I sat and listened to an elderly couple tell me how they’d been approached by a financial advisor who persuaded them to invest their life savings in a Ponzi scheme guaranteed to produce a 50% return on investment within 6 months. I was the FBI agent they contacted when they could no longer reach the financial advisor to retrieve their money. The financial advisor was a scam artist who had emptied the elderly couple’s bank account.
I was angry and my investigation soon morphed into a personal vendetta against the man. The scam artist was eventually caught, in another state, so I didn’t have the satisfaction of slapping handcuffs on the bast*rd myself. Alas, all the money he had stolen was gone and I was left with the sad job of informing the elderly couple that their life savings were gone and couldn’t be recovered. Yes, I was angry.
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As Federal law enforcement, FBI agents are expected to control emotions as they conduct investigations in a fair and efficient manner. Often, it’s impossible to look the victim of a crime in the face and not feel anger toward the person who caused the pain.
How many times have you heard, Every time you get angry, you poison your own system. This thinking is akin to putting a bandaid on cancer. It doesn’t create the deep healing that’s needed when we feel anger, frustration, or envy.
Yes, these are negative emotions but the real problem isn’t that we experience them. The real problem rears its ugly head when we’re taught to suppress or avoid them at all cost.
What if anger is good for you? Remember, it surfaces for a reason. Here are 5 surprising reasons you need to listen to your anger:
1. Anger can give you balance
Balance in our personal and professional life provides a perspective that can help us make better decisions. It enables us to see the entire map so we can see where we’ve been as well as where we hope to go in the future.
The same is true of emotional balance. The ability to suppress our anger is not a sign we are emotionally healthy. We can pretend that all is good but that does nothing more than keep an emotion from getting out. And guess what? When you fight a feeling, it only gets stronger.
Research shows that bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief or anger take the longest to recover from their loss.
When we suppress or avoid a negative emotion like anger, our ability to experience positive feelings also goes down. Stress soars and our amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotions, begins to work overtime.
Research in emotional regulation by neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman at UCLA shows that when we put negative feelings into words, our amygdala calms down. People who openly express their feelings are healthier than those who suppress emotions like anger.
How To Make It Work For You: Talk your situation over with a friend. The more you express your anger in words, the calmer you will become. Or, write it down in a journal if you prefer. The essential point is this: when you put your anger into words, either verbal or written, it’s therapeutic. Remember to notice when the venting is always about the same topic. At that point, you need to delve deeper into the real problem behind your anger.
2. Anger is meant to make us feel uncomfortable
We live in a society driven by the pleasure principle––there is such an emphasis on positivity that we are unequipped to deal with the other half of our emotional spectrum. If there’s a feeling we don’t like, we try to get rid of it or pretend it doesn’t exist.
Our continual pursuit of empty happiness cliches seldom register anything more than a temporary bleep, and then quickly fade away.
Anger makes us uncomfortable and that’s a good thing because it gets our attention. An emotion like anger requires us to sit up and pay attention if we hope to get to the root of it. To fully experience and tap into the wisdom of our emotions, we must learn how to experience discomfort. Without discomfort, there is no change and no growth.
Research shows that people who prefer to feel useful emotions, even when they are unpleasant, are better able to use them in ways that are strategic. People who prefer to feel anger when confronting others tend to be higher in emotional intelligence, whereas people who prefer to feel happiness in such contexts tend to be lower in emotional intelligence.
Negative Emotions + Positive Emotions = Emotional Competence
How To Make It Work For You: Mental toughness allows us to tap into the wisdom of our emotions. Our limbic brain system alerts us to danger in our environment. If we choke off all negative emotions, we also suppress a primal survival tool that has alerted us to threats in our environment for centuries. All emotions can be useful; the key is to regulate them so you can choose the situations which are more beneficial to you.
3. Anger helps you discover your boundaries
Are there situations or people that always twist your stomach into a knot? Me too.
I was early for a supervisor’s conference and took a seat; then Earl showed up and sat down beside me. I was angry. Earl followed me around like a puppy dog. If I told him to get lost, it would create a very unpleasant environment. On the other hand, I knew my anger would only increase if I sat beside him for the entire two-hour conference.
Earl had crossed acceptable boundaries so I decided to modify my situation—I got up, excused myself, and left the room. I chatted with people in the hallway for five minutes and I came back in. Sure enough, someone else had taken my seat next to Earl and I found another one across the room.
Recent research suggests that people who do not take steps to modify their situation only compound their problems. If they learn how to reframe their circumstances, they are better able to control their anger and other negative emotions.
When you imagine an event as though you’re a bystander, you will notice that you harbor fewer aggressive and negative emotions
How To Make It Work For You: It’s not always possible to turn away from disturbing or unfavorable situations. Some events—the loss of your job, the death of a partner, or an unexpected illness—are not controllable. Studies have found that people can cope with unwanted emotions if they imagine the situation as an impartial observer. Find ways to modify your response—so you can control your anger before it spills out and make matters worse.
4. Anger can motivate us
Are you angry because you got passed over a promotion? Use that anger to propel you toward a job that will provide more rewards. Are you angry because there’s income inequality in this country? Let that anger motivate you to become more involved in local government.
Anger is an interesting emotion. While it’s a negative feeling, neuroscientists have discovered that it arouses cognitive and behavior responses that are often positive. Anger can motivate a response normally associated with positive behavior.
If we look at anger like any other emotion, we can finds ways to anticipate its arrival and chose how long it hangs around. Consider a positive emotion like joy: if we excavate our own mind and body, we know what will produce joy for us. We create circumstances that will encourage or enhance our experience. We anticipate its arrival so we’re not surprised when it shows up.
If we’ve done our homework, we can find ways to anticipate the arrival of anger and chose how long it should hang around as well.
How To Make It Work For You: When it comes to anger, it’s important to explore in the depths of your mind to uncover what provoked it. The exploration of your anger requires as much honesty and self-awareness as it takes to explore what brings you joy. Both emotions, and your response to them, work hand in hand to form a healthy and mature connections.
5. Anger can strengthen relationships
Most psychologists and therapists would agree that conflicts and disagreements allow you to learn more about your partner, spouse, child, friend, or associate. Equality in relationships means you work through tough things together. It allows you to see things from the other person’s point of view
When you’re afraid of showing your anger, you signal that you’re not willing to honestly admit your emotions. As a result, you stay away from people or experiences that might conjure up all unwanted emotions.
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson observes that anger can rise within a matter of seconds. We need to acknowledge the anger we feel, and then find a way to let it naturally dissipate. If you get angry, ask yourself why you feel that way. Once you can find the source of your anger, you can turn it into something positive. It’s important to sit with your anger and listen to it. If you quit because it makes you uncomfortable, you’ll never excavate the origin of your emotion.
On the other hand, you need to control your anger so it doesn’t control you. Don’t let anger turn into rage that leads to destructive behavior.
When we let our emotions take control, we become a victim of our circumstances—LaRae Quy
How To Make It Work For You: It’s never a good idea to vent your anger. According to the Handbook of Emotion Regulation, venting anger doesn’t reduce it; venting intensifies the emotion so that your anger begins to snowball. Instead, share your feelings with others in a constructive way.
This article originally appeared on LaRae Quy.
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