Expressing Anger


By: Dr. John Rifkin

Most people don't think about anger when they swat a mosquito. Most people wouldn't think that calling a friend when they are lonely or needing company as a use of their anger. They wouldn't consider that looking for a new job when they are unhappy with their current job as being an act of power. And how many people think that taking a bath to relax when they are stressed out is an angry behavior? All of these behaviors, and countless others, which seem innocuous, are actually effective expressions of anger when you look at anger as being the energy your body generates to fix what is hurting you. When you use that energy to act on the world, so that the world brings you the nurturing that you need, that is using the anger for personal power. When you use it directly to nurture yourself, that is self-nurturance. Either way, these are functional ways of expressing anger.

Most people think that expressing anger means yelling at someone, threatening them, or actually performing some violent act. While these kinds of behaviors are certainly angry behaviors, the reality is that anger is really much bigger than that. There is a spectrum to anger that ranges from the aggressive, red hot end which we normally associate with anger, through the middle part of what we consider to be healthy, assertive behavior, and moving eventually into the cold end of the spectrum. This cold end of the spectrum is called passive-aggressive behavior. It's called this because cold anger is actually expressed by not doing things that we've agreed to do. This kind of angry behavior actually draws the anger of others towards us. It's very important to be aware of your anger. If you aren't aware of it, it will likely go into some dysfunction expression. That can mean inappropriately explosive anger, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc.

If you are aware of your anger, you have the chance to choose how to express it. You may use it directly to address the injury that is hurting you. You have to make decisions about the appropriate use of your anger in any particular situation. There are times to be aggressive or passive-aggressive; however, usually the appropriate choice will be some assertive behavior.

There are also times when you can't use the anger to directly address what is hurting you. A possible example of this would be when you have a bad boss at work, but you still need the job. There may be many indirect things you can do with your anger to take care of yourself in a situation like this, but you may also want to direct it for self-nurturance. That might mean taking a bike ride and using the angry energy to crank up a hill you haven't climbed before. Whatever you choose to do with the energy of your anger, you want to make sure it is working to make your life better!

Dr. John Rifkin is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in the Boulder-Denver area. He specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and marital relationship counseling. He is also the author of The Healing Power of Anger. To learn more about John and his services, visit his website at http://www.emotionalsuccess.com/.

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