The Wisdom of Anger: From Suppression to Liberation


Go back to your childhood. Can you still remember those moments you were boiling with anger, yet were afraid to express it? Those moments you wanted to jump and scream, yet you shut up and sat down instead? Those moments your heart was about to explode, yet you painted a fake smile over your face and pretended that everything is okay? Or have you squeezed them so deep into the dark alleys of your psyche that you can’t bring them to your conscious awareness anymore?

That anger you suppressed was your very spirit urging you to rebel against anyone or anything that was hurting you, be it your parent, sibling, friend, church or school. But you did not follow its impulse. Like everyone did at times as a child, and most still do regularly as adults.

Anger is perhaps the most misunderstood emotion. It’s usually called “negative” in so-called spiritual circles, and is often equated with rage and hate. But in reality, anger — just like any of our basic emotions — isn’t negative in itself. Rather, it’s there for a very important reason: to help us live a better life. More specifically, it’s there to help us remove what’s obstructing our way to joy and freedom. And it does so by drawing our attention to what our needs are, what’s preventing us from meeting them, and what corrective actions we can take in order to meet them.

A great analogy for anger that I’ve heard is that of a warning light on a car’s dashboard: it’s there to show us that something is wrong or could go wrong unless we promptly attend to it. If, however, we choose not to pay attention to it, or stick tape all over it to stop seeing it, that doesn’t mean it’s gone or that we’ve avoided the problem it points to. It only means that we’ll likely not end up to our desired destination, and perhaps experience serious trouble on our journey.

Imagine someone forced you to do something against your will. If you’re like every other person, you’ll naturally feel anger, for who is oppressed by someone else and doesn’t feel angry about it? Now, in response to that situation, you might want to express your anger in an effort to stop being oppressed. That could simply mean giving voice to your feelings, as well as requesting the other person to stop trying to impose their will on you, and, lastly, distancing yourself from them (assuming that this is possible) if they don’t respect your request.

Admittedly, the above example is simplistic, but it does the job of illustrating the purpose of anger: pointing out our unmet needs, and urging us to find ways to meet them. It also illustrates what a healthy way of expressing our anger looks like: no judging or fighting — just being open about our feelings and needs. Sadly, most people don’t deal with anger like that, and understandably so, considering their unhealed emotional wounds and unconscious social conditioning.

As children, most of us learned to suppress our emotions, especially our anger. The reason was two-fold: firstly, to protect ourselves and our loved ones from possible abuse — whether physical, sexual or emotional — caused by people we didn’t know a better way to deal with, and, secondly, to feel accepted by the individuals and social groups that meant the most to us. That’s because we found out early on that expressing our anger was often met with pain — whether in the form of violence, judgment, ridicule, neglect or abandonment. To avoid experiencing further suffering, we learned to wear a personality mask that hides our anger and pretend that things are alright, when they clearly aren’t. In addition, we learned to numb ourselves to our anger in order to avoid coming in touch with the unhealed emotional wounds associated with it. And whether we realize it or not, many of us still live this way, even if it’s not serving us anymore. Rather, it does the exact opposite: keeping us stuck in an unresolved emotional state and the constant stress generated by it.

Contrary to what we might think, suppressing our anger never makes it go away. It still lies deep within us, hidden yet present, ready to erupt at any moment we lose our self-control — moments such as when “we’ve had enough” or are under the influence of alcohol. That eruption is what has been termed rage, which is nothing but the result of long-term suppressed anger. As we saw earlier, anger can actually be gentle and kind, but when it turns into rage, it becomes violent. Then the repressed, dark side of ourselves manifests into our consciousness and the world, bursting like a volcano and burning everyone it meets along its way. This is why anger has gotten such a bad rap: because it’s being confused with rage — an unhealthy, perverted expression of anger.

Another common problem with anger is that, when filtered through judgment, it can quickly be diverted to hate. For example, when we view someone who has wronged us — whether personally or collectively — as bad or evil, we might start hating them and desire to hurt them back. While anger urges us to understand and change the conditions that hurt us, hate turns our healthy desire for change into toxic energy and throws it at some external “enemy” — a former best friend, a politician, a journalist, the wealthy elite, the “illuminati” and so on. But, as it’s often the case, that enemy is in reality nothing but a symptom of a deeper cause, which hate doesn’t allow us to see. Instead, it locks us in its limited perspective and has us wage a war, which, even if we win, doesn’t bring us healing — on the contrary, it usually intensifies our suffering, and in turn, our anger and judgment, thus entrapping us in a vicious circle of hate. To avoid misunderstanding, I’m not suggesting here that we should ever tolerate abusive behavior — we shouldn’t — but unless we understand the conditions — psychological, social, political, economic, etc. — that give rise to it, our efforts to fight it are going to be fruitless and most likely counterproductive.

Anger is a wise friend — not an enemy — whose purpose is to help us discover greater joy and freedom. But we need to be extra careful with how we use it, so we don’t make the mistake of channeling it into hate. And when we experience hate, within our psyche or in the outside world, we need to remind ourselves that unresolved anger is hiding beneath it, and unmet needs beneath the anger. Then, instead of suppressing anger or lashing it out, we’ll want to pay close attention to its wisdom and let it guide us out of what’s hurting our — or others’ — well-being.

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