Anger is either destructive or constructive

Destructive anger

Most of us do not like anger, especially someone else's, when it lashes out, knifes us in the back, judges us, or damages our relationships.


Anger can be used against another (disrespect) or against oneself (leading to depression and/or apathy). Either way, anger is negative when it is used destructively. Results: Bitterness, resentment, animosity, depression, apathy, the "silent-treatment," fighting and abuse (to name a few). These contribute to the downward spiral of relationships, health issues (including heart attacks and strokes), anxiety and more. This form of anger is destructive to what we love. Most people try to control or manage anger.


But anger is positive when we use it to make needed changes. Then it is called "courage." The courage to change how we are functioning, change our jobs or get more education, become honest with ourselves and others, risk for the sake of improving relationships, change our unhelpful expectations, set better/healthier boundaries, etc.  Anger can get us un-stuck, motivate us out of depression, initiate powerful movements, add colour to life, and far more. In other words, this use of anger results in positive changes.


The only difference is that when anger is destructive to relationships we usually believe others "make" us angry, and when we realise that we are responsible for our own emotions it becomes a positive force, leading to positive changes. When anger depresses us we do the opposite: we blame ourselves rather than hold ourselves and others responsible for relationships.


(Blame is taking emotional responsibility for others; not only is this impossible, it is destructive to both the relationship and the one being blamed.)


Have no doubt: all anger can be harnessed to bring about positive, life-changing, liberating changes. Indeed, anger is the emotion that has birthed the world's best changes.


How can I make anger positive in relationships? Three steps:

  1. Begin by taking responsibility for my own anger. While I may not like what the other person(s) or event is about, and even find it dishonourable or disrespectful, my anger is my response.
  2. Find out what my anger is trying to tell me about myself (not about the other). Maybe my expectations are unreasonable? Maybe deep down I believe I deserve to be respected and so need to set healthier boundaries? Maybe I have been selling myself short? Until I discover the roots of my anger I cannot turn it into a positive action. (See more about this below.)
  3. Once I have determined #2 then I turn my anger into courage, the conviction to bring about positive changes, starting inside of myself. Consider these questions: "Am I treating myself the way I wish to be treated by others?" "Am I prepared to give up something cherished to bring about something even more important to me?" (It is important to consult with others, being careful to talk about yourself, not others.) Now I am ready to make a plan (preferably with the support of at least one other) and put it into action.

How can I turn depression into joy? Five steps:

  1. Appreciate that I can turn my depression into joy by changing what I am doing with my anger.
  2. Carefully examine what my anger is really yearning for. Perfection? To be loved, or to belong? By using my anger to berate, judge or punish myself am I creating what I deeply yearn for? If so, why hasn't it worked?
  3. Forgive myself for using this dead-end method to create what I truly seek. If shame is preventing me from moving forward, I choose someone who is safe who will not judge me, but only listen to me sharing my shame (while I look them in the eyes). The other person may comment only to affirm that they heard me, value me risking my shame, and/or that they can tell how heavy the burden of shame has been to me.
  4. Now I open myself to using my anger to create positive changes by affirming my self-worth. After all, if I can get angry with myself then (at a deeper level) I must believe I am worth changing! So I use that anger to live that belief!
  5. I turn that anger into the courage to make the changes I need in order to live a better life. This will usually involve a) setting better boundaries with important people in my life (such as a close friend, family member, spouse, workplace friend); b) changing those circumstances that no longer serve an abundant life; and c) acting as though I (like all people) deserve to be treated with respect.

It is very difficult to accomplish these five steps on one's own. Do seek the participation of someone whom you trust, respect and appreciate, whether it be marriage counselling, couples counselling, family or individual therapy. Your anger can get help. It will make all the difference!

This employee likely felt frustrated (= powerless) and/or ashamed, stupid, or inadequate. He may be suffering from a false belief that the computer is deliberately doing something to anger him, that he is a "victim." Sad, especially for him. He can do far better with his anger.

What is anger?

Most anger comes from fear. Fears such as the primary fears of failure, embarrassment, loss, disrespect, blame, rejection, inadequacy, injury/death, frustration/powerlessness and many more can all lead to anger. (See the complete list of these primary emotions in the downloadable PDF file below.) If we do not acknowledge these "primary" emotions then we will take them to the "secondary" emotion of anger. Why? Because anger is a powerful emotion, and it can alleviate one's underlying fears. If done destructively (see above) then relationships and self-esteem suffer. If done constructively then the primary emotions are handled appropriately.


Those primary emotions often come out of unrealistic expectations that were disappointed. After getting angry (and settling down) take stock of your own expectations. What did you really expect? If you are being honest and self-aware you may be surprised to learn what you really did expect in that situation! This is one of the hardest steps, and often requires a capable assistant in order to unearth most of one's own expectations. If you got really angry expect to find at least 6-8 expectations, and up to 100% of them to be unrealistic!


If your expectations were realistic, then anger can be used positively (through respectful courage) to bring about needed changes.


A part of our brain that has the first dibs on all the incoming information is called the Amygdala. This is our gate-keeper, trying to keep us connected (in relationship) but also safe. If it fears danger (of any kind, including rejection, disrespect, etc.) it reacts. It can flood the body with chemicals that make a person strong (a mother lifting a car off of her child, or a man beating back several people at a time), go into a rage, freeze, and more. It can take over the entire brain function. Thankfully the Amygdala can be retrained, one of the tasks of therapy, so that one has more self-control and a more satisfying life.

Feeling words that can lead to anger
Here is a downloadable PDF file of a very comprehensive list of feeling words. It was compiled by men in several groups, groups that helped the participants to use their anger well. By getting to know their "primary" emotions they began to respect themselves more, and thus displayed far fewer episodes of destructive anger. Instead, they made their lives far better by using their anger well.
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