Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion?


Brian Sandler, Contributing Writer

Hotheaded, short-fused, grouchy. All of these are words we’ve probably used to describe someone who just can’t seem to get a handle on that dreaded feeling known as anger.

Indeed, anger (also known by a plethora of terms including, but not limited to: rage, fury, disgruntlement, infuriation, indignation, vexation, annoyance, disdain, aggravation, disgust, contempt, outrage and wrath), probably has the worst reputation out of all the emotions that make up the people we are. Conjuring up vivid images of deranged mob bosses screaming at their underlings, bellowing drill sergeants barking out orders in basic training and petulant businessmen whining at their deal gone foul, most of us probably try to steer clear of the dreaded term. Money is spent on self-help books proclaiming that they have the “cure to being mad,” people are discouraged from expressing frustration and we’re simply told to knock it off and smile. But is this really required? The truth is, not necessarily.

In fact, it may even be helpful in some cases. According to health journalist Tori DeAngelis, the evidence is in favor of this view.

“The red-hot emotion has a positive side, say psychologists who study anger,” she said.

“In studies and in clinical work, they find anger can help clarify relationship problems, clinch business deals, fuel political agendas and give people a sense of control during uncertain times. More globally, they note, it can spur an entire culture to change for the better, as witnessed by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the earlier women’s suffrage movement.”

For those proclaiming that they don’t intend to become part of a counterculture movement any time soon, anger can also be useful when dealing with smaller, more mundane problems. So much so that some experts argue anger can have a moral purpose. According to psychologist Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, this has many different applications.

“If you’re fired from a job you believe you’ve performed well, and your boss can offer you no credible explanation for letting you go, you’ll almost automatically experience the disgruntlement of anger,” he said.

“After all, your fundamental sense of fairness has been violated. And the same holds true for situations in which you feel taken advantage of or exploited. On a somewhat less personal level, if you firmly believe that the minimum wage should be raised and you learn that Congress has refused to allow this, your perception of injustice will also lead you to experience righteous anger.”

So, does this mean that you have a free invitation to scream and shout whenever you feel you’ve been wronged? The answer, according to DeAngelis, is a resounding no.

“Several factors can make the difference between constructive and destructive anger,” she said.

“For one, constructive anger expression usually involves both people, not just the angry party. In the best-case scenario, the angry person expresses his or her anger to the target, and the target hears the person and reacts appropriately.”

So, if there is anything to learn from this infuriatingly long-winded diatribe, what would it be? Most importantly, it’s that anger, when used reasonably and properly, can actually be a very beneficial and healthy emotion.

One shouldn’t rant without discretion, of course, but controlled and measured? That’s when the positive gains can be made. Like with all other emotions, anger, when used sensibly, has its time and place and can be used to achieve great things. So if you’re feeling mad, make sure you make a difference.