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When Anger is Productive and When It’s Not
We’ve all witnessed the negative effects of anger, when it is reactive, self-righteous, and violent. However, there is also a positive energy and purpose in anger that is important to pay attention to and use wisely. In this post, we’ll talk about both faces of anger, how to differentiate them, and how to use anger productively.
As with all emotions, anger contains energy and information. In the case of anger, the energy is rising strength and the message is: “something needs protection.” Understanding this essential purpose in anger can help us to recognize what anger is trying to tell us and how we can use that energy and information in a good way.
The positive purpose in anger is to protect yourself or others in the face of a threat to well-being. For example, you see someone being harmed and the anger you feel alerts you and empowers you to step in and set a firm boundary against what is happening. An appropriate use of that anger is to firmly say “No!” or “Stop!” or to physically step in the middle and disarm the perpetrator.
When we understand the purpose of anger we can be more conscious of how to use this energy wisely. Then, we can accomplish the mission of protection while minimizing any harm done in the process. For example, we can use words and reason first and then defensive actions if required.
However, sometimes anger flares when we don’t really need to protect anything. This type of anger protects something that it is really better to release and let go. A whole lot of unnecessary conflict can be avoided if we let this anger go instead of following it. I’ll give you a small example that happened to me yesterday.
I was at the gym doing my Sunday workout. As I was going through my routine, I found that the machine I usually use next was occupied. The person occupying the machine was sitting there texting. Following normal gym etiquette, I asked if I could “work in,” which means that one person alternates with the other while the other person is resting between sets.
To my surprise, the person sitting on the machine said, “I’d prefer if you didn’t, I’m super-setting.” Whether it was the tone of how he said that or the fact that he was texting and not super-setting, I don’t know, but instantly my anger flared. In a nano-second, I rationalized my feeling into a full-blown, self-righteous anger.
I thought: “Does he think he owns the place? . . . What gives him more right than me? . . . He’s texting! . . . What an ______________! . . .”
Now the reality of the situation was, there was a machine right next to that one, that was similar enough that I could use it instead—and I did. Yet, as I was using it, I found myself wanting to verbally put him in his place. Angry words continued to run through my brain. My ego was hurt and I wanted revenge. O.K. that might be dramatic for such a small offense, but how often is anger overblown like that?
Fortunately, my better sense got hold of me and, after doing my sets on the machine next to him, I moved away to another part of the gym. Yet, I still had to work with mind. I told myself that what happened hadn’t hindered my workout at all, it just slightly adjusted my normal routine—and probably in a good way. A little variety is good for the muscles.
I also realized that his statement had triggered an old reaction of “feeling less than others”—something I’ve struggled with through my life. In some cases, it has been important for me to stand up and express myself. Yet, in this case, it really didn’t matter. I knew it was best to just let it go.
Still, little nagging angry thoughts kept running through my head—until I took one more step in my mind. I put myself in his shoes. I realized that there were many times in the past that I had felt like him. I don’t like to be interrupted in my routine and, when I am on a machine, I don’t like to give it up. Now, I usually do let others “work in” when they ask, but I understood his feeling, because I’ve often felt that way myself. When I put myself in his shoes and tried to understand where he was coming from, my anger stepped down another few notches.
Then I decided to take it one step further. I looked across the room at him and wished him a good workout. I know how important a good workout is to me, so I sent that message to him. I don’t know if it made any difference to him, but it took the final edge off my anger. I was able to completely let it go and move on.
So, the message here is that sometimes anger has a positive purpose, sometimes it arises to protect something that needs protection. At other times, anger may be defending something that is better let go. In that case, the positive purpose in anger could be to put ourselves in another’s shoes and consciously let our anger go. Maybe the bottom-line is that anger can always be used productively when we approach it consciously and use it wisely.
I hope you find this helpful when you feel the energy of anger rising up in you.
Enjoy your practice,
Kevin Schoeninger graduated from Villanova University in 1986 with a Master's Degree in Philosophy. He is Certified as a Personal Trainer, a Qigong Meditation Instructor, and as a Reiki Master Teacher.
Kevin's lifework is self-development and spiritual growth through daily practice. He has written several programs that are available through The Mind-Body Training Company and he is the Editor for Spiritual Growth Monthly membership site.