Anger is a basic and valid human emotion. We are hard-wired for anger, just as we are so many other feelings. And like so many emotions, anger serves beneficial purposes. It alerts us that something is wrong – that some threat or injustice exists – on personal, institutional and societal levels. Evolutionarily speaking, anger has long-served this protective role. There is also typically a good deal of energy to anger, which can provide needed fuel to propel us through difficult-to-make changes in our lives.
Anger, when a habitual or reactive mode of response, can also be damaging to ourselves and to relationships. Anger can be seen as a tool and, like many other tools, can require some proper training in order to be used most effectively. Anger management strategies help us do just that.
Anger can be seen as a surface emotion, meaning that whenever we are experiencing anger, it is an indication that one or more other – likely more vulnerable-feeling – emotions also exist. One approach to working with anger is to learn to identify the feelings that underlie our anger, and then develop the ability to communicate these feelings more directly.
As mentioned above, a function of anger is to alert us that a threat or harm exists. It is important, however, to take the time to consciously examine the narrative we are telling ourselves in determining whether a real threat does, indeed currently exist. Or, for instance, is some threatening or painful experience from our past being evoked by the current situation and coloring our perception of it. Ultimately, we want to develop the capacity to respond based on what is true now.
Finally, because anger can carry with it a significant amount of felt physical energy, learning practices to work with, manage, dissipate some amount of this energy can be helpful in creating more of a felt ability to hesitate and make the conscious choice to use the strategies described above. Having healthy ways to channel our energy is always a great mental health tool.