The Gift of Anger
Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peace
by Marcia Cannon, Ph.D., MFT
The Gift of Anger:
Introduction: A New Understanding
"It’s nothing I can’t handle,” Amy assured me as she described how frequently she felt irritated at work. “I’m sure it’s just normal. Right?”
“All my life my sister’s been the needy one who’s gotten all the attention”, Linda complained resentfully. “Why can’t my mother ever ask me if I need anything? And why can’t my sister just grow up?”
“I’ve had it with these damn meetings!” Fred fumed. “How do they expect me to get any work done when I’m sitting in conference rooms all day?”
Anger. As these brief quotes illustrate, it comes in a range of strengths, from mild irritation, to frustration, all the way to fury and rage. In one form or another, one thing is for sure—we all get angry. When we do, we are often taught by conventional wisdom that what we feel is bad or dangerous, and that we should manage our anger and hopefully get rid of it. But what if conventional wisdom is wrong? What if anger, like all of our other emotions, can be positive, useful, and a guide to our own increased well-being? What if, rather than being a problem, your anger can be a gift?
The Need for This Book
I wrote The Gift of Anger as an antidote to the negativity and misunderstanding that so often surround this emotion. I wrote it to show you a positive, more useful definition of anger and a process for working with it that is not only satisfying but healing and empowering as well. Whether you are mildly frustrated, outright furious, or anything in between, you will learn how to use your anger creatively and effectively – not to hurt your neighbor but to heal and help yourself. Using the information and techniques in this book can help you become stronger and more positively connected, both with yourself and to the world around you.
It is time to move beyond the shame or fear associated with this emotion. It is time to embrace your anger constructively and learn how to use it to achieve the very goals that most people wish for – decreasing pain and increasing your sense of personal effectiveness and empowerment. Stated differently and more personally, it’s time to feel really good about yourself. I’m not talking about the superficial and momentary boost that an angry outburst can grant; instead, by using your anger to help you uncover and integrate a more accurate and positive definition of yourself and of the world around you, you will gain a deep and long-lasting sense of achievement and well-being.
This is not a book about communicating with others to resolve your anger. While that is a worthwhile subject, there already are a number of good books on interpersonal communication and anger management. The Gift of Anger is different. It invites you to communicate with yourself and shows you how to do so in a way that makes use of the positive potential of your anger while dissolving its negative impulse. The process you’ll learn will heighten your awareness of yourself as it helps you to uncover the true purpose of your anger and learn how to use all of your emotions in ways that further your understanding, your self-confidence, and your sense of inner and inter-personal harmony.
This is a book for all of us who know we get angry and wish we could use our anger positively rather than just containing it, acting it out, stuffing it back inside, or somehow getting through it. This book is also for each of us who carry around old or new resentments, wishing we could be rid of them but not knowing how. It is, as well, a book for those of us who believe we almost never become angry but perhaps feel hurt, tired, overwhelmed, or depressed by some of our encounters with other people. In fact, this is a book for everyone who wants to gain a better understanding of anger, an understanding that begins by exploring the two stages of anger.
A Brief Introduction to the Two Stages of Anger
What you have learned to call ‘anger’ is actually only its first stage, the protective stage. Here, your anger gives you a power boost to make you feel bigger and stronger so that you can face a person who seems more powerful than you or a situation that seems too difficult to manage. But this is only stage one. Anger has a second stage, one that is at least as potent as the first, though much less well known. The second stage, the awareness and growth stage, is quieter and more thoughtful than stage one. This is a time when your anger can become an unerring guide to healing your emotional pain. It will enhance both your sense of well-being and your capacity to respond more calmly and successfully to the inevitable changes and difficulties that are part of everyone’s life.
While the first, protective stage of anger is automatic, showing up whether you want it to or not, the second stage is optional. To reap the benefits of stage two, you have to consciously choose it. This book will show you how.
Chapter 1 of The Gift of Anger examines the first (protective) stage of your anger, while chapters 2 and 3 focus on the second (awareness and growth) stage. You will explore the often-overlooked attributes that make your anger so valuable when you choose to use it in stage two. You will delve deeply into how anger is created and learn how the very ingredients that cause anger can be used to help you heal from your angering experiences and empower you to move beyond them.
