Some people use their anger to motivate them to take action.
If you are in a situation where someone or something is theatening you, then using the power of your anger is very appropriate.
In fact, this is reason that you have your anger.
Let me explain.
There are five basic emotions that all human beings and some nonhuman species have.
The five basic emotions are mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, and disgust.
Without going into a lot of detail (as I have talked about the basis of emotions in other posts on this blog), each emotion communicates to us how we see our environment and give us the opportunity to react, or respond, to our environment.
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Anger, as an emotion, communicates to us that we perceive a “threat” that we believe we can eliminate if we throw enough power at it. When angry, adrenaline flows through our body and motivates us to take action against the threat. This is the power that you feel when angry.
Anger prepares you to go to war. In other words, you are energized and ready to attack the perceived threat and eliminate it.
The challenge in using anger as a primary motivator is that you may overreact and do something inappropriate.
The issue here is two-fold..
- What if you have misperceived the nature of the the threat and your attack is inappropriate?
- What if the “threat” is a person (like a boss) who has more power than you and your “attack” would end up “hurting” you?
Issue number 1 involves anyone who uses anger as a “shield” (or secondary emotion) to protect them from other feelings such as inadequacy, shame, anxiety, hurt, and so forth.
The most conspicuous example of this is when a man abuses his wife and later attempts to blame his anger for his actions.
The issue here is there the perceived threat is psychological. The reaction implies that the threat is survival based, which it is not. In other words, there is an ego threat and emotions, other than anger need to be addressed.
Issue number 2 involves an interaction where someone who has more power or status takes advantage of you because they believe they are immune to anything you might choose to do.
This could be a boss or a supervisor.
It could involve a situation where a male superior takes advantage of a female subordinate. There are numerous examples in the news highlighting this situation.
But, it could also involve a superior taking advantage of a subordinate (same gender) by undercutting them or stealing their work without giving the necessary credit.
In this case, a direct “attack” may not be possible.
You can, however, still use the energy anger of your anger as a motivator. You just have to develop and implement an indirect “attack”.
But, what if you misuse your anger as a motivator and “manufacture” some sort of threat so you can use the anger energy. Let’s say that you get angry at a project so you can complete it.
Well, there may be a better way.
Barbara Fredrickson looks at “positive” emotions.
While I do not believe that emotions should be labeled as “positive” or “negative” for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, I will talk about positive emotions here for the sake of discussion.
Fredrickson writes that the purpose of positive emotions is to keep us engaged or motivated with our environment.
The emotion of glad, or happy, motivates us to become involved in whatever we find “pleasurable”.
I suggest that you use the emotion of “glad” to motivate you to engage yourself in tasks at work or in relationships which will help you achieve your goals or improve your relationships.
To be more specific, think of how achieving a specific task, improving a relationship, reaching your goals, or becoming a better person will be advantageous to you and experience “pleasure” at the gains you will experience.
When you do this, you experience the motivation you are looking for without having to worry about overreacting. In other words, you can still “attack” the situation with adaptive energy and feel good about what you’re doing.
This is what we all do when we are preparing to go on vacation and we zip through projects, clear our desk, and clean our e-mail boxes before leaving.
If you are skeptical about finding tasks at work “pleasurable”, then you can access a different emotion. While Fredrickson doesn’t discuss it, other writers do. The emotion is “pride”. This is a self-conscious emotion that can become maladaptive if it becomes narcissistic. If used as a motivator to complete a task that is “important” to you and reflects your “sense of competence”, self-worth, and desire to “do put your best foot forward”, pride will function as a “positive” emotion and give you the energy/motivation you seek.
This is adaptively and appropriately using your emotions as tools. It is matching the emotion to the situation.