3 Benefits Of Anger, According To A Psychologist + When You Should Rein It In
Our negative emotions (like anxiety, fear, shame, and anger) have quite the, well, negative connotation. But each emotion has a specific purpose for humans to survive and thrive—even those not-so-fun feelings. For instance, acute anxiety and fear can deter you from unsafe situations; shame is there to help you realize you've acted against your morals and values.
That leaves us with the latter. Could there possibly be benefits to anger? According to psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Rick Hanson, Ph.D., you can certainly use anger as a force for good. Although, as he explains on this episode of the mbg podcast, there's a fine line between a healthy dose of anger and anger that's out of control. Here's how you can benefit from the emotion and use it for good, as well as when you should rein it in.
3 benefits of anger.
"Anger is unique among all the negative emotions," notes Hanson (that is, anxiety, shame, sadness, and the like), for a few reasons:
- It's pleasurable: Anger is perhaps the only negative emotion that feels good in the moment. While anxiety, shame, and sadness can ultimately have their benefits in the long run, they don't necessarily feel pleasurable. Anger is different; it's this hot rush that courses through your body in a strangely exhilarating way. "Neurologically, it's associated with increases in dopamine and norepinephrine," Hanson explains, chemical systems in the brain that feel rewarding.
- It's mobilizing: "Anger has tons of value," Hanson says. "It focuses us on what's problematic and mobilizes us to deal with it." That said, it's incredibly energizing and organizing both for yourself and on behalf of others. Think about it: Collective anger spearheads entire movements, and it's also an important step for dealing with inner trauma and grief. "As a psychologist, part of helping people who are depressed or anxious is to encourage anger as an intermediate stage," Hanson adds. The bottom line? Anger encourages action rather than sparking a flight, fight, or freeze response.
- It has impact: According to Hanson, anger becomes the most salient emotion interpersonally. Meaning, people oftentimes listen to anger. While we can empathize with others who are sad, worried, or lonely, we're "pretty OK with it," as Hanson notes. "But as soon as someone gets angry, we listen to it."
But too much anger can be destructive.
That's not to say you should constantly walk around with smoke coming out of your ears. Sure, anger might have its benefits, but Hanson warns against marinating in your anger for a long period of time. "It wears us down," he notes. "It's important to be careful with anger—to feel it and let it lower."
That's because anger has the ability to easily transform into hatred or ill will, which is not only unhealthy but destructive. "As soon as we slide into ill will, vengeance, or contempt, we're in trouble." So even if you might be practically seething with anger, make sure it's the mobilizing, impactful kind—not the kind that wishes harm on others. Don't suppress the anger you're feeling (you should even welcome it, says Hanson), but make sure there is a healthy way you can deal with it. Anger is meant to be quick and mobilizing; as quickly as it comes, you want to figure out how you can deal with the emotions: "As fast as you can disengage, shift gears and move out of it," Hanson adds.
So, yes, anger does have a variety of benefits, but like the other negative emotions, there's a difference between acute anger and chronic, spiteful hate. "Hate is poisonous, but healthy anger can serve us in a lot of ways and is appropriate," Hanson continues. Just make sure yours is serving you in a way that's productive and healthy.
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.