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All of us have some experience of anger and other members of the anger family—resentment, hatred and aggression. When anger is resisted it builds up, becomes volatile and can cause a lot of damage to ourselves and others. Many people have been hurt or killed as a consequence of misdirected and uncontrollable anger.

It is not surprising, therefore, that most religions and cultures still teach that anger is not-okay, that anger is one of the seven deadly sins and that it is to be avoided because it is evil.

In fact, anger can serve a very constructive purpose in our world. When we are angry this usually signifies that underneath this powerful emotion we are really feeling powerless and hurt. In such an instance, something or someone (maybe even us) needs to change, yet we feel powerless to bring about this change. So anger, which may look, feel or sound powerful, is actually covering over our powerlessness. As with all feelings, anger comes from what we are thinking. When we truly feel powerful, we don’t need to get angry. Incidentally, why is powerlessness, especially for men, still so unacceptable? Why do little (and big) boys fear being seen as wimps? Our society does not yet appreciate that truly powerful people are equally at home feeling and expressing their powerlessness.

When we feel angry, firstly, it helps to express the anger privately by beating a mattress, screaming in your parked car or wringing a towel (pretend it’s someone’s neck). Secondly, allow yourself to feel and accept the powerlessness which lies underneath the powerful veneer of anger. Expressing the anger (or any other not-okay feeling) without accepting it, does not eliminate it. Thirdly, ask yourself what it is that needs to change, Fourthly, devise a plan of action to bring about the required change.

Expressing anger without accepting it does not get rid of it.

The next time you are in the presence of an angry person, you can help him or her if you want. You don’t have to be frightened by their feelings and expression of powerlessness. Sometimes accepting and staying with ‘their anger/powerlessness is enough. We are only frightened by someone else’s anger when we are frightened of our own. Feeling powerless and making that experience okay is necessary if we want to become more powerful.

By the way, screaming and shouting are not the only expressions of anger. Watch out for the more covert and indirect ways that anger can be expressed. These include:

  • forgetting

  • rationalizing

  • making mistakes

  • avoiding

  • having accidents

  • giving the silent treatment

  • procrastinating

  • lying

  • sabotaging

  • being ill

  • acting confused

  • acting helpless

  • denying

  • being late

  • ignoring

  • humouring

  • stalling

  • excluding

  • withdrawing

  • being moody

Quite a list! Of course every time you employ one of these behaviours it does not necessarily mean that you are angry. However, these behaviours are often indirect expressions of anger.

Which are your favourites?