HULK SMASH! Is this the way you think about anger? Is it a destructive, chaotic force that wreaks havoc in your life? Many times, anger can feel that way, whether you are the giver or recipient of angry reactions and behaviors. As we discussed in the previous article, Covered in Red: How the Brain Uses Anger to Hide Your Pain, anger can be a defensive response to many more vulnerable emotions. In your anger’s effort to hide your soft spots, you might find yourself being hurtful to others around you or even yourself. But the word “anger” doesn’t always need to put you on the defense. There are healthier expressions of this emotion that can give you positive results.
Burn for a Cause
Have you ever heard the expression, righteous anger? This is the kind that people reference that generates healthy and positive action. Think of the Civil Rights Movement or the self-explanatory group, M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). In both of these circumstances, outrage and disapproval over some injustice or harmful aspect of society sparked actions which led to positive change. Psychology professor, Lisa Najavits, labels this type of anger constructive anger. She describes constructive anger as the healing type that is solution-oriented, is in proportion to the offense, invites curious self-examination and seeks respect for everyone involved. You can use the discomfort and energy of your fury as motivation to actively create harmony and balance. This kind of anger can prompt you do things like set up healthy boundaries, break bad habits, protect yourself physically or take a stand for someone who is defenseless which can make the world, or even just your world, a better place.
Taming the Fire
So how do you invite constructive anger into your life instead of the destructive kind?
- Identify your anger and the reasons behind it. Think of your vexation as an indicator that a disruption has occurred in something you value deeply. This is the time to explore the passion behind your fire. For example, you notice a co-worker with a disability lacks proper accessibility at the office. Instead of stewing in your anger or setting the building ablaze, you could recognize that you value equality in the workplace and let that inform your actions.
- Refocus. Shift your focus away from your emotions towards the value you have just identified. Ask yourself solution-oriented questions about what needs to take place for that value to be met in a healthy way. For instance, you could start a workplace initiative to ensure accessibility for all disabled employees.
- Once you devise a personal plan or organize your movement, move forward. Use the anger to fuel your actions but not to lead them. Let what you value direct your steps instead.