We are going to start with this one because I want to be fair to other feelings and so we will do this alphabetically—and also because I think anger has somewhat of a bad reputation, especially compared to the other emotions. This makes sense because it is an emotion typically associated with destructive tendencies. For example, we go to class for anger management and are punished when we act out of anger, whether by parents or the system as adults. I want to take the time here to clarify that I do not condone using anger as a defense for our actions, like the other emotions, we are responsible for the things we do. The purpose here is not to create excuses for ourselves, but to understand how they impact us so that we can proceed in a way that gives us the peace we want.
Anger is a force, as you can see, that brings with it a burst of energy that can only be rivaled by fear. And isn’t it interesting that the same region in the brain, the amygdala, is engaged when we are afraid as when we are angry? In fact, these two emotions are oftentimes conflated because what is anger is really fear and what is fear, can lead to anger. This is one that which we indulge and in the same breath repress from consciousness. It is the life force that sends adrenaline coursing through your veins, tenses up the muscles, constricts the pupils to focus on the object to be destroyed. Anger, the maligned cousin of fear, has thought itself your ally all these years. It is one of the greatest motivators we know of—
When someone tells you that you don’t have it in you,
When you are wronged and seek retribution to balance the scale of justice,
When evil prevails and goodness, if only momentarily, retreats from the world stage.
Anger tells us values have been infringed upon and boundaries violated. It is not an indicator of whether we are meek or whether we are strong, but merely the calibrator for our internal moral compass. So, in short, it is an advisor who moves us to action and calls upon the intractable hero in us to fight. But what do we fight for? The next time you get angry, stop—drop—and think—what are you fighting for? Better yet, since anger has the tendency to bypass our rational brain in the moment and hijack’s the “emotional brain” aka the limbic system, it may behoove those of us who acts swiftly to think about what typically makes us angry. Is it self-preservation? Honor? To defend your values?
Yet despite all that anger can do, anger does not possess the wisdom of humanity. Anger is an evolutionary tool but it does not have the capacity for self-awareness.
I watched for the first time the movie “Ender’s Game” the other night and one particular sentiment continues to percolate in my mind, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”
In one fell swoop, anger has the whole world against us. In this moment, it is our survival against others. We grasp at it and seek to annihilate that which threatens our existence.
For hate is an instrument we wield with little care and minimal skill. We blindly charge at a nondescript enemy. But it is when we have a tempered understanding of anger: allow ourselves to breathe logic and seek to undermine blinding rage, we find the enemy sad and pitiful.
Unlike hope which expands and gives life–anger constricts, restricts and contains us. Its purpose is to provide freedom from but when unchecked, we find that we are locked in an arm-wrestling match with ourselves.