Anger is something I don’t do well. When I get angry, one of two things happens. I get emotional and cry, and no one takes me seriously; or I swallow it, and no one even knows I’m mad, and I wallow in it for days. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because later this week I will have to see someone who I used to be very angry with, for the first time since they hurt me. I’m very nervous about how I am going to react.

I learned a lot of my non-coping strategies from the culture of the LDS church; as a woman, but especially as a Mormon woman, I’ve been taught my whole life to avoid conflict, to be nice, to deffer to authority especially when I disagree, and to swallow my negative emotions. In writing this post I looked up as many references to anger by general authorities as I could find. Unsurprisingly, they were all either about how we need to choose not to be angry, or warnings about the evils of anger. For example:

“Anger is the mother of a whole brood of evil actions” (Gordon B. Hinckley, 2007)

“If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry” (Thomas S. Monson, 2009)

I absolutely agree that anger can be damaging, and in many instances, dangerous. However, I feel that simply telling people that anger is bad and they should try not to feel it is not the answer. Emotions happen. They are a reality. Even when we are at our best, they run away with us. What we should be teaching people is that Anger is part of the human experience, and giving them tools to cope with it when it does inevitably come up.

Besides, anger can be positive when it can be channeled in to productive directions. For example, my neighbor with a special-needs child has been able to turn her anger at a system that disadvantages her child in to advocacy for many families in similar situations. It can be a great source of motivation for change.

What do you do when you get angry? Have you ever turned the experience in to a positive?

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7 Responses

  1. Sara KS Hanks says:

    Anger has been an interesting thing for me, because I felt it so rarely in my life. Sadness was a much more comfortable way to respond to conflict for me. I started examining this absence of anger about a year ago, and of course came to the conclusion that I was suppressing anger rather than not feeling it at all. It’s a work in progress. I’m learning to be okay with saying I’m mad, even when I feel like I “shouldn’t” be mad. Like with my son — he’s little and isn’t intentionally bothering me, so I feel like it’s not okay for me to get mad at him. But I’m practicing telling my husband, “I’m really mad at Soren right now.” It’s helping me feel less shame around anger. It’s a normal way to feel, and it doesn’t discount my incredible love for my kid or make me a bad person.

    I highly recommend the book “The Dance of Anger” by Harriet Lerner for any woman out there. It’s so insightful and helpful.

  2. Liz says:

    I tend to default to anger – I rarely cry out of frustration or being upset, but instead I yell or seethe. I think it can turn positive, but my anger is usually only positive when I channel it into writing or talking my frustration out with a friend so that I can process the emotion and learn from it.

    I get really mad when people start deriding “angry feminists,” as though somehow anger diminishes the actual issue. People are so often dismissed when they’re angry, as though you can’t be rational and angry at the same time. I wish we could see anger as a valid and potentially productive part of life, rather than encourage people to hide it or feel ashamed of it.

    • Joanne says:

      Jesus did not ever say, “Do not be angry” or “Anger is a sin” or “Anger is always wrong.” He said, “whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment” [Matthew 5:22 adds “without a cause”]. If we feel angry, it could signal spiritual or emotional peril if we allow the anger to grow to a dangerous level. I take it to mean if anger is allowed to grow, it could possibly lead to escalating hostilities, bringing upon us the “judgement” or increasing anger of our brother/sister, even to the point of violence. Jesus did not say the initial feeling of anger is a sin. I feel his statement acknowledges the realities of human emotions, that I will indeed be angry at times, but anger is a warning sign that alerts me to a problem I need to deal with. I disagree when I hear in a lesson or talk that “anger is wrong”.

      • Patty says:

        I was very angry with my dad in his last years. I felt that he insisted on browbeating me with his opinions and rejected my gifts (really, you recorded all of those Nature programs and you don’t want Wild China? And whatever happened to the socks I hand knit you?). But when I really thought about it, I felt that my anger was a cover for really deep, deep sadness at his increasing frailty, mental limitations (he constantly repeated the same stories and opinions), and isolating deafness. I spent the last week of his life providing support so he didn’t have to go into a care home. It really helped me let go of my anger and feel some of the underlying sadness. I was glad I was able to do give him that.

  3. Ziff says:

    My reactions to being angry are pretty similar to yours, Jess. I either bottle it up or I let it out unproductively, although when I let it out it tends more toward yelling and swearing. I haven’t really learned to channel it productively.

    I can think of a couple of people I know who do seem to channel anger productively. One is my sister Kiskilili, who when confronted with absurd sexism in the Church, appears to direct it into writing ever more pointed blog posts that really highlight the absurdity of the issues. Another is Jerilyn Pool of fMh, who directs her anger over such issues into making all manner of pointed graphics that highlight the problems. For both, I love that they do this, because it seems like a really productive way to bring attention to the problems that are making them angry.

    Also, related to this point:

    “I feel that simply telling people that anger is bad and they should try not to feel it is not the answer. Emotions happen. They are a reality.”

    I was just listening to a Mormon Mental Health podcast where Natasha Helfer Parker was interviewing Julie de Azevedo-Hanks, and she (de Azevedo-Hanks) made a very similar point. I think she said something like that shaming people for anger is unhelpful. Sorry I don’t have a transcript of the podcast and I’m not sure exactly where she said it, but here’s the link:

  4. Olea says:

    For me, anger seems to be a way to regain control – it helps me cover my sadness or sense of loss, and it gives me something to do (generally, go over conversations in my head where I “win” against the other person).

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I struggle so much with anger, so whenever I feel it in a conflict with another person, I have such bad “flight” (over “fight”) that I feel like I never use my anger very well.

    I remember being a teenager and reading about Jesus being angry and cleansing the temple. I thought, “Wait…I thought Jesus never sinned, but here he is being angry.” I think lessons on being angry and processing that anger would be a great Relief Society lesson series.

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