The trick in expressing anger is thus neither to ignore it and become a doormat, or to use it to establish the dominance of your own needs. First you must examine the angry reaction you feel to understand what lies at its source.
Questions you might need to ask yourself are:
Does the situation justify my anger?
What might my anger be telling me about myself rather than about the other person?
Do I have my own vulnerabilities, or past hurts, that are being activated by what the other person said or did?
Does my reaction appear out of proportion to what happened, or does it appear to be an accurate response to some legitimate harm or violation?
If I let my anger sit a bit, and gain a little bit more perspective on my feeling, does the feeling subside?
If I contemplate not standing up for myself on this issue, will I be doing harm to myself?
If after this self-examination you still feel angry, it might be a sign that a conversation needs to be had, or that assertiveness on behalf of yourself is needed.
How to Express Your Anger:
If such a conversation about your needs and demands is to go well, and if the objective is to remain in a relationship with the person who did or said something that was harmful to your well-being or your sense of self, you might want to wait to talk about it until the intensity of the feeling has subsided enough that you are not in the throes of it.
Anger has a way of empowering you with a strength and conviction that can disempower and invalidate the other person. The objective of a conversation about your needs should not be to get back at the other person by elevating yourself and devaluing the other person, but to reveal some of the values or vulnerabilities that were undermined or injured by what the other person said or did. If this can be conveyed in a way that maintains the respect and dignity of the other person, they are more likely to respond non-defensively, and genuinely hear what your anger is really about.
If maintaining the relationship is not a priority because what has happened has crossed clear boundaries, and is making you question whether or not you even want to be in a relationship, then exposing your vulnerabilities may not be the way to go. You may then instead want to use the information from your anger to set a clear boundary, to walk away, or to otherwise prevent more violations from happening. In such instances you may indeed need the power that anger fills you with in order to not lose your courage or back down when your anger tells you you should take a stance.
So Where Does this Leave Us?
Anger is not inherently bad but helps to define us and what we want or need in opposition to that which threatens us or harms us. By having access to anger we have access to a sense of self and this allows us to live a life where we are more in control of our destiny and of what happens to us in life. However, at times our anger can indeed be an exaggerated response that originates in a fragile ego or an unreasonable set of expectations we impose on the world. In such situations we may need to make more room for others rather than make more room for ourselves.
So in the end we end up in the same place as Aristotles who wrote:
“Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way—that is not easy”.
As with so many other of our feelings we both have to be careful not to shun them and be careful not to let them carry us away. We have to exercise control at times, but not so much control that we lose touch with what our feelings are telling us about what we need and who we are.
Psychodynamic therapist, Dr. Rune Moelbak
About him: He is Rune Moelbak, Ph.D. a psychologist and couples therapist in Houston, Texas.