Managing Anger: A Misunderstood Emotion

Angry Man

I’ve written quite a bit, recently and in the past, about managing our negative emotions. Learning to do so is a big part of finding peace, growing in emotional intelligence and creating more enriching relationships. Today, I want to help you understand anger, particularly the positive aspects of anger and why it’s an essential emotion for personal growth, self-expression, and societal change.

A Natural Human Emotion

Although a misunderstood and troublesome emotion for lots of people, I want to say that anger is a natural human emotion. It isn’t bad to feel anger. It’s normal. In fact, anger alerts us that something is wrong—either a personal expectation is unmet or boundary has been violated. The value of anger is that it helps us feel a sense of control, reinforces a sense of self and spurs us to take action or helps us better honor and take care of ourselves.

Nevertheless, it’s hard for many people to view anger in a positive light because they’ve seen it modeled poorly and so commonly associate it with aggression, hostility, and conflict. But I want to say that beneath it lies a complex and multifaceted emotion that serves a number of crucial purposes in your life.

How Anger Serves You

The Evolutionary Purpose of Anger

Anger, like other basic emotions, has deep evolutionary roots. It’s a natural response to perceived threats or injustices, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response. From an evolutionary standpoint, anger played a vital role in human survival by motivating individuals to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their resources from danger or harm. In this sense, anger serves as an adaptive mechanism, signaling that something is amiss and prompting action to address it.

Motivation for Change

Anger is often a catalyst for change. When channeled constructively, it can fuel motivation and drive you to confront and overcome obstacles. Whether it’s standing up against injustice, advocating for one’s rights, or seeking redress for grievances, anger can be a powerful force for positive transformation. History is replete with examples of social movements and revolutions sparked by collective anger against oppression, inequality, and injustice.

Assertiveness and Boundaries

Healthy expressions of anger can strengthen your assertiveness and boundary-setting skills. It enables you to assert yourself, communicate your needs, and establish boundaries in your personal or work relationships. When appropriately managed, anger can serve as a signal that your boundaries have been crossed, prompting you to assert yourself and negotiate conflicts in order to arrive at good solutions and maintain healthy relationships. In this way, anger fosters self-advocacy and self-respect.

Emotional Authenticity

Suppressing or denying your anger can have detrimental effects on your mental and physical health. It’s essential to not only understand your anger but acknowledge and express it rather than bottle it up. Embracing your anger allows you to honor your authentic emotions, fostering emotional authenticity and self-awareness. By understanding and accepting your anger, you can gain insights into the underlying causes of your emotional reactions, paving the way for personal growth and healing.

Problem-Solving and Creativity

Anger can also enhance your problem-solving skills and creativity. When confronted with challenges or injustices, anger can sharpen your focus and cognitive abilities, enabling you to devise innovative solutions and effect positive change. By harnessing the energy of anger, you can channel it into productive endeavors, such as advocacy, activism, or creative expression. Moreover, the intense emotions associated with anger can inspire artists, writers, and musicians to create poignant works that resonate with audiences on a visceral level.

In sum, I have to say that as I think deeply about anger, I’m aware of several important roles that it plays in our lives.

Defensive Anger

Nevertheless, anger can be challenging to lots of people. And something which makes it challenging is that it often masks deeper and more painful emotions such as fear, shame, hurt, or powerlessness. These emotions cause us to feel vulnerable and even weak and so we sometimes cover them up with anger and aggression.

This is not healthy anger. I think of it as defensive anger because we use it to control other people or avoid looking at or feeling our own more vulnerable emotions. Furthermore, this defensive anger is addictive because it works. By that I mean that it is powerful in defending us against our deeper feelings of fear, hurt, or helplessness. Since it protects us from more vulnerable feelings, we are rewarded for using it and so likely to continue using it in the future.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Anger

Here’s a chart that shows the difference between healthy and unhealthy anger.

Aspect Healthy Anger Unhealthy Anger
Trigger Boundary violations; injustice Irritation which taps deeper sense of vulnerability (fear, hurt, powerlessness)
Expression Assertive, calm and respectful Aggressive, explosive or passive-aggressive
Duration Short-lived Prolonged, leading to resentment or grudges
Self-reflection Prompts self-reflection and awareness Prompts defensiveness and denial
Coping Deep breathing, meditation, assertive communication Yelling, blaming, avoiding
Impact on others Can strengthen relationships by addressing issues and setting boundaries Can damage relationships causing hurt and mistrust

Notice that healthy anger is triggered by boundary violations and injustice whereas unhealthy anger is triggered by an irritation that taps a deeper sense of vulnerability. Healthy anger is expressed in an assertive but respectful way whereas unhealthy anger is expressed as aggressive, explosive in passive-aggressive ways.

Healthy anger is generally short lived because it’s tied to a specific trigger. Unhealthy anger is prolonged leading to resentment and grudges. Healthy anger prompts self-reflection and awareness. Unhealthy anger prompts defensiveness and denial. Healthy anger is accompanied by effective coping mechanisms such as breathing and meditation whereas unhealthy anger is accompanied by yelling, blaming or avoiding.  Although healthy anger strengthens relationships by dealing with issues and setting boundaries, unhealthy anger damages relationships causing hurt and mistrust.

