By: Leah Hovey
We all should be aware that holding onto anger and resentment can be detrimental to one’s mental well-being. An individual can be told consistently to just "let go" of anger and move on. However, this process is not as easy as it sounds. Maybe you never have been able to confront the individual who made you angry or the situation was completely out of your control. Regardless of the reasoning behind this intense emotion, forgiving and moving past the people or the circumstance behind this feeling can be challenging.
Anger is often portrayed as a very negative emotion which can make individuals feel shamed, frustrated or upset about the feelings they are experiencing. Anger, however, is a natural response to certain situations and should not be an emotion you hide away. Hiding or ‘bottling up' anger is unhealthy and teaches poor coping mechanisms eventually resulting in an overreaction of emotion. There is a specific type of anger called "healthy anger" which means observing or experiencing your anger without being overwhelmed by it or reacting to it (p.12, Golden, B.). Healthy anger, as defined by Dr. Bernard Golden is a signal to explore your thoughts, to view your anger as a signal to look inwards at your own needs, to express said anger in an appropriate manner and a means to help you communicate assertively with others (p.13, Golden, B.).
This type of anger can be helpful and can lead to a positive outcome. While this is the type of anger everyone would like to experience, there is also destructive anger which isn't as healthy and causes more harm than healing. Holding in destructive anger can often lead to a reaction similar to a kettle as Dr. Albert Ellis brilliantly explains. Touching on Sigmund Freud’s hydraulic theory, anger tends to increase in intensity if kept buried inside – much like a kettle boiling – and can cause physical harm such as stomach ulcers, high blood pressure or even severe panic attacks (Ellis A., 2017). This type of destructive anger is what we want to move on from as opposed to seething within it.
So how can we turn our destructive anger into healthy anger? One way is to Practice mindfulness. This can be very helpful in anger management. Mindfulness allows you to fully experience your feelings and take in the associated emotions openly without holding onto certain emotions afterward (Deci et al., 2015). Forgiveness is also a large aspect of healthy anger and leads to healing for those impacted by anger. Forgiving someone who hurt you or forgiving the unfairness of a specific situation can assist with the process of healthy anger by allowing the individual to accept what has happened, to move forward and to heal.
Researchers within the University of Northern Iowa explained how using forgiveness can help assist clients who have been impacted by destructive anger. They highlighted that forgiveness does not have to be expected right away (it can take time for someone to forgive), resentment is a key factor in whether an individual can move forward. An apology (while helpful) is not always needed in order for someone to forgive. Forgiveness is not an excuse for the behaviour and does not mean a reconciliation is needed (Freedman & Zarifkar, 2016).
Forgiveness does not have to expel another person of their guilt. Forgiveness is for YOU. Forgiving is a way to rid yourself of toxic, destructive anger and to help you grow from the situation. This is how healthy anger takes place and can help an individual heal while learning how to express, cope and manage this powerful feeling.
Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Schultz, P. P., & Niemiec, C. P. (2015). Being aware and functioning fully. Handbook of mindfulness: Theory, research, and practice, 112.
Ellis, A. (2017). Anger: How to live with and without it. Citadel.
Freedman, S., & Zarifkar, T. (2016). The psychology of interpersonal forgiveness and guidelines for forgiveness therapy: What therapists need to know to help their clients forgive. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 3(1), 45.
Golden, B. (2016). Overcoming destructive anger: Strategies that work. JHU Press.