Anger is quite a powerful little 5 letter word that means very different things to different people.

For some, especially women, it is an emotion that is rejected or avoided at all cost and understood as evil, bad, or unacceptable. For others it is all too present and readily available to use to hurt, damage, or destroy – sometimes irreparably so.

But anger is just an emotion. And like any emotion, it’s not really right or wrong, but what we do with it can either be used for either good or evil.

For good, anger can help motivate us to take a stand against injustice, oppression, and discrimination. For bad, it can cause us to be unjust, oppressive, and discriminatory.

Anger is powerful. And in the process of understanding ourselves better anger is an absolutely invaluable resource if we can learn how to use it to our advantage.

We can use anger as a clear warning sign that there’s something deeper going on inside of us. When we react with anger, often it’s because something vulnerable has been poked, injured, or threatened. Like the intense fear felt by a cornered wild animal who responds with violence and aggression. The aggressive anger protects the fear and vulnerability.

And because of this, anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion – an overt reaction serving to protect something a little deeper.

It works like this: Next time you find yourself getting angry at someone, stop and take a second to check in and ask yourself “What is this anger protecting? If I take a closer look, what am I feeling beneath the anger? What’s really going on?” and this will give you some insight into what you’re really feeling. Usually it’s something like hurt, sadness, loneliness, guilt, or fear.

By taking a second to check in with ourselves in this way we can use this insight to make a more informed (read: less knee-jerk) decision on how we want to respond.

And THIS will help to prevent us from verbally assaulting our (often unaware) perpetrator with our anger, thereby preventing injury to the relationship AND saving us from having to deal with the emotional mess of our own guilt and shame.

Take a step back, do a check in, figure out what’s really going on and decide if you can express yourself immediately in a calm, assertive, and non-aggressive way, or if you need some time to cool off before you can talk about how you’re really feeling. Often, in my experience, the latter works much better.

Easy to say, difficult to do. And like most things worth anything it takes patience, practice, and persistence.

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