It’s Good to Be Mad: 5 Ways Anger Actually Serves You

Woman covering her earsCan you understand how a driver might want to ram another car off the roadway in a fit of rage just because he or she was cut off at a light? Maybe that’s even you? If so, you are not alone—more than 16 million people struggle with anger while driving.

Of course, anger rears its ugly head in many different forms—so-called “road rage” is just one. No one is immune to feelings of rage, frustration, anger, or irritation at one time or another. I have been coaching anger-management skills in my private practice over many years in addition to teaching 52-week, mandated domestic violence classes to male offenders and working with high school gang members. I am passionate about teaching pissed-off, posturing individuals why anger is one of the most important emotions they have and how it can be used to serve them.

When I am coaching anger-management skills, I am quick to start the conversation by emphasizing that the goal of what I am teaching is not to help a person never to experience anger. Anger will never go completely away for anyone. A primary goal of anger management is to help the person learn how to control his or her anger, learn from it, and use it appropriately in a given situation. (I am not suggesting that violent acts against others are ever appropriate; I am focusing on the underlying feelings of anger and what it is trying to tell us about ourselves.)

In my work with regular folks, gang members, and domestic violence offenders, I have found many ways that anger serves us, but these five seem to be the most prevalent:

  1. Anger sets boundaries around us when we feel threatened. When something feels intuitively wrong to us, as when we are being mistreated, we tend to feel anger. This is an internal sign to us that we need to remove ourselves from a situation that is not treating us well.
  2. Anger covers up an emotion that we are not comfortable feeling. Many times when a person is angry, he or she actually has an underlying feeling going on, such as guilt, sadness, vulnerability, or fear. These feelings are so uncomfortable that the person would rather get angry than feel the underlying emotion. When you feel anger, one of the first questions to ask yourself is: what emotion am I trying to avoid?
  3. Anger acts like a suit of armor. Anger keeps others away from us and gives us space. Many times this can be an effective defense mechanism if we need space or want to work something out. Teenagers use anger in this way a lot to give themselves space away from a situation that they are not able to handle.
  4. Anger can prepare you for battle. As anyone who has ever gotten into a physical altercation with someone threatening can tell you, you need to energize yourself and pump up your adrenaline in a way that will be accessible to you in an emergency. Anger can harness your power in order to physically protect you if you are being hurt.
  5. Anger can point you to unresolved internal issues. If you find yourself having feelings of anger when you think of someone in your life, an issue from your childhood, or a future event that you are dreading, you more than likely have something unresolved going on. Maybe your friend asked you to help host a neighborhood barbecue and you have trouble saying no, when you really don’t want to help. You feel resentment and anger toward your friend, when in fact you are the one who has trouble setting boundaries and saying no. Or maybe you hold anger from a breakup that has left you lacking in trust of the opposite sex, and every time you think of your ex you get angry and bitter. You can use this feeling of anger to realize that you may need to get some closure or process this termination of your relationship so you can learn how to let it go and move on.

In learning how to become a better listener to your feelings of anger as they arise, you can begin to learn things about yourself that you may not have known. You will never be free of anger popping up in your life, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As the above list points out, anger is an incredibly valuable guide to help you gain insight into your true self.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stacey Neil, MA, LMFT, CPT, Self-Care Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cal

    September 8th, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    I certainly can see the benefits of letting yourself feel all of that anger. When we try to hold all of those things on the inside the only person that we are helping is the one who probably deserves to have to deal with a little bit of that anger! You hurt yourself and likely the people around you by holding those things on the inside and not letting yourself feel the things that you really do need to feel.

  • Sharon

    September 8th, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    My son I feel wears his anger so that nothing else can touch him. He thinks that this is not only his weapon but also his protection at the same time. I think that a lot of this comes form being picked on and bullied at school and he found that literally once he got mad and started fighting back then that made the bullies stop, at least openly taunting him and teasing him. Since then it is as if this is the only way that he feels that he has to protect himself; my fear is that he will use this against anyone who tries to get close to him all in that same effort to keep from being hurt.

  • The Rev. Christopher L. Smith, LCAC, LMHC, LMFT

    September 9th, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    Stacey draws a good way of looking at the positives of the emotion without linking these to the behaviors associated with inappropriate expressions.

  • Robert

    September 9th, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Well it can certainly get you geared up to stand up for yourself that’s for sure!

  • Stacey Neil

    September 9th, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    I appreciate your comments! Sharon – it may be useful to share this article with your son. Hopefully, he will learn the difference between someone approaching him with kindness and love and someone who is going to bully and hurt him. If he sees anger as a tool for protection, it is useful to support him in learning when it is appropriate to pull out this tool and when it will not serve him and in fact will keep people away from him that he may want to get close too. If he is aware of how it feels in his body, he can begin to learn how to control it effectively. Out of control anger is never a positive gain for the giver or receiver.

  • Marijke S.

    September 9th, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Stacy gives 5 good examples of anger/agression/irritation and I like the way she encourages us to investigate the feelings and meanings, like a good psychotherapist would do.

  • Donald W. Lee, MA, MFT

    September 11th, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    I appreciate your experienced views about anger. A lot can be learned by looking at the feelings driving it. When I can feel my own fear, frustration, or emotional pain, I can better manage the angry part and create lines of communication rather than conflict. Thanks,
    Don Lee

  • Jonny

    September 13th, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    It’s funny how something that happens in the present will lead you right back to where you were in the past if you never took the time to resolve all of those unsettled issues…

  • Angelina F.

    September 24th, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Thanks for this, Stacy.

    When helping clients deal with anger, I’ve found it useful to get curious about what the angry ‘part’ wants. What is that part looking to achieve, resolve or attain?

    As the client begins to explore the answers to these questions, they drop very quickly through the anger into the ‘softer’ or more vulnerable places beneath it, and can then start to form an empowered/empowering and more conscious relationship with those more vulnerable parts.

    I also find it useful to encourage client to literally thank the part that’s showing up tough and using anger as the defense that it is. In so doing, the client gains access to remembering a bigger, more objective part of themselves.

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