The next seven chapters, the heart of the book, are devoted to teaching a seven-step process that makes full use of the potential of anger for increasing awareness and assisting personal growth. Using this process, you can reduce the emotional pain associated with your anger, gain self-awareness from your anger, and move more deeply into a state of personal and interpersonal peace. In each of these chapters, I explain one of the seven steps of this process, offer examples of its use, and then provide exercises that allow you to personalize the information by exploring yourself and your anger as deeply and fully as you wish. The final chapter shows you how to use this process when you are angry with yourself.
As you do the chapter exercises, it will be helpful to write them down. Consider doing so in a journal that you dedicate to recording the discoveries you make about yourself and about your anger as you complete each exercise. Doing so, you will have all the information you gain about your anger in one place so that you can easily refer back to it as needed and track your progress as well.
The seven-step process you’ll be learning establishes a blueprint for working with your anger from the moment that you first become aware of feeling something upsetting to the time when you feel more deeply and consciously at peace. You will explore specific steps to take and a specific order for taking them, and you can read about others who have offered their stories so that you can “see” these steps in action.
It’s important to remember that the process is not focused on condoning bad behavior. In fact, the opposite is true. I’m sure that, like most people, you’re aware of how difficult it can be to think clearly and speak effectively while under the influence of your own anger. The more you use the process taught here to understand your anger and heal its underlying causes, the more you will be calmer, stronger, and able to effectively address whatever person or situation you’re facing.
With the techniques you learn here, you can use your anger positively, with less risk to your relationships. You can learn how to experience anger as a step on a path toward growth, a step that can lead you to a deepened sense of inner and interpersonal peace and understanding and a heightened sense of well-being.
If You Need Help
While this process can help in any angry situation, it is not meant as a substitute for professional counseling. If you have a serious issue, such as working through anger that causes or results from violence, I encourage you to see a professional counselor. When life experiences are traumatic, the kindest and often most effective way to work through them is with the supportive help of a well-trained professional. The same is true if you find that any of the exercises in this book bring up difficult emotions or memories. If that happens, a trained counselor can help you to use the experience as a deeper opportunity for healing.
Why I Wrote This Book
I did not personally invent any of the techniques in the seven-step process; they have been around longer than I have. What I did was to bring them together and integrate them in a specific way as I discovered what worked best, first for myself and then for clients.
I first learned some of the basic concepts many years ago when I was looking for ways to work with my own anger. Later, as a psychotherapist working with individual clients and with couples, I found that no matter what their reasons for coming to therapy, most of my clients needed help working through anger. I used the techniques I had learned and refined the process as I saw what was most helpful to clients. Over the years, in clinical settings and in private practice, I’ve used the process to help people transform their angry feelings into the self-confidence that awareness and personal growth brings.
When I began working on my Ph.D. in 1999 and needed to choose a dissertation topic, the gift-of-anger process seemed a natural choice. I did a controlled study using a small population and tested participants over time using the process I’m offering here. My goals were to measure both the immediate and long-term effects on participants’ feelings and behavior.
The results of the study were exciting. People who took the training expressed relief and gratitude. They had finally found a positive way to work with their anger, a way that left them feeling strengthened, centered, and more at peace.
The people who learned the seven-step process made significant, positive changes in their attitude and behavior toward themselves and those with whom they had been angry, and they maintained those positive changes over time. Most exciting was the fact that study participants reported feeling both increased inner strength and greater ability to handle the nasty surprises that life often delivers. Many said that they would never look at anger in the same way again.
The people I describe in this book are based on workshop attendees, study participants, and clients. I have changed their names and other information to protect their privacy, and I have used examples that I’ve found to be representative of many people’s issues. I hope you will see yourself in some of these examples. When you do, please take heart in the fact that these people, using their anger and hurt as a starting point, turned their lives around. You, too, can use your anger as a starting point and let this process lead you to an increased sense of peace, strength, and compassion, both for yourself and for those around you. Anger can be a healing tool, a powerful initiator of positive change. That is its gift. It is time for each of us to understand our own anger that way and to use it wisely.
Our greatest ability to influence others is through example. When you use your anger as the positive force it was meant to be, then your increased self-awareness, inner healing, and heightened sense of confidence and peace will affect both you and those around you in ways that may surprise and delight you. That is the power of anger properly used. It can be your power. Just open your gift, and you’ll see.