By Norell McCaw, PsyD

Couple on BenchI find myself providing education to many patients about the function of emotions.  Many people are insightful about the fact that emotions are what connect us to others.  Without emotions, our relationships would be unsatisfying, to say the least.  Can you imagine having a therapist who operated solely from a rational and logical frame of mind?  It would be like interacting with a robot.  It would be hard to feel empathized with, understood, or validated.  Emotions help us not only communicate with others, but emotions also help us communicate with ourselves.

Thanks to the movie Inside Out we can imagine the various emotions at work inside our psyche:  Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Fear, and Anger.  What I liked about the movie is that it highlighted the value of sadness, an emotion that is often labeled as “negative.”  We saw that sadness provides us with information about what is important to us.  What I kept hoping for in the movie (maybe they will make a sequel) is for the value of anger to be highlighted.  This question seems to stump a lot of patients:  What is the function of anger?

Hitting, yelling, name-calling, nagging, complaining, and ignoring are not anger.  They are expressions of anger, and aggressive ones at that.  Anger is just an emotion, a feeling, energy-in-motion.  It can range from mild annoyance to extreme rage.  Anger is an emotional reaction to real or perceived danger or injustice.  It can provide information to us that a personal boundary has been violated or an important goal has been prevented. It motivates us to take action, fight for change, right a wrong, and protect our loved ones and ourselves.

Experiencing anger is a natural part of life and feeling anger in relationships is normal and inevitable.  Healthy relationships require open communication.  It can be frightening to express difficult emotions and it is not easy being vulnerable.  The reward, however, can be great.  Here are some tips to help you in the process:

  • Think it through. Many times, anger can mask other emotions such as sadness or pain.  Take time to have a dialogue with yourself about what you are really feeling and why.
  • Seek counseling. It may help to talk to a therapist to explore where your anger is coming from and to learn healthy ways of expressing your emotions.
  • Practice good self-care. Taking good care of yourself will help you feel more centered and self-assured.  Do what you find soothing and pleasurable and practice regularly.  Go on walks, practice yoga, meditate, or take bubble baths with yummy scented candles (those are some of my go-tos).  Treat yourself with kindness and compassion.
  • Practice Empathy. There are two sides to every story.  In most situations, there is no right and wrong; this is how you feel and this is how the other person feels.  Be open and understanding and try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view.

It is never too late to seek counseling services if you believe that you struggle with anger management or often misplace your anger on the people that you love.