Anger: Serve You Well Or Do You In?

I’m uneasy in the face of anger. In my professional world, I’ve learned how to manage that of others. But, in my personal world, the anger I feel towards others, or if I am the target, can leave me a bit unhinged. But, not for long.

Therapists have helped so many to recognize and legitimize their anger. For some, depression begins to lift, a new sense of self and autonomy is achieved, all to the good. But for some, who I suspect give up the exploration of angry feelings too soon, a new found acceptance of their angry feelings is worn as a badge of courage, and it can do them in.

Consider this: Husband has been betrayed. Wife has met a new preferred partner. Husband, able to work at home, had fostered wife’s successful career, provided daytime care for the children and kept the home fires burning brightly. (For the purpose of this discussion, who did what to whom over the term of the marriage is irrelevant, for, as is almost always the case, both parties contributed to the relationship deficits.) Husband’s anger is now given free rein, and fuels his days.

In the negotiation setting, anger is frequently expressed, understandably so. This husband angrily rejects wife’s generous financial proposals, born, in part, of her remorse. My cautionary words are met with: my therapist said I have every right to express my anger.

Meeting privately with the husband, I suggest that anger expressed in a therapeutic setting, or to a friend, may well serve a valid purpose, but does not serve him well when negotiating. Whether or not one has the right to be angry is not the point. Reaching a favorable result is. So, I advise: taste the anger, but then become strategic.

My words, not surprisingly, fall on unreceptive ears. A quick turn around appears impossible. I urge a return to therapy with a focus on his immediate situation. It may take months of litigation before he is able to recognize that his angry stance is self-defeating.

On a recent morning, I was wide awake at 3:00am mentally composing a response to a letter received the day before by someone I did not even know. It was originally emailed to a friend (then forwarded to me) criticizing a public affairs event I had a part in presenting earlier in the week. It was belligerent in tone and replete with misunderstanding. I wanted my response to be perfectly stated to artfully put him in his place. But hours later, in the light of day, I decided not to devote any more precious hours to venting my anger, when nothing of any importance was to be gained. I was pleased and even a bit proud of myself to be able let the whole matter fade away.

My personal epiphany actually occurred many years ago when a book by a self-help guru got me on the right track by pointing out that holding on to anger hands tremendous power over to another. The target of anger, in a sense, takes control of your life. That was the last thing I wanted.

For me, acknowledging, but then letting go of anger, and seeking an effective solution to the issue at hand, takes back control and power.

And breathing deeply helps.