Anger as the Basis of Motivation and Personal Power

Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion!

Anger is a very misunderstood emotion in our culture. It is often seen as ‘strong’ or dangerous. Unfortunately the people who believe anger is strong and are prone to misusing anger through physical or verbal abuse, are often struggling with huge inner fears and are left feeling out of control and disempowered.  So in truth their anger weakens them. Those who believe anger is dangerous often believe that their feelings of anger should be avoided at all cost. Both of these positions are generally not helpful.

Anger is an emotion! This may seem obvious, but it is not. A lot of people think anger is an action, and usually a violent action. This can be heard in how people speak about anger.  It might be said, “He’s an angry person!” Well, actually he is probably a violent person with distorted beliefs about control. He would feel anger but that does not mean he has to act on it. It may also be said “my anger just got the better of me”. Again, this is also not true. An emotion does not justify an action. It could be said “she just doesn’t deal with her anger well”. Again, an emotion is being used to excuse behaviour.

Anger has never done anything! Anger is an emotion that in its adaptive form can be incredibly empowering and liberating. Anger demands that we face the truth about ourselves and our circumstances. Anger is there to protect us. Anger can be a fantastic motivating force. The key is knowing how to work with this powerful energy, and bring in reason when it comes to taking action.

The two common conditioned patterns that involve anger are either suppression or ‘the anger cycle’. I will demonstrate each of these patterns in two personal stories about anger.

Veronica and Sandy’s Stories: The Nice Pattern and the Anger Cycle

Veronica’s family always seemed nice until she learnt about the family pattern that kept her anger suppressed. She had always been a ‘nice’ other people and had learnt how important it was to put others first. This helped her to have some great friendships but when she began to date Harry, her ‘nice pattern’ became her biggest problem. Veronica did not feel anger, and when Harry started putting her down, disregarding what was important to her, not considering her needs and generally treating her like she was his slave or simply irrelevant, she began to regularly cry. At no point did she say “stop” or feel the anger necessary for self-preservation. Rather she began to believe it was all her problem and that there was something terribly wrong her. After a year, she felt deeply depressed and accessed professional help.

Sandy experienced the opposite to Veronica. She too thought there was something wrong with her because she was always angry, however she would not let anyone else know that. Sandy felt deeply frustrated because nothing ever seemed to go her way. Other people let her down constantly and when she confronted them, they would lie to her or just walk away. She was great at telling other people exactly what they were doing wrong, and how they could improve their behaviour. But she was deeply lonely and felt very alone.

Veronica and Sandy’s anger patterns are at opposite ends of the spectrum. They have different healing journeys to liberate each of them from their respective patterns.

After Veronica accessed a counselor who she felt safe with, she began to work through her ‘nice pattern’. She realised that while it is a virtue to generally be kind to other people, being too nice is when you cannot feel anger when it is appropriate to feel it, and you do not protect yourself from real harm (either emotionally or physically). Veronica had to learn how to value herself and what is important to her, to begin to feel legitimate and start to feel anger. As she began to breathe, relax and allow the feelings of anger in her body without automatically pushing them away or swallowing them, she began to learn how to safely feel and express her anger.

Sandy also sort help for her loneliness and how to cope with other people’s issues. Bit by bit Sandy learnt to challenge some of her own beliefs about right and wrong, and began to see the world was not so black and white. Slowly she began to see that her judgments of other people were pushing them away and sabotaging closeness in her relationships. Beliefs of entitlement and criticism had constantly fed her anger which kept it inflamed. After a while she also discovered that underneath the anger cycle was deep sadness, an emotion which she had not let herself feel for a very long time.

For both Veronica and Sandy, learning safe ways to express their anger was a vital part of their healing. Anger wants physical and verbal expression. So safe anger release is when we find space to be on our own and allow ourselves to express the anger. This expression also needs to be safe to ourselves. Angry writing, art, dance, exercise, drumming or music or hitting cushions or a punching bag are all fine.

Safe Anger Release & Healthy Adaptive Action

When I feel anger, I drive to a secluded look out, stop the car and put on music. I then pretend the person is sitting next to me and I let them have it. I say whatever I need to for as long as I need to.  I know most of what I say is simply anger expressing itself and is not actually true… but I need to hear it because the anger will ultimately tell me the truth. In fact anger will not let go until we hear the truth!!! I might start to yell at my partner, then my parents and then myself.. .. .. And then the anger shifts!

When I hit on the truth of why I am really angry, anger transmutes into sadness or laughter. Anger is a secondary emotion to hurt, so when I hear why I am really hurt, the anger is released. Once anger is released then I need to step back and look at what I need to do with my truth in a more rational way. I might need to strengthen my boundaries with some people, or perhaps I need to openly communicate something to someone. Maybe I need to re-evaluate a friendship. Whatever I need to do in terms of the action, I have let myself safely feel the anger and listened to its underlying message. This is the process of ‘honoring anger’ in a way that channels the emotion into motivation and personal power. Learning to safely work with our anger enhances personal power with respect to ourselves and others.

