Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
Anger is usually a reaction to fear — fear of being hurt, overlooked, or betrayed, for instance. Anger is a helpful emotion insofar as it makes us aware of possible unfairness or mistreatment. It can appropriately signify that an injustice has been done or is occurring. Thus, don’t eliminate or repress anger altogether, but take note of it and inquire into the real causes of the injustice without jumping to conclusions or jumping into a tirade.
Ongoing rage is often the disposition of people who are ineffective, unaccountable, and powerless. People who storm around, rave, and point fingers don’t take responsibility for themselves and are ineffective in improving their situation.
One of the keys to making anger our ally is to develop the habit of clarifying how much we ourselves as opposed to others may be contributing to the unfairness or offense. For instance, we may be contributing by continuing to overlook mistreatment as it gradually worsens, or by provoking someone with veiled insults or a condescending attitude.
As people become more accountable for their own participation in a problem, the bitterness felt tends to diminish. While angry and aware, you hear another voice inside saying, “you’re overreacting; you’ll have to be accountable for this,” or “you’re staying in this unworkable situation; you’ll have to get out of it.” Knowing that you will have to be accountable and take action tends to subdue the inner drama-queen.
When intimates know that you will eventually take responsibility for your part in a confrontation and take real action regarding mistreatment from others, whether that occurs in five minutes or three days, the exchange tends to be less rancorous. The fact that others know that you will be accountable and hold them accountable adds some seriousness to the exchange while lessening some of the harm caused by seething accusations.
Learning to see the situation from the other person’s perspective takes away the intensity of the anger and informs you how to communicate effectively with that person or take necessary action. When you learn to look at several perspectives at once, rather than being locked into your own perspective, your anger softens, and so will your self-righteousness. Moreover, you’ll be able to focus on taking effective action, which is where real power lies.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD