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Being Angry isn’t a ‘Bad’ Thing

Jan 25, 2019

There’s a lot of confusion about anger in our society. It’s usually seen as a negative emotion that someone needs to “get control” over. And in some instances, that is true. It can be destructive, but are we really giving it a chance to listen to what our anger tells us.

In the last 30 years or so, we have seen a big swing in the way anger is perceived. Back then, it was almost all seen as something bad.

We all know what it feels like to be on the wrong end of someone’s rage attack. Because of this, many people were very out of touch with what they were feeling, and a lot of anger went hidden and suppressed. It did not mean that people were not angry, it just meant that the people weren’t given  very helpful ways to work it out, especially people who had been really hurt in life and were sitting on a lot of pain and anger. They were often times just stuck with it.

About the same time, the world of psychiatry was getting into the understanding that hidden anger could cause sickness, and play a major role in a lot of psychiatric problems, like mood problems, procrastination, and blocks of intimacy, among others. So there was a big push in assertive training and an emphasis on “getting the anger out.” We saw people begin to scream and let it fly, thinking this was “mental health.”

It did not take long for this popular view of anger to make it into the mainstream society, and people started going to counselors who were into that kind of expression of feeling. Although some people were helped, others were not because of the shallowness of this approach, and in some ways this is what is still around today. There are those who feel anger is wrong and just sinful. Then there are groups and others that are turning people into terrorists in the name of “growth.”

I do not think the truth is in either of these extremes — suppression and being nice, even when we hate someone; or in “letting the anger out,” and hurting people so we can be “healthy.” I believe good mental health is essential, and there is a three-pronged approach to solve the problem: awareness and honesty, correct orientation, and active movement.

Awareness and honesty ensure we know how we feel. If we are angry, we need to both be aware of it and feel it. Suppressed or repressed anger is not good for anyone, and if something is wrong in our soul, we need to know it. So it is very important for you to know you are angry and to have someone to talk it out with. That does a lot to get us back connected to our souls so we are not divided inside. If you repress or suppress anger, it turns into bitterness and character problems.

Gaining a correct orientation has to do with figuring out what the anger means. Is it good or bad? Anger can be both good and bad, like any other emotion. It is good to be angry when something we value, like love or freedom is violated. Our anger is an emotion that rises us to protect what we value.

On the other hand, we may be angry to protect something evil, like our own pride. While anger is a protective emotion in the one sense, we as imperfect people can get angry to protect aspects of ourselves that are not so great, such as pride, control of others, defensiveness, etc. If we become aware of anger that is protecting something evil, we need to know we have a problem. In good anger, we find there is a problem on the outside, like someone who has wronged us. In “bad anger,” we know there is a problem within ourselves.

Sometimes it can be both. We may be angry over a true violation that occurred, such as child abuse or some past hurt. But, we are taking it out on the wrong person today. There was a real violation, but it is not that person.

And then there is active movement to solve the problem. If we find that our anger was about our own selfishness or immaturity, we need to work on that part of our character and use the anger as a signal we have some growth to do. If it is about a past hurt, we need to deal with that. If we find we are angry for a good present reason, then we need to use it to solve the problem with the person who has wronged us. We need to go to them and talk it out, not with the emphasis of blowing them away, but to solve the problem in the relationship and move to forgiveness. It is good for them to know they have done wrong, and your anger was the clue to this. Use it to help them. But do it in a loving way, forgiving them at the same time you face the problem in the relationship.

If you are mindful of these things and put them into action, you will neither be out of touch and into unhealthy suppression, nor will you be a screaming crazy person.

Need a safe place to relate to others about this topic? Join one of Dr. Henry Cloud's Boundaries Peer Groups. 

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