When Anger is a Gift
Updated: Aug 2
Did you know that anger is a gift and serves to protect you?
Kate has been consumed by her work as the CEO of an organization she is very passionate about. In addition to feeling scattered and stressed, she feels disconnected from God and from people. Although Kate feels blessed by her career, great husband, and church community - she is confused by her underlying feelings of sadness, loneliness, and unexpected moments of emptiness. People look to her as a leader and she feels she must put on a front so nobody sees her struggles. Kate cannot remember the last time she smiled.
Kate is anxious and afraid because she worries that her issues will continue despite her best efforts and prayers. She puts pressure on herself to be happy all the time and to be all things to all people and do all things well in every area of her life: professionally, relationally, and spiritually.
Kate’s unconscious patterns of self-neglect by pleasing, performing, and perfecting her way through life are starting to catch up with her. Now that she is in therapy, she has space to be unashamedly honest about her feelings and express them in a safe and compassionate environment. Kate becomes closely acquainted with her anger for the first time, and after decades she feels at home within herself. Through the hard work of uncovering her hidden and avoided anger, Kate can begin the healing process.**
In my nearly 20-year career as a clinical psychotherapist, I’ve discovered in my work with clients that anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions. Anger is not wrong, sinful, or bad. Anger is a gift, and it is meant to protect you. Anger protects you from being used or taken advantage of in your relationships. Anger can be a gift because it helps you stay true to who you are and what you really want.
Anger is a signal worth paying attention to.
Avoiding your anger often leads to relationship struggles, lack of boundaries, chronic body pain, and anxiety.
Anger may be a message that you are not addressing a significant pain in your life. My goal is to help you pay attention to how your anger is showing up in your life and what your anger is telling you so that you can experience healing, fulfilling relationships, and break free of fear.
Let’s start by defining anger. Anger is an emotion that occurs automatically in your brain and body, which means it is part of how God created you. I won’t bore you with the scientific research and biological details. Anger is an emotion you experience toward someone or something that is meant to motivate you to action and is designed to be experienced through the body and released. (Think of it as e-motion). Most of us tend to internalize our anger instead of externalizing it by releasing it in healthy ways.
Feeling Anger Instead of Fearing Anger
What you do not feel, you cannot heal. When you fear your anger, you avoid feeling it. This is usually because of your upbringing or due to experiences in painful relationships, or because you are taught false doctrine in churches and faith-based communities that anger is sinful, bad, or wrong.
I created the Sponge Analogy to help my clients understand what happens when they do not feel or express their anger. Often when people start to feel a tinge of anger they become like a sponge and absorb the anger and turn it back on themselves. They unconsciously internalize their anger and push it down deep inside. However, buried anger is still anger and it’s alive on the inside of you and can show up as anxiety, depression, shame + self-attack, episodes of rage, chronic illness + pain, or a general sense of being stuck or trapped in certain situations and relationships.
Although anger is often considered a negative emotion, it can be highly constructive in helping motivate you to find solutions to the problems that are troubling you and hindering you professionally and personally. Anger helps you know how to deal effectively with difficult relationships in your life by motivating you to set boundaries, express your needs, and use your voice effectively. More on what this looks like practically and how to identify the specific ways you avoid your anger in the next post.
Anger keeps you in the present moment rather than hiding from past hurts or anxiously anticipating the future.
Feeling your emotions gives you a sense of identity, and anger is an emotion that protects the core of who you are. In this way, anger is a gift.
Anger and the Bible
Biblically and spiritually speaking, many people mistakenly believe anger is a sin because they misunderstand what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). Paul was saying it is OK to be angry, just do not sin when you’re angry. It is how you deal with your anger that makes a difference. Going to bed angry and not dealing with your anger, gives room for anger to grow into bitterness, resentment, and anxiety if not dealt with in a timely manner that is healthy, productive, and appropriate.
You cannot grow spiritually beyond your emotional immaturity.
There is a connection between your spiritual life and your emotional life, which means you cannot grow as a person or in your faith beyond where you are stuck emotionally. Many of you are stunted spiritually because you avoid your emotions due to false teaching from churches and faith-based communities, such as:
Emotions are not from God.
Emotions are sinful.
Emotions should be ignored.
Emotions are irrelevant to your spiritual life.
Emotions mean you lack trust in God.
Emotions prevent you from following God’s will.
Emotions should not be addressed in a church setting.
Emotions are an obstacle to faith and should be disciplined or controlled.
