by Mark Robinett, MFT
The main purpose of anger is the creation and maintenance of boundaries. Anger also helps with empowerment, gives clarity to the truth (burns through lies and manipulations) and healthy assertiveness.
Anger is the raw material of boundaries. If you grew up in a family where your anger was respected and allowed, and you were given appropriate limits when your anger got out of line, your boundaries probably developed pretty well. But if your anger was not respected and allowed or responded to when it was too much – you may not have good boundaries and either have anger that is repressed, or you get angry sometimes – to a lot, but it does not empower you that well.
I like to think of anger as a pure emotion – a starting point. If you feel angry about something, this is how you feel, a place to start from. From there it can go in one of three directions – or down one of three roads. Road 1 is the road of resentment and it is a dead end road. Resentment is tricky because feeling it and running resentful energy can make you feel powerful, but it does not empower you – its literally like being stuck on a dead end road, it will do nothing good for you except fill you with toxic energy (like the old saying that says feeling resentful at someone is like drinking poison and wishing the other person will die; or an ancient Greek saying is even more informative – “He who hates me is my slave”). Road 2 is the road of repression, which is a road with a big sinkhole in it that swallows you and your anger and makes the anger disappear, and sometimes your sense of yourself too. This is where you repress your anger when you need to do something about what has happened. Many people I’ve worked with have this style of anger repression and the beginning task is to learn how to let anger start coming up when someone has hurt you or crossed your boundaries. Then the next step is learning how to take the necessary action and build boundaries with the anger. People in this phase of work often need a good bit of time to both allow the anger to begin coming up and then to practice standing up for themselves. What almost always happens is the time delay of the anger coming up gets shorter and shorter to the point where it comes up immediately as it should when someone is out of line with them. And often the person knows exactly what to say at this moment too – it is like the anger has done two things, it’s learned how to come up immediately when it should, and it has learned what to say to best deal with the situation at hand. Usually this takes months to get to this point, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Road 3 I call the road of empowerment. It is where you use your anger to take the appropriate action to empower yourself with the situation that made you angry. Sometimes it takes time to know what to do, other times you know what to do right away and you take action – it might be having a conversation with the person who hurt you or even taking legal action if necessary. Sometimes there is nothing you can do and the right thing is to let it go – when your boundaries are working well, they inform you of this too.
The key to healthy anger is boundaries. When your boundaries are formed and working well, then anger is the energy that keeps them in place; and it lets you know when your boundaries have been violated, and it provides the energy to do something when you’ve been violated. If you have Road 1 or 2 situations, the key work is to learn to guide your anger towards the creation and maintenance of good boundaries. In other words your anger needs guidance so that it does not get stuck in resentment, and so it doesn’t get repressed or go out of control and scare or hurt others. Another way to summarize this work is to say that it is the integration of anger within you so that it becomes your friend and ally working in concert with the rest of you to keep you protected, safe and healthy.
Mark Robinett, MFT page