A friend of mine posted this quote by the Dalai Lama on her social network profile: “No one is peaceful & happy when they are angry. Anger is an enemy that brings negative results.” I dared not disagree with his holiness, but I did respond with the following: “The first part is true. The second part not exactly… Anger is a valid emotion just like love. The problem is when it is not expressed because of fear, guilt or whatever – that’s when it turns into hate and rage…”
The responses that followed all contradicted mine saying anger is dangerous, volatile, shameful, that it is “something we have to be careful with,” even that it is a cancer that eats us from within.
These are common perspectives of anger. In our society, anger is an emotion that requires managing. But it is a distortion to say that anger is the same as rage. It is a misperception to contend that anger is in itself dangerous when in fact, it is the repression of anger that leads to dangerous behavior. Repressing or “managing” anger may have short-term benefits, but suppressed feelings don’t disappear, and in the long-run can lead to violent outbursts, illness, or diminish the person’s ability to express any feelings at all.
In his book, Joy: The Surrender to the Body and to Life Dr. Alexander Lowen writes, “the emotion of anger is part of the larger function of aggression… We can move toward another person in love or in anger. Both actions are aggressive and both are positive for the individual.”
Lowen goes even further by defining anger as “the healing emotion.” Anger is the natural reaction of the body in response to an insult or an attack, and aims to restore the integrity or freedom of the individual. Lowen makes the case that anger is not “a destructive emotion,” by distinguishing between “anger, rage, and fury.” There are plenty of details in Lowen’s book, but since this is a blog, here’s a quick overview:
Anger is a life-positive force that has strong healing properties.
Rage is a destructive action to hurt someone. It is also blind.
Fury is a more intense rage. It is hateful and has a “frozen quality.”
When a person is unable to express anger out of fear, this suppressed anger then turns into rage or fury. Lowen explains, “If an individual is unable to get angry, he becomes locked in a position of fear. The two emotions are antithetical.” This means that when a person is angry he/she is not frightened. Lowen’s argument is that “expressing the anger releases the fear, just as crying releases the sadness.” Thus, the opposite is also true, frightened people suppress anger until it boils up and bursts-out in rage.
Numerous scholars have studied the suppression of feelings for centuries, but even today, with an increased awareness about the mind-body connection, many fail to realize that suppressed anger is not merely psychological, but physical as well.
According to Lowen, chronic muscular tension in the upper back and shoulders is what physically suppresses the anger. He writes that anger, “while related to the past, stems directly from the existence of the chronic muscular tensions which bind the organism, reducing its freedom or motion.” But if you don’t feel the tension in your muscles, you don’t sense the anger either. That is, until it boils over or becomes a disease.
But back to his holiness the Dalai Lama. By declaring anger as an “enemy”, we turn against the natural process of our human body. It is this type or “moral” repudiation that denies people their natural right to restore their integrity.
A healthy adult is able to contain and express anger appropriately. People who repress their anger, dismiss it, or fight it are those who remain frightened and turn to violence – verbal or physical – as a means with which to protest their hurt.
* All quotes from Alexander Lowen, M.D.’s book Joy: The Surrender to the Body and to Life, which is available for purchase pretty much everywhere.