…on a scorned feeling that deserves a Renaissance.
Anger does not have a particularly good reputation in modern society. People who show anger are immediately considered weak, selfish or stubborn. Anger is often linked to a nasty, childish effort to gain more autonomy. We talk about blind rage, not having oneself under control, necessary therapy, and violence that comes with anger. In short: anger is everything but socially desirable. It is uncomfortable and it requires action to stop it. As soon as possible.
Anger wants to tell us something
But the emotional world of humans is unfortunately—or thankfully—no walk in the park. Next to happiness and surprise we are accompanied by grief, anger, contempt, fear and disgust. We can easily separate ourselves from many of the feelings of others. But with anger, this separation is more difficult. If we ignore it, it often gets worse instead of disappearing. Besides, this anger wants to tell us something.
Anger reveals to us boundaries, insults, or situations that we perceive to be unjust. Anger makes it clear to us that something is not okay. Anger functions like a warning signal that our bodies are in attack mode and that they would like to run at the person or thing who has caused us these feelings. Admittedly, that is not an ideal side effect. But anger also fuels energy and motivation that is released to find the most constructive solutions.
If we understand anger as more than simply “letting off steam,” but instead as an imaginary stop sign, then we can stop in the moment and ask ourselves: where is this anger coming from and what does it want to tell me? What should I change? With this method, relational conflicts can be solved more easily.
Anger can motivate us to bring about change, make decisions and create new things. This applies to personal relationships just as it applies to social engagement, art, or invention. Anger can be a positive driving force.
From powerlessness there can come empowerment. Angry people are more optimistic than scared people. They are looking ahead, they want to change things. Angry people are the ones who fight every day for human rights, peace, gender equality, handicap accessibility, the environment, better working conditions or violence prevention. Angry people won women’s right to vote and the repeal of racial segregation laws. Angry people initiated #blacklivesmatters and #metoo.
We need angry female role models
And anger looks even worse when women are wearing it. Women are supposed to smile and be friendly, and every other emotion is classified as embarrassing, hysterical, emotional or hormonal. Anger fits better into the cliché of the stereotypical “aggressive” man, who may be called passionate, assertive, or in the worst case hot-headed. But this anger won’t damage his career. And angry women are still making headlines.
We need angry female role models. And if we could start to take the anger of our fellow people seriously and not personally, we would be on the path toward better violence prevention. Anger is exhausting, yes. But it’s also deeply human and can be a difficult, but constructive, communication tool for our children, young people, partners, friends and colleagues. We learn more from anger than from a dishonest “I’m fine.”