out was an eruption of rage. Volcanic, irrepressible rage.

I tore through dozens of pages of my journal, all the years of feeling ignored and devalued and disposable heaping kindling onto the inferno.

And from that day I started telling the truth. I started speaking up about what I needed, wanted, believed. I started pushing back on things that didn’t fit me, that I didn’t want to do.

Some people didn’t like it — the same people I’d most avoided becoming angry with in the first place. Some of them got over it; others didn’t.

But everything was different from that point.

One friend said the change in me was like watching a butterfly unfurl from its cramped, twisted chrysalis, and that’s how it felt.

Writing today, I felt an immense wave of gratitude for that anger, because it woke me up to an unacceptable situation and forced me to make a change.

Anger — like fear — is a constant throughout life. It’s not a sin. It’s not a failure. It’s a force.

So don’t be scared of your righteous anger. Don’t strangle yourself into silent acceptance of a lifetime of little hurts, and big ones.

Accept your anger, and harness it for the powerful change it can bring.