We usually consider the emotion of anger to be destructive to our psychological health. In recovery from psychological difficulties, however, anger is often a sign of healing. Of all the varieties of emotions, fear and anger are probably the least understood. They are the most powerful. They need to be controlled. However, they are rarely considered a sign of health.
The emotional experience we call "anger" is nothing more than our bodies providing us with quick, powerful energy. Anger is energy, fuel for us to move more powerfully. Unfortunately, how we move in anger is often destructive. We hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash something or otherwise create chaos in our lives.
Most of us were taught to be "nice" people. And nice people are rarely taught how to use their anger creatively. Since angry behavior is usually not nice, we conclude that anger itself is not nice. We learn to hold our angry energy inside, deny it, block its expression, hide it, lie about it, drug it, ignore it, stifle it, muffle it. Nice people never listen to it, learn from it, and practice using it creatively.
Bodily energy is, after all, what allows us to function. Angry energy allows us to function more powerfully. Anger is meant to empower us. It is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out!
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes: "…Anger is a map. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the direction. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us."
Anger becomes entangled in psychological problems when we either fear it or when we become angry at being angry. Fearing anger makes us defensive about it. We protect ourselves from what others might think of us if they knew of our anger. We feel ashamed of it. Out of fear of anger, we diminish our self-assertiveness. We begin to believe something to be "wrong" with us. Fearing our own anger, we never seek to fully express our emotions, thereby limiting ourselves from feeling fully alive. We keep our anger hidden from others and rob ourselves from relationships that are rich with emotional sharing.
When we become angry that we experience anger, our anger hardens into what we call "hostility." The medical community has established chronic hostility as a "risk factor" in the development of heart disease. I believe hostility accounts for many more stress-related diseases than just cardiovascular disease.
Anger can heal us. Again, Cameron writes: "Anger is the firestorm that signals the death of our old life. Anger is the fuel that propels us into our new one. Anger is a tool, not a master. Anger is meant to be tapped into and drawn upon. Used properly, anger is use-full.
"Sloth, apathy and despair are the enemy. Anger is not. Anger is our friend. Not a nice Friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests. Anger is not the action itself. It is action’s invitation."
Anger naturally occurs when we have been betrayed, violated in some way. It always occurs when we betray ourselves. Whenever we act in ways that violate our true nature or undermine our own purposes, we will experience anger.
Psychological healing begins when we identify our anger. Then we need to learn to powerfully use anger in support of ourselves and those behaviors that serve our own best interests and the best interests of those we love. When we use angry energy to support the best in ourselves and others, we begin to heal psychologically. When we become skilled using anger in this way, we become psychologically, if not also physically, healthier. Indeed, skillful and creative use of anger enriches our experience of being alive.