What IS Anger?

People yelling at each other

Beer cans smashed on tables

Fistfights

When you think of anger, what immediately comes to mind? Insight? I doubt it. Chairs thrown through windows? People out of control? Someone getting shot in the face? Obscenities screamed? We often get those scary pictures of anger. So we shrink away from it. We miss out on anger wisdom and insight.

None of these scary pictures is actually anger. But most people, including most mental health professionals and journalists, misunderstand anger insight.

Anger happens privately, in the body, like a reflex, in response to a threat or insult to our well-being. Anger also happens when we observe others being hurt. It may only last an instant, but anger brings relaxation (yes, a release of tension) in the muscles of the body and a mental clarity about the facts. Anger allows a certain kind of knowledge; blinders come off for a bit, and we see details we’d not seen before. We get a flash of insight.

But notice, all these aspects of anger take place inside the person who is experiencing the emotion. If you aren’t observing closely, you might miss them altogether. Yet we all experience this flash: anger is universal.

. . . which might make you ask, why do we have anger?

What use is this ugly, inconvenient emotion when no one wants to see it, the church condemns it, and most people (especially those in power) are afraid of it? Why do I get so mad about things I can’t control? Is there something wrong with me that I have so much anger?

I witness the answers in trauma therapy; and NO, there’s nothing wrong with you. Anger captures a flash point of your very human essence. It knows you want things to be better.

As a young psychologist in the 1990s, I studied anger and wrote about the motivating and empowering aspects of it, especially for women. People who learned to use anger consciously felt more effective, more organized, and healthier than people who blocked their anger expression. All of this is true and I still see it every day in my practice. But in 2020, after doing EMDR therapy every day for ten years, I see even more.

Anger doesn’t just energize us: it sharpens us. In EMDR therapy, we move through the entire emotional spectrum, gaining access to blocked information all along the way. The spectrum contains anger. In fact, when I use Natural Flow EMDR methods, I ask clients about colors that seem to match their emotions. And guess what: As people move into the anger phase, they most often choose red. Most importantly, the red phase of EMDR marks a pivot point from fear or sadness into clarity and compassion.

ANGER = PART OF A PROCESS; A BIGGER PICTURE

Anger is part of the emotional spectrum. As we rotate through it, our memories become more balanced and easier to manage. We get:

  1. deep insights about our trauma, especially if it involved violence
  2. less tension
  3. the urge to move our bodies
  4. less confusion and more concentration
  5. healthier perspective on ourselves as human beings (maybe as children) in difficult situations
  6. less cognitive distortion in general
  7. the ability to feel compassion for someone who hurt us

Anger insight requires us to stay grounded and conscious, and may take a little time. Bottom line: Let yourself rotate through the red. And let your fellow humans (especially your kids) do the same.

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