In summary, I would say that healthy anger is situation specific and motivates you to honor and care for yourself more deeply. Unhealthy or defensive anger is prolonged and used to control, blame and divert you from your deeper feelings.

The Goal of Managing Anger

So the goal in understanding and managing anger is to stop and look so you can choose how to respond to an event rather than simply act out your feelings. It means that you have to look at the real cause of your anger. Is it healthy anger or defensive anger? Can you use your anger to honor yourself or are you using it to simply blame and control others or protect yourself from being emotionally vulnerable.

Although it takes practice, you can become aware of your anger and its causes and thereby get better at calming yourself so you can gain greater insight into what’s making you angry and then address the true cause of the emotion.

Four Steps for Managing Anger

Let me suggest four steps for dealing with anger.

Step One: Find ways to soothe your upset feelings

It’s hard to use the other steps if your overwhelmed with anger so you first need to calm down. You can do this through using many of the methods that I’ve talked about in past blog posts, such as observing your breath, scanning your body, listening to music, or talking to a friend There are lots of ways of calming yourself and you want to do what will work for you.

One way to think about this is that some thoughts and actions cause our anger to heat up and others to cool down.  Making accusations, arguing and defending, dwelling on hurt feelings, planning revenge, or engaging in any form of violence all cause our anger to heat up or escalate.

On the other hand, counting to ten, meditating, following your breath, going outside, taking a time out are examples of behaviors that help us calm down. So making a deliberate decision to cool your anger is what step one is about.

For example, suppose that you’re driving down the highway and someone pulls directly in front of you. Do you choose behaviors that are going to raise the level of heat and anger or behaviors that help you calm down? Or your kids have made a mess all over the kitchen. Again, you can choose behaviors that will cause your anger to ramp up or to cool down. We could talk about so many examples. Our goal is to cool down or soothe our feelings so we can better respond to what’s happening. That’s all part of step one.

Step Two: Use the empowerment model to understand anger

Do you remember the empowerment model? This is the cause effect relationship between a circumstance and your thoughts, feelings, behavior and results? Go ahead and review it if you like. And then consider:

  • What was the trigger?
  • How did it differ from your expectations?
  • What thoughts were triggered? Are these thoughts causing you to ramp up or cool down?
  • What physical sensations did you feel? What emotions got stirred up?
  • What was your behavior? Are you tempted to fight, run, or ignore?
  • What are the results of your reaction?

You can use the empowerment model to better understand and process your anger. Not only can you use it to work through how you handled an event in the past but also use it to think through how you want to respond to future events. Thinking of the triggering event, what thoughts will better serve you? What sensations and emotions do you want to feel and what can you do to generate these? How do you want to behave? And what would be the results?

Step Three: Rethink the situation

Now you want to explore new ways of viewing the situation. You can do this in many ways, including: Imagine the triggering event from another person’s perspective. Challenge your own thoughts or the story your telling yourself about what’s happening. Rehearse different ways of resolving the situation that honors everyone. Visualize how this would unfold if your thoughts were different.

The key to this step is knowing that there’s more than one way to look at a situation. People who handle their emotions well are flexible in how they view events. They don’t get locked into thinking their way of seeing something is the whole truth.

Step Four: Find healthy outlets to honor your anger

This is not just soothing your emotions but converting them into creative learning and expression. This might include such things as journaling, writing poetry or music, doing visual art, getting involved in a meaningful cause, talking with a trusted friend and so on. In other words, you recognize the anger but decide to channel all of the emotional energy into more creative or healthy expressions.

I’m hopeful that these four steps will give you some healthy alternatives to responding to anger. My intent has been to give you insight into your anger as well as offer you some options for dealing with it. Again, it’s not all that different than the process of handling other emotions but I thought it deserved a few words in its own lecture since it is so likely to get triggered when in the middle of conflict.


In conclusion, anger is far more than just a negative emotion—it’s a natural and necessary aspect of your experience. When you understand and manage it effectively, it can be a force for good, motivating you to confront injustice, assert your boundaries, and effect positive change in your life and society. By embracing your anger and harnessing its power, you can transform it from a source of conflict and strife into a catalyst for growth, resilience, and social progress.

Let me invite you to learn more by taking a look at some of the products I offer on my webpage. From the Hero’s Choice to a number of my online video programs, you can learn to understand your feelings and grow in emotional intelligence.



  1. Preston Pond

    Hi Roger! This article on understanding and managing anger is the best I have ever read. It showed me how much progress I have made in the past 20 years seeking to better understand and manage my own anger. It also gave me some ideas of how I can continue to make better progress. The biggest take home for me is the idea that the emotion of anger is not a bad emotion, but needs to be understood and channeled toward positive purposes. Thanks for sharing!


    • rogerkallen

      Hi Preston. Thanks for your kind words. I’m happy the article resonated with you. Anger truly is a misunderstood emotion that has some important purposes. I think people error in two ways. They either suppress it believing that it is bad and wrong to express (and they are bad for even feeling it) or they vent it not thinking about the consequences. Maybe we can all learn to find a middle ground in which we listen to our anger, learn from it, and channel it in positive ways.


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