How to Be Angry: A Guide for Grown-Ups & Kids

Anger isn't bad. Or wrong. Or necessarily dangerous.

Most of the world religions would disagree with me. Even my sweet, wise Buddhism tells us that anger is a poison and never good or useful.

Anger can fuel toxic and destructive behaviors.

But Anger is also Wise.

Anger is also Love.

At its essence, Anger is the power and energy necessary to say, "No."

Anger is that feeling inside your body when you want to make something STOP. Anger is a feeling, and feelings aren't problems.

Aggressive, hurtful, mindless words and actions are problems, but the feeling is never a problem.

You will never convince me that a feeling is a problem, a poison, a barrier to enlightenment.

Anger can lead to problems when:

  • You say "No" and "Stop" to something you have no control over, like yelling at the driver who cut you off (they already cut you off, you can't stop it if it already happened).
  • You say "No" and "Stop" to something that would be more beneficial to say "Yes" to, like getting defensive when your loving partner asking you to open up about something vulnerable (opening up would be more beneficial for you and your relationship, even though uncomfortable).
  • You harm others in a way that betrays your own values. (It's possible to harm others in a way that is loyal to your values, such as physical self-defense when under attack).

Anger is wise and good and loving when:

  • It alerts you to a physical or emotional threat and energizes you to protect yourself, respectfully and clearly.
  • It lets you know that you have a boundary and someone is crossing it, so you firmly and lovingly let that person know what is and is not okay with you.
  • It energizes and empowers you to say, "That is not okay with me. If you do that again, I will do this to keep myself feeling safe and respected."

So, if anger is good and useful, it's important know what to do with it when it shows up. Here are strategies that work for me, my family, and the hundreds of clients I've taught how to be angry.

6 Steps to Being Angry in a Wise, Loving, and Mindful Way

1. Let the Anger be real.

  • Denying, avoiding, rejecting your feeling will only make it grow and add tension and cloud your thinking. Accept and love the anger as a part of you that is wise and trust that you are capable of using it for good.

2. Be Patient & Soothe Your Anger - Including taking a big, long break before speaking or acting!

  • Anger can make it very hard to stay mindful and intentional. It's the mindless, reactive state that causes the harmful aggressive behaviors we don't want. Research shows it takes a minimum of 20 minutes to move from a flooded, reactive state of mind to a calmer, more thoughtful place if we're really heated. Be loving and respectful of your body and brain's natural reflexes, and take the time you need to soothe yourself so you can be thoughtful.

3. When your mind and body are soothed and able to think, get curious about what the Anger wants you to say "No" or "Stop" To.

  • Is it something that you have no control over or that already happened? If yes, slow down, be patient, don't act or speak, and let yourself feel the feeling and think about what you might do differently next time to try and prevent it from happening.
  • Is it something you're afraid of but that really might be healthy and useful for you? If yes, then let yourself feel uncomfortable and afraid, but say "Yes" and do the thing anyway. (see the opening up to your partner example above)
  • Is it something that is validly violating your needs and wants, and you can do something about it? Then proceed to step 4!

4. Tell yourself and/or the other person the behavior that makes you Angry (Say "No" or "Stop").

  • For example, "When people call me names, I get angry. When people I love and trust call me names, I get even more angry." You don't have to buy the idea that 'no one can make you angry.' That denies the interdependence of relationships. People do behaviors, and behaviors can violate your boundaries, and boundary violations can make you feel things.

5. State what works for you, and explain what you'll do if the thing that doesn't Work for You happens again.

  • "I want to have this conversation, but only if we can use respectful words. If you call me a name again, I will walk away and we can reconnect when you're ready to be more respectful."

6. Request (or Insist!) that others use this step-by-step process when expressing their anger toward you.

  • "You seem really angry, and that's okay, but I won't talk to you about it if you're shouting and throwing things. What do you need to do to calm down so we can talk about it?"
  • If it's a child, you might need to take the lead and guide him/her through this 5 step process. "You're so angry and I want to hear about it, but you're yelling. I'll sit with you while you yell, but I'm not going to talk about it until you're calmer....(once calm) - "Okay, so what happened that you didn't want to happen?" Then work them through steps 4 & 5.

learning to love your anger

Once you learn to work with your anger, you come to appreciate it and see how it serves your life in meaningful, useful ways.

With practice, you can come to feel in control of how you express your anger, and then you won't be so afraid of it, or feel guilty when it shows up.

Anger is a part of you, and is one of the very first emotions to show up in humans' lives. It is wise, it is good, it is meant to help you love yourself and love others well.

With love and optimism,

Dr. J