Anger has often been cast as a "negative" emotion. But the truth is, anger is our teacher. It's an incredibly healthy and common emotion, especially after breakup – let's take a closer look.
Anger keeps us safe.
When we're angry, it's often in response to a real or perceived threat. In this way, anger keeps us safe. It helps us recognize that a situation we're in might be dangerous (physically, emotionally, or otherwise), and that we should create a boundary.
Anger is a social emotion.
The threat we perceive doesn't always have to be a threat to us. In fact, it's anger that helps us recognize injustice done to others. When we see unfairness, cruelty, or suffering of others, our feeling of anger lets us know that what we're witnessing is not normal, and it's not OK.
Anger helps us take action.
Anger gives us the energy and motivation to take action. Feeling angry can be a catalyst to do something about the injustice we witness or experience.
Anger urges us to create healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are the healthiest manifestation of anger.
While we know that emotions can be quite complex, it might help to think about anger responses as falling into three categories:
- Suppressed anger: anger that's pushed down (which doesn't make it go away) causing you to feel uneasy, anxious, physically tense, etc.
- Healthy anger: anger that spurs you into action, creating clear and compassionate boundaries with a person or situation
- Rage: uncontrolled anger that results in impulsive, violent, aggressive, or passive aggressive actions
Anger isn't the problem – society is.
Society has been sending a harmful message that all anger looks like rage. And that setting firm boundaries will come off as aggressive, bossy, or unlikeable. We know this is especially true for marginalized and oppressed groups. Rebecca Traister's new book Good and Mad explores the revolutionary power of women's anger. And Adia Harvey Wingfield writes in her Atlantic article Being Black–but Not Too Black–in the Workplace that, "black professionals had to be very careful to show feelings of conviviality and pleasantness...emotions of anger, frustration, and annoyance were discouraged." While anger is widely discouraged, certain marginalized groups are further punished for expressing their anger in response to injustice or crossing of boundaries.
Anger is in the mind and body.
When you witness something unjust or threatening, you might have thoughts like, "that's horrible," "that's so wrong," "I can't believe this is happening," or, "I need to do something about this."
But anger isn't all "in your head." You'll likely feel some physical sensations, too.
It's different for everyone, but a few common physical reactions to anger are:
- racing heart
- shortness of breath
- a feeling of hotness or warmth
- tingling in the limbs
- tightness in the chest
- an urge to move quickly or a "freeze" response
Anger asks us important questions.
In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren teaches that each emotion raises important questions for us. With anger, we can ask ourselves:
What must be protected? What must be restored?