Anger is a strong and complex emotion. The way we deal with it changes greatly from culture to culture. For some people, expression of anger goes against their way of living. Others do not like feeling angry and try to dismiss it or suppress it. Other people are comfortable feeling and expressing their anger.
Despite our efforts to calm down, anger does not easily let us off the hook. Angry feelings tend to linger inside of us until we do something about them. In a perfect world, we would be able to express our anger safely to someone who listens and cares about us without retaliating or judging us. Unfortunately reality is far from perfect and, while I do not encourage any expression of anger that does not feel safe, I believe that anger carries an important message that we need to listen to.
Think for a moment about what doesn’t make you angry
Many times we see people getting frustrated and aggressive about things that we would not even pay attention to. We only feel anger about things that matter to us, while it is impossible to feel frustrated or annoyed about what we don’t care about.
Underneath the heat of anger and the nasty words we might want to say to who or what makes us angry, there is a vital message. Do we know what this message is? Anger feels so strong because we are moved by our deepest need to protect what most matters to us: freedom, respect, safety, love, etc. In this sense, if we find ways to achieve that protection, our angry and aggressive energy might dissipate.
If a friend comes late to an appointment and does not apologise, we feel some frustration. It might not be the wait in itself that makes us angry, but the lack of an apology. The options available at this point are to either speak up to express our frustration straightaway, or to pause and check what it is that really matters in that situation. Not knowing what exactly is angering us leaves us open to getting into fruitless confrontation.
If it is the wait that is bothering us, what matters to us is the fact that our time is respected and we can ask for reassurance that it will not happen again. If we are frustrated by the lack of an apology, what matters to us is the acknowledgement of our wait, rather than the wait itself. If that is the case, we can ask for a heartfelt apology.
While we culturally reject aggressive expression of anger, we might find it much easier to think that anger is giving us energy to protect something important. If we do something to restore a sense of protection or if we realise that we have misjudged the situation and what matters to us is not at risk, anger is likely to dissipate.