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Anger: Healthy and Unhealthy

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ~ Mark Twain

You know the feeling; that raw emotion that ebbs up when things aren’t going your way. It could be anywhere from a momentary annoyance with another (or with yourself), “Damn, if I booked earlier, the fares would have been much cheaper,” to uncontrollable rage, "That moron just cut me off; he's gonna pay."

Typically, anger is stirred up by frustration; you’re not getting what you want or deserve. Frustration may stem from healthy, legitimate needs (I.e. I should be treated in a respectful manner). Or, from depression, which may be anger turned inward, now being expressed outwardly (i.e. I’ve taken all the blame but I realize now that it’s not all me.) Or, from narcissistic, false entitlement needs (i.e. I should be able to spend whatever I want, regardless of my income).

Three examples:

Healthy Anger: Mandy’s Story
Mandy is self-employed. She is a writer who helps companies create brochures and copy for their promotional projects. She likes working on her own time so that she can be home with her preschoolers. This arrangement works out well except for one company that consistently promises payment at the completion of the project and then doesn’t pay. Mandy has become aware that she puts in almost as much time groveling for payment as she does doing the work. She is angry. Legitimately so. This company is playing with her.

Mandy’s anger has allowed her to make an important decision. She will demand payment up front for her projects and/or she will seek work elsewhere. Even if that decision leaves her in a temporarily vulnerable position, she will feel relieved that she doesn’t need to work so hard to get the payment she’s owed.

From Depression to Anger: Arianna’s Story
For years, Arianna was depressed. Now she’s angry. She has been living with a demanding, demeaning husband who has treated her shabbily. Is it good that she’s chronically angry? Not if she stays that way. But, if her anger is a stepping stone out of depression, it is a well-founded journey. Why? Because depression is often anger turned inward. “I’m not good enough. This is all I deserve. What more could I expect?”

Now that Arianna’s consciousness has been raised, she is trying to decide what to do. She’s struggling with questions like, “Can this marriage be saved? Is he open to changing his ways? In what ways do I need to change?”

She is often angry with herself for too easily accepting her husband’s domineering demands for decades; she is often angry with her husband for his treatment of her. Her anger is healthy because it is an essential element of her struggle to move from blame and shame to blossoming and blooming.

Narcissistic Anger: Barry’s Story
Barry was an only child, doted on by his parents. Whatever Barry wanted, Barry got. Now at 35 years of age, he has not been able to hold onto a job for longer than a year. Every job is beneath him so he doesn’t see why he has to work hard at it. He’s angry because “nobody is giving him a break.” A few of his friend’s went into their father’s business and Barry feels deprived that his dad didn’t have a business to hand over to him.

He believes that having a college degree should entitle him to a position where he can make a lot of money. His anger is directed at his parents (“why can’t my parents subsidize me?”), his college (“why didn’t they prepare me better?”) and the economy (“with the economy in the dumps, I can’t get anywhere.”) Barry has a habit of blaming others for his problems rather than searching for solutions. Unless he alters his thinking and behavior, he will continue to be frustrated and angry.

Now what about you? Are you blaming others for your anger rather than searching for solutions? Is your anger more frequent or intense than you would like it to be? If your answer is yes, then it's time to stop blaming others and start doing some inner work to bring your anger to a healthier state.

Copyright © 2015: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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