If I were to ask you what you see as essential to your health and happiness, my guess is that you would say love, family, financial security etc. You may say, I’d like to be less angry,” but I’m betting none or very few of you would say anger is essential to your health and happiness. The truth is however, that anger is essential to our health and happiness, we just need to know how to use it. You see, anger is the second most powerful emotion we experience. The only emotion more powerful than anger is joy. While this could sound a little discouraging because who wants anger to have so much power, the reality is that anger’s power is not meant to be a curse. Instead, anger is there to tell us that something is wrong and that we need to address it. How we address it is where we sometimes get ourselves into trouble.
Let me start by explaining that our feelings are like our 6th sense. That is they are there to help us interpret the world around us. Each feeling has it’s own unique role just like each tool in a tool box has a unique role. Unfortunately, if we only know how to use a few of the tools in our tool box we may be using our tools or our feelings incorrectly.
As I mentioned, anger is the second most powerful feeling we have, second only to joy. Unlike joy however, anger is what we call a secondary emotion. That means that anger results from another emotion whereas joy is a primary emotion with no other emotion causing it. Let me explain. Anger does not occur spontaneously, instead it is a response to feelings like sadness, guilt, embarrassment, fear, insecure, etc. as they tend to have a negative impact on us. This is not necessarily bad because maybe something happened and we should feel sad, guilty, fearful etc., but these feelings can make us feel vulnerable, retreat or pull back. Anger, on the other hand, is actually a positive feeling, which empowers us to move forward and take action. Here’s an example;
1) Your sitting at home and you hear a noise at the door. You open the door and see a loved one you have not seen in a long time, what do you do? If you’re like most people then you feel joy and move toward the person.
2) Your sitting at home and you hear a noise at the door. You open the door and see a tiger standing there, what do you do? If you’re like most of us, you feel fear and move away.
3) Your sitting at home and you hear a noise at the door. You open the door and see someone you really don’t like, what do you do? If you’re like most of us (and not afraid of this person), you move forward to confront why they are there.
As you can see, joy and anger both empower us while fear, sadness, anxiety, guilt, etc, tend to disempower us. This fact is the very reason why some people have gotten into trouble with their anger. They have learned that these negative feelings while possibly appropriate are less comfortable than anger. As a result, someone who should feel guilty for their behavior may instead flip their guilt to anger allowing them to go on the offensive. This ability to flip our negative feelings to anger can be useful if we need to stand up for ourselves, but we are being held back by say fear. This ability to flip on our anger however can also be detrimental if our initial feeling of fear is accurately warning us to proceed cautiously, but instead anger results in us throwing caution to the wind and charging forward blindly.
So how do we learn to master anger? First, we recognize that anger is a gift because it helps us know when something is wrong. It is also a tool that can help us address the problematic situation, but we need to believe that anger should be used like a master craftsman uses a tool and not as an inexperienced child smash’s things with a hammer. Many successful people do the latter and while it can make others scared of you and therefore compliant with your wishes, this compliance comes at a cost. The first cost is to ourselves in the form of unnecessary stress resulting from a belief that our blunt use of anger was not only necessary but that it was brought on by the other person’s actions (this is not true, we choose how to react to others’ actions). Secondly, whether we are talking about family, friends, employees or co-workers, when we wield our anger as a blunt weapon we do so at the expense of relationships.
To use our anger like a master craftsman we need to realize in both our minds and hearts that anger is the result of our thoughts and beliefs and not an inevitable consequence of someone else’s behavior. If you have any doubt about this ask yourself if everyone responds the same way you do when angry? If our anger response is controlled by others actions then the answer should be, yes. Everyone else gets just as upset and responds just as angrily as you do to a given situation. If this is the case then I’m sorry, but you are a “victim” to others’ behavior or even worse a puppet that they control. If the answer is no, however, then good news! With a little work you can not only master your response to their anger, but by learning what I call Anger Tai Chi, you can learn to manage others anger towards you.