Anger is a chemical reaction in your body, designed to help you act. If a neighbouring tribe attacked your stone age village, a surge of anger could really help you fight them off. In modern society, you probably have to watch those murderous impulses, but, nonetheless, feeling angry can still prompt us to take needful action, so long as we are sufficiently in control to choose an appropriate way to do so.
What to do with our anger?
So, there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. The important thing is what we do with it. Many people think that venting anger is useful and healthy. I would say it very much depends what you mean by ‘venting’. Certainly, I’d agree that suppressing your feelings, or pretending you don’t have them, is never helpful. It’s vital to be fully aware of what you’re feeling and to completely accept it. Feeling angry is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s just chemistry.
It can definitely help to talk to a friend about how you’re feeling, or even to express your anger to the person who caused it. However, how you do this is important. Research shows that expressing your anger in an angry and hostile way causes you to get angrier still.
If you can just ‘sit with’ your anger, allow yourself to feel it and do some deep breathing or mindful meditation, it will often drift away. Having a sense of humour about the situation, and indeed yourself, also helps. If you do need to say something to the person concerned, try and wait until you’ve simmered down enough to be able to listen to what they are saying as well.
Holding onto anger
Finally, anger, like stress, is only supposed to last a short time while we sort out whatever prompted it. The problems come when we hold onto it, almost cherishing a grudge or complaint, or when it is frequently popping up all over the place. Being in a constant state of low level anger is really bad for us, physically, and not exactly great for our relationships either.
As the Buddha is supposed to have said:
‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’
So, be aware of feeling angry, accept it, do something about it if you can or need to, and then let it go.