In Bridges Not Walls, ed. John Stewart, 6th edition, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), pp. 418-423.
Copyright ©1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium
The authors point out that anger is usually thought of as being bad and destructive. They argue that this is a misconception. Anger itself is neutral. Anger may be expressed in destructive or healthy ways. Moreover, healthy expression of anger enhances communication and personal growth.
In the authors' view, personal growth and well-being comes from learning to accept and love one's self. This includes accepting one's anger. Repressing anger can be damaging, both physically and mentally. Repressing anger is also ineffective in the long run, since the anger inevitably resurfaces. Instead, we must learn how to express anger in responsible, healthy ways. Anger is destructive when it is expressed in indirect ways, or passive/aggressively. Rather than address the nature of their anger, individuals may act it out in indirect, punishing ways. Destructive expressions of anger blame and attack the other person. This tends to provoke either defensive retaliation and destructive escalation or withdrawal of the other party. Another destructive way to express anger is to repress it until it explodes in unpredictable rages.
Healthy, clean expressions of anger are non-judgmental. One expresses one's anger in a direct straightforward manner, without blaming or attacking the other. A clean expression of anger "reflects the understanding that others do not cause our feelings."[p. 421] Taking ownership of ones's anger in this way is also empowering. Clean expressions of anger can clear the way for caring attention to the other.
The authors observe that "developing an ability to assert our own feelings and needs while maintaining a genuine caring for others."[p. 421] is one of the most difficult aspects of personal growth. Too much emphasis on either one's self or on the other will inhibit personal growth. Learning to cleanly express anger helps us both to assert ourselves, and clears the way for caring attention to the other.
People are generally socialized to conceal their anger. While many people claim to conceal their anger out of concern for hurting others, the authors argue that they usually do so out of deeper fear of being rejected if they assert themselves. On the contrary, the honesty demonstrated in being true to one's self and one's feelings can help elicit trust from others.
Anger can be a key to identifying deeper fears and concerns. Exploring anger can then lead to better self-understanding. Expressing clean anger in communication also creates vulnerability. Communication partners may want to agree on some ground rules for the expression of anger. People also need to learn how to receive and respond to cleanly expressed anger. Not only must we learn to express direct, non-judgmental anger, we must also learn to perceive anger non-judgmentally, and to make thoughtful productive responses.