“Anyone 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 easy.”
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics
What is Anger?
Anger is the easiest secondary emotion we can feel. It is tons easier than accepting responsibility, crying, showing fear, hurt, or letting people see any other vulnerability that actually precedes anger.
In fact, when you look up anger in the dictionary you will find it described as “an unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling resulting from injury, mistreatment, or opposition and usually showing itself in a desire to fight back at the supposed cause of the feeling.”
Anger is an easy habit because it can be justifiable and so understandable. “I was hurt, they wronged me, therefore I am angry.” That doesn’t seem harmful but in fact mismanaged anger hurts everyone especially the angry person.
Both Good and Bad
Anger can be both good and bad just like any other emotion. When I think of good and bad anger I think of super hero movies like The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent and Two Face are a great example of how anger is mismanaged and destructive. Let’s look at how anger can be useful:
#1 It is useful if the intentions are to help or elevate - this anger creates a positive change, it leads to personal growth, it’s uplifting, or it encourages like William Wallace from Braveheart in pursuit of freedom or Harvey Dent when cleaning up Gotham City.
#2 It is measured, controlled, and leads to constructive actions - improved concentration, motivation, and performance. I think of the old western heroes or Liam Neeson in the movie Taken who are “cool, calm, and collected”.
#3 Anger that is helpful never is malicious, filled with hate, or hostile aggression. This is where Harvey Dent became Two Face. He experienced a horrific accident that left him with half a face and caused the death of his girlfriend Rachael. He was so filled with hate for the terrorists that caused this he went on a killing rampage. His anger is understandable don’t you think? It was destructive and not productive.
Why Do We Get Angry?
There are 5 primary causes and 9 secondary causes of anger. Anger arises as a combination of several of these acting together.
Here are the 5 primary causes:
#1 We care. We care about protecting our right to live, to grow, and our self-interests. Anger sometimes comes in protection of other people like our children, friends, or other loved ones. We feel a need to protect important causes and principles like freedom, justice, and certain liberties. We want to care - its a good thing. But there are ways to express care without as much anger or anger at all.
#2 Vulnerability. It is painful to feel rejection, powerlessness, unimportant, or disrespected. No one likes to feel inadequate or worthless. P.S. you are absolutely not worthless. This self-diminishment can cause anger, but when or if it does, stop and ask yourself, “what feelings am I feeling underneath the feelings of anger?” We often skip right over those feelings and go straight to anger when we really need to have a good cry and be kind to ourselves.
#3 Numbs Pain. When we feel the feelings described in #2 we often want to restore the power that we have lost or given away so we get angry. However, it does not earn the respect and love we truly want nor does it help us gain any power. We give power away in many different ways. We give power to others to make us mad, we loose power when we get angry and scream at the television or computer instead of using that power to improve our computer skills and of course there is no response.
#4 Entitlement. Ouch! When I saw this “entitlement” I thought to myself “I certainly don’t fit into an entitlement category, I have always worked and earned what I have!” But when I realized it also meant that it could be when we say, “I shouldn’t be hurt, corrected, or criticized”; or “I should have advantages over others after all I have been through”; “I shouldn’t have worked so hard.” That puts a little bit different perspective on things.
#5 Unrealistic Expectations. How much of your anger comes from unrealistic expectations? Do you expect others to drive better than they do? Do you expect to have more control than you really do? Do you expect to be more perfect than you obviously are? Are you really harder on yourself than others?
So Aristotle made a good point, to be angry with the the right person, to the right degree, time, purpose, and way can be challenging. It definitely requires real effort and discipline. Let me assure you that the pros of mastering your anger and harnessing it for good far out way the cons.
In the next post I will talk about the 9 secondary causes of anger and we will continue our discussion on how anger affects our marriage and our lives!