Blowing off Steam!
By Fouad Alaa
Anger can lead to a variety of negative emotions, and because it’s a powerful emotion it can turn a peaceful person into a monster.
Unresolved anger can lead to frustration, resentment, bitterness, depression and even long-term health issues. Everybody feels frustrated or bitter because of their anger, but sometimes in the heat of the moment it can make you lose control or vent out that anger to the point of hurting someone you care about.
My dad and I have a complicated relationship. Ever since I can remember I always wanted to get his attention and make him proud. And like any father, the more I achieved, the more he would expect from me since he believed I could always do better.
Frustration set in. From my point of view, nothing ever seemed good enough, and over time that frustration built up and came out in the form of rebelliousness that damaged a once perfect relationship.
That frustration could have been channeled to achieve more or to try harder instead. And even though the realisation came late, it made me work on my anger and more importantly, repair the damage by trying to restore things between my father and me.
That is not to say that I have become a zen master overnight. I am a naturally angry person and the only way I can deal with my anger is to make something out of it, otherwise I’d go INSANE.
Modern psychologists describe anger as an emotion you experience when you feel that you have been wronged. Usually the person experiencing anger explains its arousal by something that “happened to them” which makes them believe that it is completely external. Anger suppresses the ability to self-monitor and observe objectively.
A few weeks ago I had one of those rare days where it felt like something or someone was out to get me.
First of all, I woke up on my off day with a massive headache, only to find a text from my boss saying that I should come urgently since a part-timer couldn’t make it.
After a heated argument with my girlfriend about our now-ruined plans, I took a quick cold shower – the heater wasn’t working – and hurried to work. On the way, I had a fight with my mum about not calling as often as she would have liked me to. And finally, once I reached work they told me they forgot to text me that the part-timer had been able to make it at the last minute.
So there I was sitting in the car with my headache doubled from anger. Since I felt murderous, I decided I might as well channel that to something a little more productive. So I went home, did some chores that I may not have done otherwise, and continued the rest of the day as planned.
There are plenty of reasons to avoid being angry, not only because of its negative emotional impact, but because it can lead to self-destructive behavior. As a result, people have found ways to suppress or control their anger.
But what if we treated anger the same way we treated stress? What if we unleashed the kraken? Blow off that steam! When positive thinking just won’t cut it, use the anger. Just like being happy is not always good, being angry isn’t always bad.
Anger is one of the most powerful emotions any human being can experience: it can make us lose our objectivity and self-control and yet can serve as motivation and strengthen our resolve and focus, if we choose to.
If you have ever watched one of those movies where the hero is beaten six ways to Sunday, then suddenly all the wounds and frustrations are gone and all their unique or powerful qualities are enhanced: That right there is the power of constructive anger, and it usually knocks the villain or the obstacle out of the way.
Spartacus for example, was a well-respected soldier in his tribe, taken as prisoner and sold to gladiatorial trainers by his Roman captors after his wife was murdered before his eyes. His anger and desire for revenge not only led him to be the best gladiator in the arena, but also led him to form and lead a rebellion against the Roman Empire to wipe out slavery altogether.
The hero didn’t convert his anger into what we consider positive emotion or energy like inspiration or awe, his anger WAS the powerful positive energy driving him to a positive outcome.
Just as anger can lead to self-destructive behavior, it can also lead to self-improvement and self-insight if it’s taken as a learning opportunity.
In a recent study on a sample of Americans and Russians asked how recent angry outbursts affected them (Kassinove et al., 1997), 55% claimed that getting angry led them to a positive outcome in the process of fixing things, and 30% said it led to a personal insight about themselves.
At the beginning of my relationship, me and my partner fought frequently, until one big fight where both of us began revealing repressed issues that made us angry. The realisation that we were doing things that harmed the other made us sit and have a long talk about them. Ever since then communication has never been better, and we have even set up our own “relationship rules”.
When it comes to personal relationships, it’s only natural to feel angry when we are wronged or hurt. Communicating it to our partner is the tricky part: If you hide your anger from your partner who has wronged you, they are more likely to do it again. If you vent it out solely to hurt your partner, that’s just being mean and spiteful.
Pointing out your dissatisfaction or your reason for being upset in a constructive way would make them pay more attention to their actions, help them understand you better, and establish a healthy way to resolve future conflicts in your relationship.
Anger should not be vented out aimlessly nor should it be kept bottled up inside until it implodes. It should be treated like a pressure cooker: controlled but set for constructive reasons. When all else fails, anger is a second chance to be better.
If used correctly, anger can be a very powerful and handy tool, but use with caution as anger is the most difficult of all emotions to control.
1- Kassinove, Howard; Sukhodolsky, Denis G.; Tsytsarev, Sergei V.; Solovyova, Svetlana
Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, Vol 12(2), Jun 1997, 301-324.
Fouad Alaa (also known as ‘Fox’) is a writer who brings fresh perspective to everyday life issues. A young Egyptian who has lived in several parts of the world, he now resides in Sarawak, Malaysia. With a medical background and a working knowledge of psychology, he plays therapist to his peers and aspires to be a world renowned surgeon.