When we think about difficult emotions, anger often jumps to the top of our minds. Anger management is, afterall, a common catalyst for seeking therapy. We need to experience all of our emotions and anger should not be excluded from that practice. The tendency to blanket anger in negativity is common and even understandable, but this tendency prevents us from appreciating the complexity of this emotion. When we label anger as a difficult emotion, it should not come with the assumption that anger is “bad.” Anger is a potent emotion, which can make it more susceptible to volatility, but our anger has information for us and can be used as a helpful tool as well. With an approach rooted in mindfulness and self-compassion, anger can be managed in surprisingly positive ways.
Even if we do not subscribe to the stigma of anger from a societal perspective, we are often much less open-minded when it comes to our individual anger. We all have our own individual “brand” of anger, fueled by our unique biological and psychological makeup. Anger triggers are often highly personal as they are typically a consequence of life experiences, ranging from daily stressors all the way to significant traumas. Making peace with our anger can feel like a very abstract, overwhelming undertaking. This does not have to be the case. There are very practical strategies available to take individuals from identification and acceptance to long-term management. Identifying and slowing down anger are crucial first steps in a healthy anger management strategy. To put it simply, we cannot successfully manage what we do not understand.
A practical tool to understand anger is an anger log in that it provides an individual with a concrete profile of their personal anger. Much like a personal trainer asking a client to record their workout activity, an anger log is a record of our anger occurrences. As our anger log expands, we begin to see patterns emerge in the form of triggers and level of frequency. We also identify the management skills we already possess! Using the log as a guide, we can construct a management strategy that best suits our individual anger. The log entries will vary vastly from person to person, but the one constant in approaching this exercise should be to lead with self-compassion. Faced with a black and white log of all of our anger experiences can be unsettling and makes us vulnerable to feelings of self-judgment and guilt. Leading with self-compassion creates a protective shield that allows us to forge ahead without being derailed by self-judgment.
Anger is an integral part of our human experience. Ignoring our anger does not serve our individual or collective well-being. While unmonitored anger can be destructive, an anger that is tended to with the goal of curiosity and self-compassion can cultivate a positive purpose. Anger can serve to highlight what we value and spur us into action. Forty-one years ago, following the tragic death of her 13-year-old daughter by a hit-and-run driver, a grief-stricken Candace Lightner took her anger to activism and founded MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. While our individual path may not lead to a global movement, all of our journeys are impactful in ways we may never fully appreciate. Anger is part of that journey and it is within our ability to create a relationship with our anger that is more friend than foe.