Anger: how it helps and how it hurts us

Let me tell you a story that you may know yourself. You’re in the office and hear your manager tearing a strip off a co-worker. The manager is angermeterangry bordering on rage. She seems to have a point, but her attitude toward the co-worker is, in itself, anger-making.

How does this impact you as an unwilling observer? What would you find yourself doing about it?

Some of us would get angry and react by either saying something in anger or avoiding the situation altogether, likely feeling badly about it later. A few of us may get angry and then take it in, responding once we were ready, feeling OK later, if we thought about it at all.

The former reaction hurts us and the second helps us. As Ambrose Bierce said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Anger is a natural and necessary emotion. It’s how we deal with our own anger that determines whether it hurts or helps us. In the words of the Mayo Clinic, anger is a natural response to perceived threats. It causes our body to release adrenaline, our muscles to tighten, and our heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Our senses might feel more acute and our face and hands flushed. Anger becomes a problem only when we don’t manage it in a healthy way.

Anger helps us in at least three ways:

  1. Anger protects us when we are in physical danger by kicking in our “fight or flight” response, allowing us to act quickly.
  2. Anger can let us know when something isn’t right and we need to take action. For instance, if a person isn’t listening to us when an important situation arises.
  3. Anger teaches us about what is important to us and about our own bottom lines. For instance, back to the story, is mutual respect in the workplace a bottom line for you?

Next time you get angry, notice how you respond. Begin to appreciate how getting angry, if felt mindfully, can be a powerful teacher in our lives.

 Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit http://www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

 

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