Anger as positive power

How to express your anger in empowering ways without hurting other people

When were you last angry? How did it feel? Did it feel good/powerful to express your anger? Did you feel heard/understood/released?

Or did you feel embarrassed by the fact that you were so angry? Or ashamed that you should have such powerful feelings?

Were you afraid of expressing them? Wished you weren’t feeling the way you did? Did your best to hide it? But knew perfectly well that everyone else can see that there’s something up with you.

Or did you “lose your rag”? You couldn’t help yourself. And said some things you probably shouldn’t.  Or because it was the honest truth of how you felt, and you’re trying to be more authentic in how you communicate.

And now you’re paying for it. You’re trying to pick up the pieces of the havoc that this little outburst has caused because other people can’t handle your anger.

Either way, it seems you can’t win!

The Power of Anger

Anger is powerful. Anger can be destructive. It destroys families, relationships and lives. Anger is contagious.

Have you watched a clever speaker manipulate a crowd using the power of anger to stimulate them into action?  Such anger can start wars, fuel conflicts that can last decades. It can effect generations and nations for many years to come.

No wonder we as humans are so frightened of anger and go to lengths to avoid it.

Angry face - Cartoon
We’re frightened of anger.

And yet anger is natural. It is our body’s response and way of releasing emotion that could otherwise cause damage to our internal system. The reddened face, the raised heartbeat is just a sign that our body can’t cope and is looking for a way of discharging this toxic energy. Or we will literally burst a blood vessel.

It was also the way that primitive man survived. It is the “fight” response that enabled him to kill a dangerous beast so his tribe could eat. Anger fueled the fighting instinct so he could overcome his fear and meet a situation with all his power and strength. He needed to be angry enough with the beast to achieve this. And his biology produced superhuman energy for this purpose.

Positive Power

So anger is not all bad. When channelled correctly it can be extremely positive.

It is the energy that enables you to achieve your goals and bring about change in your life. Have you achieved things in your life, that were deemed impossible because you wanted to prove someone wrong? Or because the stakes of not achieving them were just too high?

Anger too fuels countless heroic acts. Our history books and newspapers are full of accounts of situations when against all odds, men risked their lives for the sake of others. It is the same energy too that enables a mother to save the life of her child by lifting a car off him.

Martin Luther King said:

When I am angry I can pray well and preach well.”

Martin Luther King

Anger enabled him to change the course of history for millions of black people. Through channelling his anger in powerful ways. He didn’t achieve what he did just by being angry. But through finding a powerful outlet for his anger as a preacher and speaker.

Great black americans - Martin luther king

Anger has done as much good as it has done harm. Anger has brought about political, moral and social change. Anger has fueled the peace movement, has saved whales, children, victims of torture. The list goes on.

Many People Don’t Know How Angry They Are

Many people do not know how angry they are. Because it has become such a habit to suppress their anger, and they have lived with it so long that they don’t even know it’s there.

Certainly, that was true for me. I had sat on my rage for years. It was buried so deep in me that I really had no idea it was there.  As a result, I was in a state of numbness. In fact, I was half-dead, going through the motions of my life. And deeply unhappy.

You may have heard me talk about the volcano. This is the metaphor for the way in which your system deals with anger when you are unable to express it. You stuff it down so it can’t be seen. It doesn’t take long before your anger becomes a volcano, full of molten lava and extremely volatile. Anything could set the volcano off. So it takes a lot of energy to keep the volcano from exploding.

One of two things are likely to happen. Either your volcano explodes and comes out in all manner of inappropriate ways. Or you repress the volcano even deeper. And turn the energy in on yourself.

This soon turns into depression. Because repression ultimately leads to depression. See The Curse of Being too Nice

Either the volcano explodes or you turn the energy of the volcano in on yourself.

Passive Anger

But the volcano is never as dormant as we would like to think. Little bits of anger will slip out in covert ways. This is commonly known as passive anger.

I was an arch-fiend of passive anger. Anger was creeping out all over the shop. Other people were seeing it or feeling it. Except they didn’t know it. They just felt uncomfortable around me and so they stayed away.

Thus I spent a lot of my time on my own, unable to share my true feelings and thoughts with anyone else. I immersed myself in books because that was the only place where I knew I was safe.

In fact, I was depressed.

How Anger Can Be a Positive Force

So how do you use your anger so it can be a positive force in your life?

I was lucky, I found a way to start releasing my anger. Drama became the most effective way for me to do this.

Anger, rage, jealousy are the stuff of drama. It is acceptable for anger to be expressed in drama. It is even entertaining, thrilling and cathartic for an audience to watch.

Drama enabled me to take everything that I deemed as being unacceptable and to express it through the dramatic situation.

Thus through drama, I had permission to express anger in countless different ways. And the more I did this, the more my anger began to diffuse. All that old, baked lava that had lain at the bottom of my volcano, at last, had an outlet. Thus the pressure in my volcano began to reduce.

And at the same time, my anger was being witnessed by other people. And the more it was being witnessed, the more satisfying it was, and the more freeing and releasing it was for me.

My anger had a purpose. It was no longer a destructive force but an instrument of transformation and catharsis. And it didn’t matter that the situation bore no relevance to the original source of my anger. My anger was being seen, witnessed and welcomed. And that was enough.

