How Healthy Is It to Save Anger?

This is an interesting question that was asked on Quora.com. The question presupposes that anger can be “saved”.

For this to occur, anger would have to be a source of energy like electricity that could be stored or it might be an emotional placeholder that could be held in stasis and returned to at a later date much like a document that is “saved” until it is retrieved to be worked on or utilized in some fashion.

The quick answer is that you can’t save anger and chronic anger is unhealthy.

What actually is anger?

  • Anger is a primary emotion, the function of which is to alert us to and prepare us to deal with a threat we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough force at it.
  • Anger, as an emotion, is a primitive threat detector. This is how anger evolved, how it worked when we lived in caves, and how it continues to operate today.
  • Anger prepares us to go to battle. In “cave days”, all threats were survival based (would kill us) so being revved up for war was necessary, appropriate, and life saving.
  • Today, our threats tend to be psychological so, while it may initially be useful to prepare for battle, studies show that it is counterproductive and even unhealthy to stay in a constant state of anger.
  • Anger is a motivator and, within a specific context, provides us with the energy necessary to confront and overpower a threat.

How does Anger happen and what are its consequences?

The emotion of anger follows a specific cycle.

In my most recent Amazon best selling book Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, I discuss the Anger Mastery Cycle which starts with the unconscious scanning of your surroundings for threat, going into fight or flight when a threat is perceived, managing your anger by reducing your arousal and creating both a physical and psychological space between you and the “threat” and then mastering your anger by assessing the nature and validity of the “threat” and choosing an effective response.

By the way, you can download a copy of the anger mastery cycle and the first two chapters of my book by scrolling up to the Welcome post.

Secondly, anger prepares your body for war.

Chemicals are injected into your body which heighten your awareness, reduce your unimportant bodily functions such as digestion, and increase the ability of your blood to clot.  If you were facing a saber toothed tiger who wanted to eat you, you would want to be able to focus your attention on the beast, be protected from blood loss, be able to run away from the danger and so forth.  You wouldn’t care about digesting your lunch if you were about to become his lunch. These chemicals also give you the energy to fight off the threat.

It is important to note that many studies have noted that these physical changes when associated with chronic anger can have severe negative impacts on your body. In other words, chronic anger can make you sick.

Thirdly, you cannot “save” anger.

The emotion of anger is situation specific and is elicited when you perceive a threat. There is no organ in the body which stores anger.

Anger is elicited when you subconsciously perceive a threat or you “recreate” that threat in your mind when you dwell on a previous event. While it may seem like you have “saved” your anger, in fact, you generate “new” anger every time you revisit the threat. And, if you generate new anger often enough, it is experienced as chronic.

So, what can you do?

Well, if you perceive a valid threat, you can use the energy of your immediate anger to develop and execute a plan to deal with the threat. This is how you master and deploy your anger as a strategic tool. This assumes that you are in a position to directly deal with the threat.

Sometimes, however, as I discovered when I asked many professional women about anger, it is not always possible to directly deal with a threat. This is because there may be unwanted consequences to the direct expression of appropriate anger or you do not have the status to directly deal with the threat. If this is the case, you use the energy of your anger to plan an indirect approach to the threat. You are strategically using your anger but you are not directly expressing it. This is not the same as suppressing your anger which would involve invalidating it and pushing it down inside of you. Suppressing your anger can have both unwanted physical and psychological consequences.

If you experience chronic anger, I suggest you take some time to really look at the unresolved threat you keep reliving and develop a plan to either deal with it or accept that there is nothing you can do about it, forgive the person who hurt you, and get on with your life. Forgiving, by the way, is not absolving this person of responsibility for their actions. Rather, forgiving another person only means that you psychologically remove yourself from, or let go of, that person rather than carry them around with you in your head every where you go.

I worked with young women, all of whom had been physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused. Forgiving was the only way they could grow psychologically and move on. Again, this is not absolving anyone of responsibility for their actions. Nor, is it forgetting any healthy lessons that one needs to remember from past experiences. Nor, is it putting something in the past and not taking any action in the present to prevent any future actions from taking place. Forgiveness only means that you are no longer negatively impacting yourself regarding a situation you can’t change. If you go to March 2017, in the archives above, you can access a post on forgiveness.

When you forgive another individual, you let go of your anger as there is no immediate threat that you can go to war with and eliminate.  However, as you want to remain alert to any future threat, you could become committed and determined. You may choose to experience the emotion of commitment in that you are determined to never submit yourself to the kinds of threats you experienced in the past.  Determination will motivate you just as much as anger will and it is a more effective and sustainable emotion.

In summary, anger, as an emotion, is situation specific and, while anger energizes and motivates you to fight off a threat, the emotion doesn’t act as a “place holder” and the energy that is generated in your body can’t be saved.

I welcome your comments.

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