Understanding the Wisdom in Your Anger

Fensterplatz im GhettoAnger in its various forms, shapes, and guises is a doozy of an emotion. Few of us would count anger as a preferred, let alone favored, emotion. Yet for survivors of trauma, it is a well-known and sometimes frequently experienced emotion.

Before getting any further, a quick moment of clarification is necessary. The word anger encompasses many different experiences—from a quickly passing irritation to longer-lasting indignation, to being irate, having resentment, or harboring exasperation or hate. If you are interested in an in-depth discussion of the various forms of anger, I encourage you to read Paul Ekman’s book, Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, as this article will look at anger linked to the traumas you have survived.

Any facet of the traumatic experience may trigger your anger, and your anger may have various levels of intensity. Keep in mind that your anger is unique to you—what I mean by this is that what angers you may not be the same as what angers others with a similar life experience or what angers those who know and love you. In addition, your anger will not be static. What angers you can and will change with time, with various experiences, and with healing, insight, and growth. The variation of anger you experience may also change. You may go from having frustration to having rage about the very same component of the mistreatment, or you may go from having resentment about one facet of your story to having peace about that precise facet.

All of this changeability is normal—after all, emotions are fluid experiences. Just like a maple tree looks different with each passing session, the emotional relationship with your experiences of trauma will morph, ebb, and flow.

Like every emotion, anger is experienced within our bodies, and most of us can readily identify the sense of heat in our thighs, tension in our balled-up hands, or friction in our jaws that often goes along with anger. Anger is often easily identified because it has such a degree of intensity and power within it. This intensity is also experienced with anger’s urge to take action—we want to express, expend, or display our anger, be it through words, actions, or deeds. As most of us have learned, doing exactly what our anger wants us to do is generally not a good idea (please note that this maxim does not hold true in life-threatening situations). So, then, what can you do with the anger you feel and the anger you experience due to the trauma(s) you have survived?

A subtler and quieter option is to recognize why the anger is arising in the first place. Almost always, anger arises when you feel you have been wronged, when there is an approaching danger, when something you value is being interfered with, blocked, or denied. To some degree, the intensity of your anger is present so that you could annihilate the threat, clear the hurdle, or push aside the obstacle that is in your way or coming toward you. Phrased another way, anger often arises when your needs, rights, or deepest wants are threatened, violated, or ignored. This, in turn, makes anger not a “crazy” emotion but rather an emotion that is trying to stand up for you—an emotion that is trying to assert, protect, or attain that which you both need and hold dear.

There also is a quiet statement of worth within such anger. Anger that arises to protect is rooted in a notion that, “I am worthy of having my needs met, my rights respected, and my desires deemed legitimate.” Recognizing that within the fury of your anger is a quiet statement of your needs and worth can be liberating.

Rather than judging your anger as inappropriate, you can validate the genesis of your anger. Yes, it was wrong that I was mistreated; yes, my inherent human needs ought to have been met; no, it was not OK that my rights were denied; no, my wants should not have been manipulated, etc. Claiming allegiance to the validity of your anger can free you from acting out your anger and can aid you in beginning to claim your worth.

By taking on this perspective, you shift your relationship with anger—rather than connecting with anger’s urge to action or anger’s bodily feelings, you now relate to its message of legitimacy and worth. This shift, in turn, frees you to grow through your anger; because you have understood the message within the anger, the anger may not need to arise as often or as intensely.

I will be the first to recognize that transforming your relationship with anger is not an easy task, but I encourage you to at least reflect on the possibility that there are grains of wisdom and truth within your fiery anger. I also encourage you to reach out to a trained therapist so that you can receive all the support, guidance, and assistance you deserve and might need in understanding, listening to, and healing through the anger related to your trauma(s). As always, I encourage you to heal, to grow, and to claim your inherent right to lead a peaceful and meaningful life!

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Susanne M. Dillmann, PsyD, Posttraumatic Stress / Trauma Topic Expert Contributor

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • annie B

    March 5th, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    If anger lets you get those feelings out, then how could that be a bad thing if it is not directed at anyone in particualr and is handled in a responsible way?

  • Alan

    February 22nd, 2017 at 1:23 AM

    Only just came across this article.
    Annie B Releasing your anger by hitting a cushion sounds like a good idea, and if you are overwhelmed by it then and you otherwise might do something rash then it may be the best option.

    The problem is that you are not addressing the issue, and you are allowing yourself to be dictated to by your thoughts. The likelihood is that you’ll get angry unnecessarily again. And again, And again. Nothing has changed.

    Engaging with the emotion and finding where it’s coming from, exploring how it feels exactly, putting those feelings into words, and so on, will help you to get rid of anger that you don’t need.

  • Tabbie

    March 5th, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Just being angry gives you the sense that what you are feeling is real and true. It validates what you are feeling, you know?

  • liz

    March 5th, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions ever.yes it does have negatives but its not like its all evil.come on, even extreme happiness may drive a person to do something crazy! but for those who know how to handle and use anger it can really become an asset. it is an energy form and any energy can be used for both good and for bad!

  • Leonora

    March 6th, 2012 at 5:17 AM

    Yes anger can be a good thing.
    But do not use it as a weapon against another.

  • Viki

    March 6th, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Anger is our body’s trigger that says something is wrong. It’s how we deal with anger that is most important.

  • Kimberely S

    March 6th, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    if you can get something from that anger and learn something from it then fine, go for it, but if all it causes you is more hurt and anger then now is the time to let it go

  • kerri

    April 7th, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    I like this article, but may I ask: a therapist trained in what, exactly? You get angry for sure because you feel threatened, your ego, who you have come to believe you are and identify with is threatened. In truth, who you really are can never be threatened, you are not your conceptual identity so yes it is important to understand why it arises. Ultimately the anger has nothing to do with the external situation or person; this is how we are empowered, understanding this. There is nothing “wrong” with you or with anger. Love Viki’s comment.

  • Jay

    July 4th, 2016 at 12:15 PM

    I recently read this book called emotional medicine. It talks about how to be more in tune with what your physical body is trying to tell you about your anger and how to the mind and body connect in how it is dealt with. There are many ways you can understand and physically and emotionally work through anger while still respecting it’s message. I also go through body sensations first as it brings me to the here and now, images next as it connects me with memories or aspects of what I am seeing that disturb me without thoughts to overwhelm me, then I notice feelings I am having, and then finally the thoughts and how I can respect but reality check them. An easy way to remember that is SIFT. A therapist is very helpful in finding the secondary reason for anger and exploring that. If your interested look up the wheel of anger.

  • cc

    July 4th, 2016 at 12:56 PM

    what if u learned both as a child and adult that if you show anger you will get hurt physically by others you learn not to show it and as a result you die inside

  • Jay

    July 4th, 2016 at 8:59 PM

    Cc – You can work on being kind to yourself when you feel angry and then going through the SIFT process I mentioned above to investigate your anger before acting. Notice memories that have impact especially and remind yourself that you no longer give them power – you have choice now. You can work with a therapist on your trauma history and how to express your needs assertively and create boundaries with people. The goal is to gain wisdom from anger not to feel free to blow up. Try especially to notice what need was not being met that caused the anger because then you can work on making sure the need is being met in the future.

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