Have you become stuck in your anger?

Were you able to channel your anger in ways that protected you or empowered you?



[Note. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]

30 Responses to “Anger as the Basis of Motivation and Personal Power”

  • Great post Vanessa! Anger is a very misunderstood emotion. Sometimes anger is a sign that people are healing. It gives recognition that they did not deserve to be treated in a certain way and some value or need was being stepped on.. It’s the actions of anger that tend to confuse the issue. I try and channel the anger into positive action to change whatever is happening around me. The energy that anger creates can be utilized to make positive changes.

  • Vanessa, great post. I find it so empowering to talk to clients about anger being a secondary emotion to hurt or frustration etc. They find it surprising and often that revelation opens the floodgates and allows us to talk about what’s really going on. The anger holds us back, when we can strip away the anger we can deal with our primary emotion …..

    • Hi Carla, fantastic stuff. I agree that anger can definitely holds us back from healing. When people realize that their anger is trying to protect them, even though it is currently working against them, they can relax and feel past the anger and into the sadness or the hurt. Allowing ourselves to cry can be like melting the ice!!! Getting past beliefs about ‘crying being a weakness’ can be part of this process too.

      Great comment
      Lots of love

  • This is a great post Vanessa. I got so much out of this and will read it to my husband who’s dealing with this right now. He’s a great man and I’ve been teling him that anger isnt bad. Its an emotion as you say, its what you do with it that matters.
    Thanks for explaining this so well.
    Sue xxx

    • Hi Sue, thank you for your comment. Yes, often men struggle with their anger while women struggle more with sadness. It’s interesting because both of these emotions are secondary to hurt. One or the other could be expressed because the person believes that one is safe or better than the other. However there are specific reasons why at different times we need to feel and safely express both emotions, and therefore get stuck on the other one.

      For example, if we are being hurt by another person and suppress anger, it does not matter how much we cry, the distress will not shift. We need to feel the anger. The same for sadness, if we are grieving and channel that only into anger, the anger will not shift. We need to feel the sadness.

      Thank you for your comment and I hope this helps your husband
      Lots of love

  • Thank you for the great post, Vanessa. The topic of anger is many times avoided because we are, at some level, afraid of the emotion. Sadness can often be at the base of an angry feeling. Whenever I feel anger I first check in with myself, about anything that I might be feeling sadness or disappointed. Cheers, Thea

    • Hi Thea, thank you for your comment. Yes, anger and sadness often get confused for each other. As I said above on my comment to Sue, neither sadness or anger will shift if we are blocked on other emotion. When we reconnect with emotional ourselves and learn how to be present with the feelings held in our bodies, we can distinguish between them better and learn to listen to the adaptive emotion.

      It sounds like you are doing well to understand and work with your anger
      Lots f love

  • Kama:

    I have struggled with expressing anger my whole life until I attended your wave of emotions workshop and realised that anger is an emotion. Before this I would suppress my anger which caused anxiety as it would build and not be released. I have now found safe ways to express anger rather than suppressing anger. There are many safe ways to release anger, if only we were taught this as we grow up, life would be so much easier.

    • Thank you Kama :-)

      I agree completely, when we suppress our anger we only implode and cause ourselves physical damage. We also tend to tolerate a lot of destructive behaviour from others. I know that journey too!!! I am so glad you took that wisdom from my workshop and have been able to apply that into your life…

      Lots of love

  • Sheb:

    How do we know Vanessa , if what were angry about is worth being angry about, how can we tell if were over reacting? I know I feel guided by my emotions but sometimes I feel its not worth being angry about but simply cant put it behind me either?

    • Hi Sheb, fantastic question, and one a lot of people are asking (so very relevant)!!!! It is also a difficult question to answer because people judge situations differently in terms of their importance so an anger proportional anger response would be relative to the meaning of the event to the person.

      I have verbal expression in my safe anger release so I can hear my anger express itself. It is completely disproportional to start off with, but as I listen to my anger’s verbal expression I often realize there is a lot more underlying how I feel. It is then where I gain awareness about how much anger belongs to the current circumstances and how much is emotional memory from past hurt. Our inner wisdom does know how to distinguish it!!!

      I hope this helps
      Lots of love

  • Anne Hannan:

    Great post Vanessa, I always see myself in the anger cycle, and never expressing it.
    I have recently understood how I attracted angry people as I had grown up with it
    and was comfortable around them…, well not really but I did not know any different.
    Now I am on a wonderful journey and surround myself with positive & supportive people
    and am able to speak my truth without having to be afraid of the other persons reactions..

