"Healthy anger" may sound like an oxymoron, but it's actually an integral part of motivation, self-awareness, and healthy communication with others. June's topic is Healthy versus Toxic Relationships, so I'm getting a jump start on the month by talking about an important part of healthy relationships; Healthy Anger.
Let's start off by talking about the difference between healthy and unhealthy anger. Anger is an emotion, and our emotions are not bad or good. However, the way we express our feelings is. Expression in the form of a behavior (yelling, breaking things, hitting) or the absence of a behavior (not expressing your feelings or "bottling up"). Unhealthy anger is expressed in ways that cause harm to either yourself, other people, or property. That harm can be physical or emotional. An example would be getting angry and hitting or kicking someone.
In contrast, healthy anger is expressed in ways that respect the rights of the person experiencing the feeling while not violating the rights of other people. An example would be getting angry and doing something assertive about the cause of the anger (i.e. asking someone to stop doing something or removing yourself from a stressful situation).
Healthy Anger has led to many important changes in society because large groups of people expressed their shared anger in assertive ways (ie womens' suffrage and the civil rights movement). Healthy Anger also helps our relationships with others by appropriately handling conflict instead of "blowing up" or "bottling up", both of which are harmful to the relationship. The important thing to remember when distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy Anger is that healthy Anger does not cause harm to either you or other people.
So now let's talk for a minute about unhealthy Anger. This is Anger that is expressed in ways that cause harm (to self, others or property). We've all seen someone who displays inappropriate behavior when angry; hitting, kicking, throwing things, punching walls, slamming doors, hitting themselves, saying hurtful things, making threats. We might say they can't control their anger, but it's really their behavior that is out of control. It's also important to note that the idea of being "out of control" is often interpreted as being involuntary, this is not the case. There are many myths about anger and its management. Inappropriate expressions of anger are not inherited ("my father could never control his anger either"); not involuntary ("I just can't stop myself"); and not permanent. They are largely learned behaviors that have been reinforced through desirable outcomes (the inappropriate expression of anger intimidates others, delays a task, causes feelings of validation, etc.). This means that the person inappropriately expressing their anger is one hundred percent responsible for their actions and any ensuing consequences. They are also the only one who can be responsible for fixing it. We can't do it for them. And like any form of therapy or counseling, the client must understand that they have a problem and be willing to fix it.
If you find yourself in a situation where someone else's unhealthy Anger is causing harm to you (physical or emotional), please seek help. The YesICan Community has resources and facilitated support chat rooms. If you have questions about any of the parts of this blog, please comment!