Contrary to popular belief there are no “bad” feelings. While some feelings tend to be more comfortable to experience than others, it’s important to honor and appreciate the full range of emotions. When it comes to anger, many of us have been taught that “mad is bad” and that it’s not OK to feel angry. That is simply not true. We all feel angry sometimes. It’s normal and natural. Problems arise in the way we respond to our anger. For instance, it’s natural to feel annoyed when someone cuts ahead of you in line. It’s not OK to punch him in the face!
Anger, as it turns out, is actually a very helpful emotion. It signals us when a boundary has been crossed. It protects us from letting others repeatedly take advantage. Some people get into trouble when they overreact, lashing out and/or holding onto their anger, rather than heeding the warning and then letting it go. Others pretend their anger isn’t there and end up expressing it in indirect or even self-punishing ways (I’ve seen many binge eating clients improve dramatically once they learn to identify and properly express their anger).
Of course, letting go of your anger isn’t always so easy. I can’t tell you how many clients come into my office frustrated with themselves because they can’t seem to let it go. Often times smaller frustrations, like the guy who cut the line at the pharmacy or the fact that your spouse NEVER throws out the empty carton of milk, reflect deeper, longstanding issues. Identifying and working through these issues can have miraculous results on the way we process and experience our anger.
One of the best ways to make peace with your anger is to cultivate mindfulness. Being mindful means being fully conscious of our experiences without judging them (or judging ourselves for experiencing them!). In the case of our anger that means identifying the feeling and allowing it to be there without labeling it as bad. It’s from this wise, centered state that we can respond rather than react to our anger. Sometimes, simply acknowledging that you are angry does the trick. Other times, you may need to sit with the feeling for a while in order to fully grasp what it’s there to teach you. Imagine that your anger has a story to tell, a message to deliver. If you really tune in and listen, you will find that the feeling may dissipates on it’s own and/or help you to discover the most appropriate course of action (i.e., not stuffing your feelings or wringing someone’s neck).
Ironically, the more we learn to honor and make peace with our anger, the less angry we feel, and the more space we have in our lives for more pleasant emotions like love, joy, and gratitude.