When is Anger Helpful?

When I was in graduate school studying psychology, I learned that depression is anger turned inward. That seems right to me. So does that mean the way out of depression is to get angry? Yes.


And no.

Anger is an important reaction to being mistreated or to seeing others mistreated. (I’m angered by the way people abuse animals, for example.)

But if I want to change the mistreatment, I need to do more than get angry. Sure I can rant and rave or complain about the injustices of factory farming, but I’ve noticed when I do that, the only people willing to listen to me are the ones who already agree with me! And even they will recognize at some point (usually quickly) I need to stop being angry and start doing something about the source of my anger. That is, if there actually is something that I can do about it.

As much I hate to admit it, I do not have control over everything. And being angry over things I can’t control only hurts me.

Serenity Prayer
Serenity Prayer

So in the particular case of animal abuse, my action is to not eat these beings and to speak about why I don’t when I can.

And since, like I said, most people don’t listen unless they already agree with me, I do what I can and accept what I can’t do (and pray for the wisdom to know the difference).

Constructive Anger

It’s natural to get angry when we experience mistreatment or disappointment, though how often and to what extent we feel anger varies. Some of us get extremely angry. Often. About many things. Others experience and express the emotion more moderately.

Chronic express of anger can be unhealthy and self-destructive. Not only does it cause physical reactions like rapid heartbeat, constriction of blood vessels and the release of hormones that can ruin our health over time, but we’re not likely to get what we want while immersed in anger. Why? First, it’s very difficult to make clear-headed decisions while we’re angry, and second, most people are put off by chronically angry people, so we won’t get the support that we need either.

Sure, this is easy for me to say. I’m more of the internalizing type, and I don’t express anger easily. And I know my way of dealing with anger has its own benefits and challenges.

Why are you angry?

Let’s say you’re angry because you didn’t win the lottery. Other people win the lottery, so why shouldn’t you? It’s not fair.

Is this kind of anger okay? Sure; why not? Is it useful? Probably not, unless it’s the only thing that motivates you to keep buying lottery tickets, and then you finally do win the lottery. (You’ll probably have a better experience in the meantime if you can keep buying those tickets with a clear and level head.)

Unfortunately, no amount of anger will cause you to pick a winning lottery ticket. Does this mean you should believe some higher force in the universe decides who gets to win the lottery and who doesn’t? I don’t think so. None of us fully understands how or why some people have great success and attract what they want and other people don’t.

Now before all of The Secret and Law of Attraction people jump all over this with that mantra that kind of blames the unfortunate for their own problems, let’s all stop for a moment and come a little bit back to the center.

If you have what you want, it’s probably because you have worked for it and you have believed in your ability to achieve or attract it, and you have been lucky.

I’m sorry if that rattles any feathers, but it’s the truth. It’s just plain wrong to suggest that some folks come up short on their dreams, however big or small those dreams, because they’re not trying hard enough. There is a thing called luck, and like control, it’s not always available when we’d like it or when we need.

It’s not all in your mind. But some of it is.

If you do enough soul-searching, you may find the “law of attraction” philosophies are largely based on fear of that we don’t all have as much control over all our circumstances as we’d like to have.

No, I am not a fatalist.  I do believe we have control over many things, possibly more things than we’re willing or able to admit. And it’s easy to get so lost in our negative emotions that we sabotage any chance we have for happiness or success of any kind.

I do believe that attitude plays a role (in fact, a huge role) in what we attract into our lives. But attitude alone won’t bring about positive change any more than anger alone will.

What is your anger telling you do to?

You can be angry as hell or perfectly aligned with the universe (in other words, on either end of the spectrum), but it won’t do you any good unless you know what you want and how to get it. Even so, I don’t believe everyone who is successful defined what they wanted and went for it. Sometimes people get lucky and are put in the path of things that are not hard to accept and be happy about!

Defining what you want and going for it is always a good idea, but getting attached to success (and either angry or down on yourself when things don’t work out) won’t help for more than fifteen minutes. Okay, take a whole day if you need to. Then take a deep breath and try again. And recognize that whether you fall again or not, you deserve to be happy.

It’s just too darned hard to be happy while you’re angry!

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