Thursday, May 8, 2008

Anger: Good or Bad?

In a talk about dealing with conflict, the topic of anger will inevitably come up. Do some self-reflection right now. What is your reaction to anger, both from others and in yourself? Is it acceptable? Really?

Most of you reading this probably know I am in a psychology program, a year away from having my doctorate (PsyD, not PhD--maybe I'll do a post on the difference if enough people want to know :) ). I've seen many clients by this time, and the topic of anger has come up many times. Some people say anger is acceptable; most don't. Even those who think anger is fine don't really feel like it's an acceptable emotion to experience.

Why? Well, our society is not very accepting of anger. It's one of the negative emotions. Particularly within the Church. Some theologically, spiritually, and psychologically astute friends of mine explicitly disagreed with me once that anger is an "okay" feeling. And they are some of the more "open" leaders of the Church.

Anger is viewed as the opposite of happiness. If we are truly in line and in touch with God, then we should be happy and not angry. So if we begin feeling angry, we just need to ignore, suppress it, and think about the good things in life, forcing ourselves to be happy. Put a smile on your face, and you'll feel better.

'Tis true. Smiles do help. The process of thinking something different is a basic premise of cognitive therapy. However, there is a major danger to this.

If we suppress feelings too long, they will come out, often in unpleasant ways. Many of us will manifest the anger somatically (physically). Headaches, stomachaches, muscle pain. These can definitely be related to a medical condition, so definitely speak with a physician if you have these regularly, but they may also be related to things like suppressed anger (or sadness, et al).

Cloud and Townsend in their excellent biblically-, theologically-, and psychologically-informed book Boundaries, describe how anger is actually a good thing. What?! Anger is GOOD?!

Yes! As they say, anger is a signal that lets us know when something bad has happened. Someone has hurt us, an injustice has been done, a wrong has occurred. This is important information. We are not called to be holy doormats. After all, both God the Father and the Son (Jesus :) ) felt AND expressed anger. A boundary was crossed. Truth was violated. AND IT IS OKAY TO BE ANGRY!

Alright, this is the soundbite version of a very long explanation and argument for the goodness and health of anger. I encourage you to read Boundaries or some other works for a better explanation of the benefits of anger (no need to reinvent the wheel).

Now that I've convinced you anger is acceptable (right ;) ), there is still a "Now what?" element. The expression of anger can be controversial and a struggle. That's something to come. But first, I would suggest just being mindful and more aware of your feelings.

Aren't you glad it's that easy?! ;)

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