The reality is that scientific research has proven that emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, happiness, and disgust, are not right or wrong, they just are. Emotions are nondebatable experiences. You are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). As I mentioned earlier, they are biological realties that occur automatically in your brain and body. Emotions are indiciators, not dictators so you do not let them govern your behavior, but you pay attention to the valuable information they provide.
If you ignore or avoid your emotions, you are dismissing vital data God intended for you when he created you.
Because we are focusing on the emotion of anger today, anger helps you get unstuck, so you hear from God more clearly. Anger deepens your intimacy with God and others because anger helps you know the truth about yourself. Anger keeps you honest and authentic. As humans, we have an innate desire to fully known and accepted for who we really are.
Anger and Relationships
When you avoid your anger, you lose yourself and you become vulnerable to unhealthy relational patterns, and you lack the boundaries needed for self-care. Anger is a crucial emotion in stopping the cycle of people pleasing or allowing others to continually take advantage of you, deceive you, and manipulate you.
Your anger can be telling you that your wants and needs are not being met. Perhaps you are not making room in the relationship for your own heart’s desires, purposes, and dreams or you feel guilty for doing so. Anger is an effective emotion informing you that you have become responsible for carrying the emotional weight of a relationship.
Anger may be a signal that you are saying “yes” when you really mean “no.”
Your anger may be sending you a message that something is not quite right. Your anger can be telling you that your feelings are being invalidated because every time you express how you feel you are told things such as: “That hurts me that you would say that.” “You are criticizing me.” “You don’t care about me or you wouldn’t feel that way.” “You are being selfish.” "You're making a big deal out of nothing." “You are too sensitive.” The other person is making your feelings about them, or you are left feeling wrong or belittled for the way you feel.
Anger is a valuable emotion signaling to you that the relationship is one-sided because you are doing all the work. Some people are never satisfied no matter how much you try to love and please them, so your anger may be telling you that you are giving more of yourself and doing more than you can comfortably do.
I’ve discovered in my work with clients that a primary reason it’s so difficult to express anger in your closest relationships is because of fear. Fear of losing the relationship. Fear of rejection. Fear of conflict. Fear of intimacy. Dealing with your anger allows you to face the deepest fears of your life so you can be healed.
You heal as you become aware of your anger and giving it a voice provides you with a secure identity and protects the core of who you are. Anger allows you to gain clarity and communicate your needs and boundaries effectively. Anger mobilizes you to find healthy, reciprocal relationships that are safe and trustworthy.
Can you relate to Kate?
If you’re thinking, “I’m not feeling anger towards anyone or experiencing anger in my relationships right now” – then maybe the unhealthy relationship is the one you have with yourself. That said, perhaps you relate to Kate’s experience at the beginning of this post. I can certainly identify with Kate during certain seasons of my life.
Anger is a signal to me that I’m not protecting my peace.
I say no a lot more than I say yes. Anger tells me I’m believing the lie that I’m being mean or selfish when I set a boundary. My anger also tells me: I’m not honoring my needs. I’ve got underlying feelings of anxiety. I feel scattered and out of control. I’m overwhelmed relationally. I’m ignoring my intuition and the still small voice. I’m pushing myself beyond my limits and capacity. I’m not accepting the reality of my personality and hard wiring. I’m not making room for me. I’m not having adequate rest and alone time. I lack joy as my constant companion. I’m in comparison mode. I’m holding myself to high standards.
When any of these things show up in my life, I know there is anger beneath the surface that I’m not feeling or listening to.
I’ve learned to pay attention to my anger because it protects me from my own self-sabotaging thinking and behaviors.
I receive the gift of anger and take the necessary steps to reset my boundaries, face my deeper fears, and express my real feelings so I can return to me. Living into your authentic self is one of the greatest gifts you offer the world.
Hundreds of clients who have been under my care are living proof that anger is a gift.
The next post will help you understand the specific ways you avoid your anger and why because once you know the truth about you, freedom is inevitable.
**'Kate's story is a fictional composite based on the author's clinical experience with hundreds of clients through the years. All names are invented, and any resemblance between fictional characters and actual persons is coincidental.
The content for this blog post has been taken from chapter 3 (The Cuckoo of Not Feeling Your Feelings) of Andrea’s book, The Cuckoo Syndrome: The Secret to Breaking Free from Unhealthy Relationships, Toxic Thinking, and Self-Sabotaging Behavior
The photo accompanying this article was sourced from istock and is in the public domain.