Anger: Friend or Foe?

Josh Cordonnier, LCSW

Anger: Friend or Foe?

Anger is often the emotion most difficult to understand, to “manage,” and most importantly, to control. It can take away our breath, start our heart racing, and engage our defensive armor when someone says, “I’m angry.” All too often this misunderstood and much disliked feeling can wreak havoc on our minds, bodies and relationships — especially when it is not handled openly and directly. There are other feelings we tend to prefer like joy, pleasure, happiness, and usually even sadness or fear are rated as preferable to anger. It might even be said that anger has gotten a bad rap as we never send people to “sadness management class,” or “happy control group,” but there has been a growing trend toward classes, therapies, and workshops on how to handle anger in one’s life.

I happen to disagree a bit with the public opinion of this much maligned emotion of anger. In fact, I think anger is a great emotion. I will concede that we still have much to learn and it is easy to lose control of anger in many ways. With that said, anger is a normal emotion, just like all the rest we experience. Not only is it “normal,” it is important for a person to know, experience, and be aware of their anger. Anger is often the first alert we get from ourselves that something in our personal world is going wrong, needs to change, or is otherwise not as it should be right now. It can also give us the fuel, motivation, and drive to push through difficult circumstances or to simply go beyond good intentions and to put change into action.

Let’s not forget that this emotion I am heralding also has a destructive side. Out of control anger can be acted out through cruel verbal exchanges, frightening behaviors, and even physical violence. It can also be “acted in” toward oneself which can lead to apathy, low self-esteem, self destructive behaviors, and even depression. We’ve even added to our vocabulary the many ‘types’ of anger we experience: Road Rage, Ticked Off, Peeved, and many, many others.

I lead Anger Control Groups at In Step which last from 10-12 weeks. It is surprisingly easy to talk about the same feeling in its various forms for all of these sessions, and the topics range from personal “buttons” to sibling rivalry. One of the first things I say to the kids is that I do not think they should EVER get in trouble for feeling angry. This is usually met with surprise and then excitement when I say I’ll be repeating the same thing to their parents. Next we learn that we can get in trouble for actions and behaviors we display when we are not in control of our feelings which include anger. This is where I focus the group: how to handle, control, and become the master of our own anger. This is often a difficult task for the kids who have joined the group, as frequently they’ve been out of control for quite some time and the patterns have turned to habits and the habits have been solidifying. I purposely do not call the group “Anger Management” as I think this is too soft a term; to manage implies directing or guiding something along its path. It’s my belief we need to get completely in charge of our anger – specifically, our anger related actions.