I have observed this so many times in the Sunflower Effect courses, that witnessing is deeply healing both to the one who expresses and the one who witnesses. It is one of the major elements of the Sunflower Effect. See my book From Wallflower to Sunflower. Something magical happens when your anger is expressed in a creative way and witnessed

So when your anger is seen, validated and approved of as it is in drama, at last, it has a positive role to play.

You may remember me talking about Rob who was consumed with road rage. Whilst he may have had a guess as to what his anger was all about, knowing that didn’t help. Because his anger was not logical. It could not be neatly explained away. This anger came from a very deep source. Maybe beyond language.

Rob discovered a way of getting to the unconscious source of his anger through the Breakthrough Group. And it didn’t involve beating pillows or flailing around. But it did involve him channelling his anger through dramatic characters that became a safe way for this energy to release. In most cases, he didn’t even know it was happening. A lot of the time he was having fun playing characters that were anarchic and powerful.

A participant discharging anger through a dramatic exercise

Why Many Anger Exercises Don’t Work

Anger is complicated. Most people are frightened of the power of their anger. So it is not surprising that they clam up when they think they are going to do some anger work. This is why working directly with anger often doesn’t work.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told a group that we’re going to work with anger and see everyone’s expression shut down. A much better tactic is to tell them we’re going to play a game – often with newspaper. And the results are very different. People happily express anger and aggression with alacrity, in a joyful, spirited way through the medium of newspaper. The room may be strewn with torn up newspaper, which also is rather satisfying, but no other harm has come.

It is only much later that they notice how much better they feel. And how much energy is now at their disposal. This is when they realise how much anger they have released. And they have released it whilst having the most enormous fun.

Anger for many people is a camouflage for much deeper emotion. Often hurt feelings or grief. And so there can be many things within your anger. This is why working with the carefully chosen stories in the Sunflower Effect is so effective at releasing repressed emotions. There will be so many opportunities within the story to express many different emotions,. There will be a number of different characters to choose from, expressing a wide range of emotions.

And this is how Rob achieved such a dramatic result.

My sense was that the deepest release came for Rob, not when he was flailing around expressing anger, but when he was doing some much quieter work. In that way, he was able to work on the many levels of his anger, in all its shades. And he was also able to work at a non-verbal level too, getting to the unconscious source of his “volcano”.

And he didn’t have to experience the original pain, the principles on which many therapies work on. The pain just melted away.

See Rob’s story in his own words.

Getting a job – with the 2nd highest salary in a challenging job market

I was in the hunt for employment. I was ill at ease and having a lot of anger and frustration, particularly road rage.

My button would be pushed just travelling into work and I’d go from peaceful warrior into bloodthirsty warrior without really knowing why. The image I had of how it felt, was of black lake and I was swimming in it.

What the Breakthrough Group did was to allow me to stir that lake up, to get to see what’s in the lake, and how those murky waters are being pushed. And then all these monsters started to reveal themselves.

There was the road rage monster and the tobacco monster – I couldn’t find a way to let go of my addiction to tobacco. This manifested itself as this huge yellow slug.

I was nauseous a lot during the work, it stirred up so much in me. But it enabled me to speak about these things and to express myself. It provided a short cut to the hidden recesses of my unconscious. It stirred them up, brought them to the surface, so that they could be freed.

A few days after the last session I got a call about a job. In fact, they called me! I’ve never had such an effortless flow for such a fantastic job in a very challenging job market. Even the guy who was interviewing me said he’s never seen a process go so quickly from first interview to job offer.

And it’s such a great job and I’m working with such great people. It is just what I wanted. It is the 2nd largest salary of my career. It will allow me the opportunity to secure a home-construction loan for my New Mexico ranch in the near future.

What helped me to get this job was stirring up the unconscious pot that can be there a lifetime and can affect us on such deep levels. I’ve done other kind of work but this had a lightning effect on my psyche and it came across during the interview. Claire is a wonderful mischief-maker and my co-workshopers were excellent join-iners.

No one else if offering anything like this. Trusting the process was key for going deep in this work!

Rob Buchiski, E Consultant

How to put this into practice

There is a very simple exercise that I do in almost all of my courses and workshops that can very powerfully clear anger. Or indeed any emotion that is troubling you. Whilst a course is a much safer and more effective place to clear anger, because of the supportive power of the group, try this simple exercise.

Exercise – Anger as positive power

Find a place where you have some personal space and if possible where you can freely express noise.

Stand and connect with the anger you are feeling. It is much better if you stand because this will allow the emotion to flow freely and to be released through the whole of your body.

As you connect with the place where you are feeling the anger, let your body move with the anger. Let it go wherever it needs to go. You may want to shake your body vigorously. Let any sounds that want to be expressed. You can do this quietly if you’re concerned about other people hearing you. Move around the room if you need to.

Let your imagination play. Imagine you are a beast, or a fearsome warrior. Or whatever comes into your mind as you are exploring this. Enjoy feeling the power of this character/energy. Explore this as long as you need to. Wait until it naturally comes to rest.

When you are complete, take time to be still. Notice what is happening in your body. Then let the character or energy go. Shake them out of your body. Shake anything that needs to be shaken out.

Then step away from the place. Let it go. Go for a walk, or do something that you really enjoy.

© Claire Schrader

Want to find a way to release your unexpressed anger?
Join one of my upcoming confidence courses to help you gently move through the layers of your emotion or book an individual session either in person or online.

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