Anger: A Blessing in Disguise

I never thought I’d be developing relationships with people whose opinions I didn’t agree with, who didn’t necessarily like me very much, and whose very presence dialed up my internal anger settings to full blast. But I also never imagined there would come a day where I would be thankful for having these people in my life.

And yet that’s exactly what happened.

It’s one thing to smile and converse politely with in-laws and friends of your spouse during compulsory family gatherings. It’s quite another to build relationships with an ex-girlfriend and her parents, especially after going through a brutal breakup. But with a beautiful one-year-old boy in the picture, that’s exactly what had to happen.

After running away from uncomfortable emotions most of my life, my son was the catalyst for internal work that had long been ignored but had to be done. And one of the main issues I knew I had to face and come to terms with was deep-rooted anger.

In the traditional sense of the term ‘anger management’, I coped quite well. On the surface – most of the time – I looked calm and collected. Just below the superficial layer I was showing the world, however, was boiling hot anger waiting for a crack in the surface so it can squeeze itself out.

I didn’t know at the time, but I was afraid of my own anger. That’s why I repressed it. I was scared that if I fully expressed my anger, it could potentially kill someone; maybe even me.

Of course, it was the ‘special’ people in my life that were ‘skilled’ enough to create cracks in my armor: my mother, father, girlfriend, and brother just to name a few. The people closest to you always seem to know how to push your buttons. And it was easier – and more convenient – to externalize blame for my issues on the people and circumstances that were right in front of me when I felt the flames of anger burning from within.

It’s them, not me!

It took me years to realize the people closest to me in my life weren’t pushing any buttons that hadn’t already been there for a long, long time. It took me even longer to start appreciating – and yes, even being grateful for – the people that continually and consistently have shown me aspects of myself – in this case, anger – that I hadn’t been aware of, accepted and integrated into a more holistic concept of self. In fact, it was my internal rage and anger that provided a clear path to healing. Getting to know my anger finally stopped it from controlling me.

What’s Behind the Anger?

When I started working with my anger I found that asking myself certain questions helped the real message underneath my anger reveal itself to my conscious mind. Admittedly, in the heat of an angry moment it can be difficult to think rationally or objectively, so asking yourself these questions after you’ve calmed down can also provide opportunities for reflection, growth, and deeper understanding of yourself and others.

Next time you find yourself being engulfed by the flames of anger, consider – even if just for a moment – some of the following self-inquiries: 

  • Maybe they’re right? It may sound absurd since you’re always right, but maybe, just maybe, there’s some truth to the statements or things that are being said that anger you. Nothing is more scary to the fragile ego than being vulnerable, exposed, found out, or discovered to be a fraud. Even a small dose of truth can set our egos into anger overdrive. The challenge to all of us is always the same: Can I be vulnerable enough to admit the other person is right? If I’m right and what I defend is true, then why am I being defensive and angry? 
  • Maybe I’m being a control freak? I’m a control freak. I’m willing to bet that so are you. The truth is that we’re all control freaks and expect everything and everyone to behave in a certain way and in accordance with our expectations. We expect to hear ‘thank you’ when we give compliments, gifts, or help. And we get upset when people don’t behave or respond in a way we anticipate. We call them rude. Maybe I’m  mad because this situation is not conforming to my controlling ways? Can I let go of the perceptions and expectations I have for the people in my life and let them be themselves?
  • Maybe I’m hurting? I’d be driving in my car, and all of a sudden I’d realize that my mind had been chasing thoughts and creating stories about people that were making me angrier and angrier. I could literally feel tension building in my neck, shoulders, and through my arms. When (more like if) I became aware of my mental brooding, I found it beneficial to stop the thought immediately and ask myself ‘Am I in pain right now? Where does it hurt? Am I hurt by something that actually happened or something my mind has imagined? Many times, this simple inquiry physical tension in my body. Once I brought my conscious awareness to my body and the area of tension, my whole body would shudder, shiver, or spasm. Only hurt people hurt people. In my experience, underneath anger there is always pain. Do I have the strength to look beneath my anger and courage to be with my pain?
  • Who does this anger belong to? Anger is not something that’s happening outside of you. It’s not something that can be touched, felt, or experienced by anyone other than you. And yet – in the moment – nothing feels more real. But anger is our responsibility and no one else’s. It’s better to get to know our anger and become friends with it. We can learn how to be with our anger so it doesn’t boil over and unnecessarily hurt the people around us. Can I take responsibility for my anger, sit with it, and accept its presence and role in my life?

Anger is just a small sliver of the bigger emotional pie. Learning to manage anger has nothing to do with avoiding it or numbing it. Even scientific research shows that trying to remove anger from our emotional spectrum is a bad idea. Studies have shown that anger can be a force of motivation, that angry people are more optimistic, that anger can benefit relationships, and – not surprisingly – that anger provides self-insight.

Anger can be a beautiful emotion in our lives. Of course, the keywords here is can be. It’s the relationship we have with anger that determines whether this powerful emotion is debilitating and leads to self-sabotaging reactions, or whether it provides a direct path to integration, assertiveness, and action. When anger becomes friend and messenger instead of an enemy, you realize that everything that made you angry – and the anger itself – was a blessing in disguise.

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