We don’t generally think of anger as a positive feeling. And that’s probably accurate, for the most part. But it can also be a useful feeling. I’ve been contemplating whether it is wrong to feel angry, and what impact anger has on our body.
Interestingly, several of my mom friends have confided in me lately that they struggle with anger – with their significant other, with their children, and with others in their lives. Anger isn’t a foreign thing to me. I have been known in my family to be the one with the “hot-head”. I’ve been known to throw things, break things, curse and yell. While I know that those actions aren’t productive, I’m not fully convinced that anger in and of itself is bad.
I asked a group of people what color they thought of when they thought of anger, and the first that came to mind for everyone asked was some version of red. There is something about anger that illicits imagery of fire, flames, and burning.
There seems to be a connection between inflammation in the body and anger.
Anger flares, seeing red, fired up, fuming, explode with rage, livid…
The definition of livid:
If you’re livid, you’re furious, in a black cloud of anger. The Latin root this word comes from means “bluish-gray” or “slate-colored,” and you can also use livid to describe the color, such as a livid bruise or a livid sea. Livid, even when it means “bluish-gray,” has the sense of something not quite right.
Even this word – which ilicits a different color picture, reminds me of the superhot blue flame closest to the fuel source.
From studying with various natural medicine practitioners, It appears that anger is commonly known to be “stored” in the liver.
There was a study done recently in which researchers measured inflammation markers. One of these markers is called C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is produced in the liver in response to injury or infection. The study showed that those with an elevated anger response also had higher levels of the C-reactive protein.
C-reactive protein has been studied and shown to be higher in people with a variety of inflammation related health concerns – everything from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
Different belief systems have different views on anger. My friend Poonam shared with me that in the Hindu faith, the virtue of Akrodha is the absence of anger even when there may be a reason to be angry. She said that she learned growing up that the differentiation is how we react to the feeling of anger. She related anger to “Words” and “Sword” – which both have the same letters mixed around, and both have the ability to do the same thing when used without caution.
I grew up in a Christian background, and the biblical history of anger is displayed even by God, as well as the messiah, Jesus. The anger is explained to be a righteous anger, and the descriptive words used are often connected to fire. It’s also noteworthy how often the words “slow to anger” are written.
With regard to the fire picture referenced, I imagine the difference between a controlled campfire, or even a controlled forest fire vs a wildfire. While they all burn and consume the fuel source, the wildfire has no discernment about fuel source. The others have set in place boundaries so that when the fuel source is consumed, the burning ceases.
Just like a real fire, anger has some basic things it needs to “burn.” A fire needs a fuel source, heat, and oxygen. Anger needs injustice, a victim, and unforgiveness.
How to address anger in a healthy and productive manner:
Outbursts of anger has been something I struggled with a lot in my life. I have discovered that there are things I’ve done that have helped me become “slower to anger”.
When I began to remove toxic chemicals from our household and personal care products, my family started commenting about how much more at peace I seemed. It was true – things that set me off in the past had no effect anymore. If I had to guess, the toxic chemicals that used to be part of our everyday life affected me (the liver happens to be where the body processes all those toxins). So perhaps my liver can put in more effort toward slowing down or extinguishing angry outbursts before they happen.
Wrestling with the anger privately before confronting others has been helpful. It saves me from feeling shame for actions I know I will later regret. This is my method for slowing anger. If I get upset with my husband, I leave the room. If he follows me, I will tell him he needs to leave. It didn’t happen overnight, but we have learned that this cool down period helps us both to find the words to express our anger in a meaningful but not harmful way. I find I can usually come up with more helpful ways to address whatever caused me to feel angry, and to see my own faults and acknowledge them this way, rather than simply verbally attacking the other person’s actions.
I have also found if I give myself permission to feel angry, but don’t give myself permission to use anger to cause harm, I eventually find peace again.
Not allowing myself to feel angry leads to guilt. Guilt (seen often as a greenish dull grey) is like an infection or lack of life that we often use to extinguish anger. Guilt is harmful to our bodies, perhaps even more so than the anger it attempts to replace, and causes significant harm in our physical, emotional, and spiritual body. Biblically guilt is a sin and requires atonement.
I love this image that shows how our bodies respond in temperature to different feelings. One thing I find incredibly noteworthy is that Love is the only feeling that eclipses anger. Is anger really rooted somehow in love? This is a thought worth wrestling with when anger comes up.
There are a few books I’ve found incredibly helpful for shifting my own perspective.
My own experience has been that it isn’t wrong to feel anger, but there are harmful and helpful ways to express it.
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