Anger is a powerful and intense feeling. We often feel conflicted about experiencing it, let alone expressing it. For many, it is such a conflicted feeling that the internal emotional experience of it in and of itself can feel out of control.
The fear that one's anger may become all-encompassing, engulfing, and overpowering has been taught to so many of us. Time and again as children, we were admonished -- sometimes even shamed -- for our angry outbursts. As adults, we may find that attempts to articulate our anger are rebuffed, ignored, belittled, or met with outright hostility or fear.
We typically think of feelings like anger as being out of control, but it strikes me that feelings in general are out of our control. We fall in love, fall out of love, despair, hope, rejoice, grieve, feel the ache of loneliness, grapple with frustration, and become awestruck or enraged, not because we make these feelings happen, but because they arise in us as an internal emotional response to the events in our lives and the ways we interpret them.
Some feelings are more socially acceptable than others. The more acceptable ones tend to be those that are shared in our families and communities. We see how others express themselves when these feelings arise, and we learn from these role models. We find a perspective for understanding and making sense of these feelings in the context of our lives and communities. This allows us to establish a sense that these kinds of feelings are manageable. The feelings for which we do not have healthy role models or training in expressing and managing -- and anger is very often one of them -- remain out of control and overwhelming.
However, anger is not a bad feeling. There are no bad feelings. Every one of our emotional responses has a meaning -- an important role in our emotional lives. A healthy dose of anger, expressed and released in open, honest, and direct communication, can be both corrective and healing in our relationships and within ourselves.
Uncomfortable as it may be, anger is not only a natural response to threats but an adaptive one. It is a key emotion in activating the aggression necessary to act and react in times of danger. It gives us the power to be assertive when needed, to fight, and to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Though much maligned, it is a critical emotion particularly during overwhelming and potentially paralyzing times in one's life.
Because of this, we should come to expect and even embrace the anger in our work settings. We help our patients heal when we allow them to articulate their anger as it arises. We help ourselves and our colleagues when we find constructive ways to express the anger we all feel when confronted with a devastating disease and the injustice of what it does to the people we are treating, about whom we come to care so deeply.
The more we recognize and process the anger that is such a natural part of our daily lives, the more peacefully we can work and live. It's not that we should never get angry, but we should honor it when it arises, so that we can ultimately set it free.