Kind Words for Anger

I am celebrating anger this week. Odd, I know. A friend of mine has been deeply depressed for months, but recently she’s grown angry. That is a definite step forward for her.

At first I recoiled from my friend’s anger. “What are you focused on,” I wanted to ask her, “can’t you focus on what makes you happy?”

She couldn’t, of course. No one can go from depressed to joyous without touching all the emotional bases in between. Our cars can race from 0-60 MPH in a burst, but we humans generally need illegal substances to achieve such a rush.

Depression is a form of grief, coupled with a feeling of powerless. Anger brings with it a vitalizing resurgence of power. People who are angry are much easier to inspire to positive action than people benumbed by depression. Anger is after all a sign that you care enough about something to get worked up over it.

Depression can lie low, but anger rears up on its hind legs and bellows: “Here I am, and I won’t be ignored!”

Although anger is a step up and out of the pit of depression, in my workshops on improving workplace relations I’ve noticed that most people would rather associate with a depressed person than with someone who is angry. What’s more, we show emotionally distressed people compassion, but fire back at the irate with agitated disapproval.

This difference in treatment signals a depressed person that it’s safer to hide or repress anger, including anger at depression itself. This is counterproductive, because a requirement for shaking off depression is to become sick and tired of being sick and tired. In short, to grow angry about something and to show it.

I didn’t know this decades ago when I was taking the first step in my own recovery from depression. As it happened, I became a political activist for a time.

I lobbied public officials…joined chanting picket lines…plunged into heated debates. This directed anger made me feel that I was getting some of my power back and was no longer entirely at the mercy of my depression. It was deeply satisfying. There’s truth in the joke: “You know you’re making progress when you want to kill them instead of yourself.”

And just as I had become fed up with my depressed outlook, I eventually grew tired of feeling so angry. I began to seek relief by mixing other components into my anger—such as laughter. As years passed, I mixed in more and more other positive emotions, including love, joy and gratitude. With these feelings now dominant, I find that I have gone a second important step forward: from depression to anger, and from anger to passion.

The next time you notice yourself or a work companion caught up in near-constant fussing and fuming, consider that the flip side of anger is passion. You are on the brink of being intensely enthusiastic about something and possibly feeling better than you have in years.

Celebrate your progress.

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