Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Anger is often looked at as a negative emotion, but when used correctly, it can be a positive force behind a person.
When you experience something that upsets you, it doesn’t feel like a positive force in that moment. You can get to the point of being enraged, but how you act upon that anger is what can make the source of that energy a positive force. It takes a lot of will and discipline to develop the emotional intelligence to use anger as a catalyst for change.
The reason I say it takes discipline is because the first initial reaction to anger is to react to that emotion. Being able to be in a state of non-reaction is something that takes practice and discipline to be able to stand back and observe the feeling, rather than to engage in it.
The energy in anger is chaotic; it’s hard to channel it to where you’re not letting it affect you. It takes constant practice to understand the root of your anger, and how to control it — if that is something you wish to do. Not everyone wants to understand their emotions on this deeper level, but for those who try, they are better off than those who don’t. The practice of being aware of your emotions and withholding immediate reaction develops human beings with strong emotional intelligence. The stoics also had a similar belief when it came to being able to control anger.
My favorite philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said:
“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on — it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance — unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”
When you’re angry about a situation — you can either make things worse by reacting, or letting it fuel you for the future to change a situation or make something in your life better.
For example, on a global scale, using anger as fuel is an emotional approach behind protests. Anger is a catalyst for change to help bring awareness to an issue, which in turn could provide an peaceful outcome. Yet, this emotion is not always used correctly. There are protests that are peaceful, where people unite to help others bring awareness to an issue that upsets them, and on the other hand, there are other protests where people take their anger too far and cause riots by letting the rage fuel them for destruction.
The stoics seem to agree that we have to use our emotions, like anger, to make a positive change within ourselves and within the world. This is not an easy practice, but over time, it becomes easier to recognize your emotions and learn how you want to change them.
Seneca wrote in his letter Of Anger:
The best plan is to reject straightway the first incentives to anger, to resist its very beginnings, and to take care not to be betrayed into it: for if once it begins to carry us away, it is hard to get back again into a healthy condition, because reason goes for nothing when once passion has been admitted to the mind, and has by our own free will been given a certain authority, it will for the future do as much as it chooses, not only as much as you will allow it.
You can use anger to propel you to become more than who you thought you were, or inform others of your feelings in an emotionally healthy way.
Personally, I have used anger to bring upon some of my own personal successes. When I was at my heaviest weight, I was upset and angry that I had gotten to the size I was so I used the anger to fuel me to lose weight to become better.
When I was at a job that was refusing to help me grow, I was extremely upset. I put in so much hard work, and felt very angry towards the people who didn’t see how hard I was working. But I realized, staying angry at them wouldn’t help me grow. I took that anger and used it as a fuel to find a place that would help me grow. I focused my anger internally to fix my resume, work on my skill-sets, practice my interviewing skills, where it ultimately led me to an organization that would help me grow and appreciate me for who I was and the talents and skills I bring to the table.
When I get upset about stupid miscommunication issues with my husband, I take a step back to stay silent for a minute and then try to talk out my feelings in that moment to understand what was so upsetting to me. Once the root of the issue was determined, I could then communicate clearer to express my needs and desires instead of turning it into a big deal by letting my anger and ego get the best of me.
I haven’t always used anger as a positive force, but after I was old enough to understand it and how anger can hurt others, I realized I never wanted to intentionally hurt those because of a lack of control within myself. Sometimes I can hurt people unintentionally when I am in a state of reaction — when I’m not acting conscious in whatever moment where anger strikes, but I try my hardest to always reflect upon myself everyday and transmute these emotions into something positive. I think, this is the stoic way. Seneca did once say:
Although anger be not natural, it may be right to adopt it, because it often proves useful? — Seneca
Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were very right on keeping calm in the face of anger. It may not be “natural” to feel angry all the time, but if we can make good use of it, it may not be so bad of an emotion after all.
By: Cecilia J. Sanders