Look After Your Mind No. 15
A Good Anger
Sometimes it seems that wherever we turn we are confronted by anger, hostility and confrontation. This may range from a prickly exchange between two people on the street to outright war between factions or nations. Anger itself seems to be built deep into what it means to be human.
The word itself comes from the Old Norse for ‘grief’ (angr) and angra, ‘to vex, distress, take offence’. And it’s certainly true that angry confrontations can be distressing and painful. And yet, like most emotions, anger contains information, feeling angry is telling us something.
A first reaction to that might be to think that if I feel angry when another motorist cuts me up, then my anger is rightly directed towards the thoughtless driver. But it might be the case that, whether I realise it or not, the anger has its roots elsewhere and the driving incident simply triggers its expression - perhaps we have all in the past taken out our feelings on someone who didn’t deserve it. If so, the anger is still latent inside me and might ‘burst out’ over some other trivial incident.
Such ongoing, dormant anger can be troubling emotionally, not least through unresolved stress. Times of quiet reflection and self-examination, or sometimes just simply talking matters through with a caring listener, can help to realise the problem so that we can then act to solve the issue. If left unresolved then the old wisdom applies - An angry person lives in an angry world.
Another useful technique when anger bubbles up is to feel it, acknowledge it and then deliberately let it go by making a conscious decision over what seems to have triggered it. “OK, that driver was thoughtless, even stupid. But no harm was done. Besides, calmness and consideration are the hallmarks of good driving and should be standards by which I measure myself.”
This amounts to what I call a ‘good anger’. The emotion has done its job by raising an issue and creating the opportunity for me to deal with it. Like most unpleasant feelings however, having the presence of mind to deal with the emotional energy in that way takes presence of mind, practice and patience.
But for me at least the effort is worth it. As the philosopher Aristotle said over 2,000 years ago, “Anybody can become angry, that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not within everybody’s power and is not so straightforward.”
Click here to read more articles in the series 'Look After Your Mind' by Steve Bowkett