The Right To Be Angry
by Jay Schneider, L.C.S.W.
Anger management begins when we focus on solutions rather than emotional injuries. One of the most frequently asked questions by Manage Anger Daily students is “don’t I have a right to be angry?” During the first few weeks of class students dwell on this idea that they are entitled to their anger. Accentuating this “right to be angry” becomes a colossal obstacle to practicing anger management strategies. No matter how diligently students study, they cannot successfully use the techniques as long as they focus on their inalienable “right” to be angry. While it is true that we have a right to be angry, we also have the right to be miserable. Staying angry just keeps us feeling miserable. Staying miserable keeps us angry.
Many of us learned in early childhood that feeling justified for our feelings makes us feel better, at least temporarily. We feel vindicated and supported when someone tells us our anger is justified or that we were treated badly. As children, we act as if the bad treatment were a matter of life and death. “He called me names! She called me a moron!” We feel devastated with a strong desire to inflict injury on our tormenters. This can shape a core belief that anytime we are hurt by comments or the behavior of others, we are justified in letting them have it with our anger. Sometimes our peers encourage our anger with statements like “I wouldn’t take that from anyone!” We begin to feel like we have to stand up for ourselves, for our “right to be angry.”
Real healing begins when we replace the statement “I have a right to be angry!” with “I can make myself feel better.” When we start to think, “what can I do to make myself feel better?” we shift from expressing anger, to anger control. When our goal becomes feeling better we can begin to use anger management skills. As these coping skills are used, a greater range of thoughts and behaviors become available to us. We can calm down and think before we react, improving our communication in the process. When we calm down and do things that provide emotional relief, such as jogging through the park, our mood improves. A happy consequence of a better mood, is a greater sense of self-control and self-esteem. While we do have the “right to be angry” we also have the right to pursue happiness. Which right would you prefer to exercise?