In Defense of Anger
My name is Anger. I am not very popular and am often described as a “negative emotion”. People are told they are bad for experiencing me, or that I shouldn’t exist at all. There are those who think I’m not a real emotion, that I’m only a cover for the other feelings that don’t want to come out. Some folks are so terrified of experiencing me they try all kinds of things to squash me down. I regularly get blamed for terrible behaviour and am probably the most misunderstood emotion. All of this slander makes me a little, well, angry.
Anger is an Emotion
First, let’s get one thing straight. I am an emotion. I am not a behaviour. These two things are separate. Many think that violence and I are the same thing. Let me be really clear: anger is an emotion, violence is a behaviour. Not the same thing! People can choose their actions and opt to express me in positive ways.
I can be expressed in positive ways.
Anger Gives Vital Information
One thing I’m good at is providing information. Not everyone pays attention to me, but my presence signifies boundary violations. I am the part of a person that says, “I don’t deserve to be mistreated”. That makes me a great antidote to the self-blame and shame which sometimes results from experiences of sexualized violence. When survivors feel angry about what was done to them, it means they recognize they are worthy of better treatment and they weren’t responsible for someone else’s behaviour. I also show up when others are experiencing injustice and oppression. It’s my job to say when things aren’t right.
…an antidote to shame and self-blame…
Anger is a Source of Energy
The best thing about me is that I provide energy and motivation to make things better. It is not an exaggeration to say I can be a powerful life-saving force. I help people protect themselves and others in dangerous situations; social justice action is fueled by me. All this energy can scare folks. They’ve seen me used to commit horrible acts, or they have misused me themselves. Even when used effectively I can be terrifying – those who benefit from oppressing others discount and criticize me because I am a force for change that they don’t want. You can check out this blog post on Allyship and Anger for some ideas about using me to make a difference.
…a powerful life-saving force.
Suppressing Anger Has Costs
Lots of folks don’t know how to express me in healthy ways and so fear they’ll hurt others; these people decide it is safer to swallow me. Unfortunately, when I am suppressed I don’t really go away. I am bound by a law of physics which says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, although it can take different forms. That explains why some people say depression is anger turned inward. When I’m repressed I can take a toll on the body, come out indirectly, or emerge at unpredictable times. You might want to check out a great poem about me called A Just Anger (by Marge Piercy) that expresses all this in a much more eloquent manner. My favourite line (sorry, I’m going to give away the ending) is, “…a good anger swallowed clots the blood to slime.”
A Relationship with Anger
Building a healthy relationship with one’s anger can be a journey, with more than one path. For some, counselling can help. For example, one place that survivors of sexualized violence can get support is the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre. Maybe it sounds conceited, but I think it is well worth the effort to understand me better and learn how to safely and effectively express me. If you have been mistreated, you have a right to feel angry. If you witness injustice, I am a perfectly valid response. Use me. When we work together, we can accomplish amazing things.