If you frequently find yourself acting out — drinking heavily, starting fights, having affairs, shaming or stonewalling others — or if your body feels perpetually on edge — clenched jaw, stiff body, tense neck — unexamined anger is the likely culprit. Unlike what you were taught growing up, anger isn’t a bad thing. While it may feel uncomfortable or even painful, anger is actually good for you.
By unlocking the benefits of anger you can learn a lot about who you are – your needs, your boundaries, and your values. Anger can provide you with knowledge about yourself that will help you to form closer bonds with others, increase intimacy with your partner, and to create a happier, more fulfilling life for yourself.
Before you can unlock the benefits of anger, it’s important to learn the difference between how you feel emotionally and physically when you’re angry and how you respond to those feelings. While your response to your anger can be destructive, the emotion itself is actually incredibly helpful when trying to form more intimate relationships.
When you experience and process your anger, rather than just react to it, you gain the self-awareness needed to identify its cause.
Was a need going unmet?
A boundary crossed?
This is the first step in turning what always felt like a negative emotion into a positive tool.
When you’re treated thoughtlessly, criticized, disrespected, or invalidated, or you feel abandoned or rejected, you may find yourself going into fight-or-flight mode. “Look out,” your body yells, “you’re being threatened!” To feel safe in the world means not having your physical and ego boundaries threatened and when they are, it’s natural for you to get angry. The clenched jaw, hot skin, affair, or heavy drinking may be the result of someone crossing a boundary you didn’t even know you had.
Instead of reacting to a threatened boundary in a destructive way, if you can sit with your anger and listen to it, it can tell you a lot.
Think back on the last time your anger was triggered. Ask yourself:
What was it that set me off?
Did I respond in a way that will help my relationship and me in the long run?
Does something need to change to better align my actions to what I truly want?
By answering these questions, you’ll learn more about your boundaries – what you can tolerate and what does and doesn’t feel good to you – and about yourself. When you know yourself better, your partner can know you better, too.
Some of the messages that anger delivers have to do with unmet needs. Your family or your partner may meet your basic physical needs — food, shelter, clothing — but if they don’t meet your emotional needs as well, your fight-or-flight urges and anger will be repeatedly triggered.
We all have the same basic emotional needs and they all begin with the letter A:
We are social creatures and we naturally form attachments to our families, friends, and partners. You rely on them to be interested in what you say and do, to care about your well-being, and to offer their support. You need them to meet your emotional needs and when they don’t, you feel angry. If you can identify which of your needs isn’t being met, you can help the other person meet it.
If you don’t identify your own boundaries, you can’t have them respected, and if you don’t identify your own needs, you can’t express them to others. Once you begin recognizing what triggers your anger and listening to what your anger is telling you, secure boundaries and fulfillment in your relationships and in your life will follow. The sum of unlocking the benefits of anger is engagement, the sense that you are connected to the people around you.