Unlocking anger's potential: From suppression to empowerment

I took part in a radio interview this morning which asked, "Does anger improve performance?" and it caused me to reflect on how anger can hold a hugely negative reputation in many cultures, even though it often has the potential to be an incredibly valuable emotion for us.


What is anger?

Anger is a deeply human emotion, and like all emotions, it's morally neutral. It's not inherently good or bad; it's how we express and utilise anger that makes the difference. Anger is often the small voice inside of us that says, "I deserve more than this..." or "My rights aren’t being respected" and so it can be a signal to us that something is amiss in our outer world. Anger can motivate us to address injustices and move towards positive change. It can also provide us with the emotional energy to protect ourselves from harm.

That being said, people can often face social, psychological or cultural barriers to healthily expressing their anger, resulting in the feeling becoming internalised, rather than externalised. For example, you might fear that expressing anger will lead to rejection, negative judgment, or damaged relationships. This fear of social consequences can hinder open communication. Additionally, societal or family-of-origin messaging may dictate that anger is unacceptable or should be buried, particularly in certain cultures or social settings. This can create pressure to suppress anger.

A typical example of this is how gender stereotypes can play a significant role in how people express anger, and how that anger is perceived by others. Women may fear being labelled as "overpowering" or “emotional” while men may feel pressure to conform to expectations of stoicism or aggression. It's also important to note that individuals with a history of trauma related to anger or conflict may find it particularly challenging to express anger. Previous experiences of expressing anger and facing negative consequences, such as backlash or punishment, can discourage further expression. 

To overcome these barriers, it's important to develop emotional awareness, communication skills, and assertiveness techniques. Seeking support through therapy or counselling can also be beneficial for those struggling to express their anger in a healthy and constructive manner. Recognising the barriers to expressing anger is a crucial step toward personal growth and improved relationships.

Expressing anger

So what might healthy anger expression look like?

  1. Communication: Express your concerns and frustrations openly but respectfully. Use "I" statements to avoid blaming others and focus on your own feelings and needs. For example, say, "I feel frustrated when…" instead of "You always..."
  2. Active listening: Encourage others to express their perspectives and actively listen to them. This can lead to more constructive and empathetic conversations.
  3. Conflict resolution: Use anger as a catalyst for resolving conflicts. Address issues directly, seeking solutions and compromises rather than perpetuating a cycle of anger for anger’s sake.
  4. Setting boundaries: Communicate your boundaries and expectations to prevent recurring issues that may trigger anger.

And if we don’t feel ready to address our anger with others? There are still plenty of ways to externalise the emotion of anger, rather than directing it inward.

  • Consider engaging in physical exercise to release built-up tension and anger. Activities like jogging, boxing, or hitting a punching bag can be especially cathartic. Pairing this with an angry or energetic playlist can be especially effective as it may help you connect with and release your emotions.
  • Deep breathing exercises can help to calm your nervous system and reduce anger. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
  • Writing about what's causing your anger in a journal can help you process your emotions and gain clarity about the source of your frustration.
  • If you're still struggling to understand and manage the emotion, you may benefit from working with a professional. A counsellor can help you to understand the causes of your anger, as well as provide you with the techniques to both express and manage the emotion in a healthy way.

So in answer to the radio producer's question, "Can anger improve performance?", Anger is a potentially motivating emotion that can highlight injustices and support us to act, but not everyone has grown up in an environment that cultivated its healthy expression.

Stereotypes, discrimination and societal messaging can heavily influence our capacity or desire to express anger and so to harness the power of anger for positive change, we must encourage healthy and assertive expression of this emotion and actively challenge the biases that hinder open and honest communication. By doing so, we can transform anger from a destructive force – internally and externally – into a catalyst for personal and societal growth.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Nantwich, CW5 6RF
Written by Carys Jones, MSc, MBACP
Nantwich, CW5 6RF

I'm Carys, the BACP registered counsellor behind Out of the Woods Counselling. I work with adults of all genders across the UK on a broad range of issues. Prior to becoming a counsellor, I worked as a specialist sexual health outreach worker, working with youth, LGBT+ and sex work communities.

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