    • Hi Anne, Thank you for sharing… that’s fantastic to recognize how anger played a role in your life, and that now you can speak your truth around positive people… anger always demands our truth not matter how much we try and avoid it!!! You are so right about accepting angry people around you because they were your normal… they were familiar! We all do this until we evolve through self-awareness and shift our relationship anger. So it’s not about getting rid of anger, just changing our relationship with it.

      Your wonderful new journey sounds great
      Lots of love

  • Hi Vanessa,
    This could be your best one yet. I agree that anger is a very misunderstood emotion. People have a hard job separating the feeling from the action and also the feeling from the person. Great post.

    • Hi Madonna, thanks… I agree! Generally in our society we are not taught to separate out the emotion from the action or person. In fact that last point was a good one. People often say that someone is an angry person but that is an identity statement an anger is not an identity.

      Have a great night
      Lots of love

  • suzanne:

    Great information and good synchronicity. I have recently worked out that by my need to be nice I don’t express my disagreement or anger in a positive/constructive way and as mentionned above it turns against me. Thank you – Suzanne

    • Hi Suzanne, thank you for sharing. I love it when synchronicity is at play!!! You are sop right… the ‘nice pattern” recruits us into giving away our personal power and suppressing anger. I wish you the best of luck in your journey to break through that pattern.

      Lots of love

  • Such an interesting post. I am “Veronica”, and am still working on finding ways of safely acknowledging anger, and would love to be able to turn it into a positive force for me.

    • Hi Charlie, thank you for your response. I think we are often challenged one way or the other with anger, we have either learnt to use it destructively or to suppress it. Learning a safe and creative relationship with anger is rare and yet so vital for our personal empowerment.

      I wish you the best on your journey with safe expression of anger
      Lots of love

  • Vanessa – what a powerful and liberating post! I have often done the “speaking to them” action and been amazed at where it ended. I didn’t understand the next step.

    Thank you for this!

    • Hi Lesley, thank you for sharing your successful experience with this technique. I find it liberating to be able to safely express my anger by myself. It feels like honoring myself, because I am both releasing a powerful energy I do not want to hold in my body and I have the opportunity to hear what is really going on within me. In my childhood we were not allowed to express much at all, so to be able to let it out safely feels great.

      The next step, after releasing the anger and hearing its truth, is to reflect on the information and begin to rationally work out what to do with that information. I tend to come back to healthy boundary setting and maintaining self-value for this step. Anne Katherine’s books on boundaries are a great source of information if you want to know more. I have the references on this site in “My Favorite Authors”

      Have a fantastic day
      Lots of love

  • Great post, Vanessa! Sometimes I get angry when someone says I can’t (not able to) do something. Then I think “Ooooh, I’ll show you I can!” – In those situations I use the energy of anger to prove them wrong :)

    • Hi Armi, thank you for your comment… I have done the same. When this is used in life enhancing ways anger can be a great motivator… it got me through my degrees!!!!

      Lots of love

  • Hi Vanessa,
    I’ve enjoyed reading many of the posts on your blog, but this one certainly struck home!! I have been chiding myself for months now, about how I often “react in anger” as a primary response or emotion to a situation, before calming down & creating a solution to a problem – usually at work.

    While I feel extremely unhappy in my job at the moment, (little-things seem to trigger an avalanche of swearing & that sickly feeling of boiling-over in anger & frustration!..) I have realised & only recently acknowledged, that much of my anger is in fact, about ME. Deep down, feeling that I have made some poor decisions in the last few years, that have led me into “trapping” myself in my current work role to pay the bills, letting a lot of my goals & passions slip into the background… I feel I’ve been holding myself back from experiencing my life to the fullest, allowing this underlying anger to control me in some ways, even though I’m generally a pretty happy soul!

    I can also relate to both characters in your story – I feel like a pendulum sometimes! 😀 I used to bottle things up, was always “nice” to everyone (& still am) but in the last couple of years I’ve started to get my hackles up, when dealing with people who only have their own best-interests at heart. Finding that inner-balance, allowing my anger to be felt & directed appropriately, is still my big challenge!

    For my part now, I cry when I feel I need to, just to get it out of my system & feel like I can start to see/think clearly again, about a given situation, as well as having the pretend “confrontational” talks to the person/people involved! Certainly no harm in pretend-yelling at my bosses, to get all that agro out, which tends to help me talk calmly & rationally in person next time I see them! 😉
    I’m now working on a couple of “passion” projects again, that will see me leaving my less-than-desirable job in the next few months, on MY terms!!.. Also playing drums in my band, which is an AWESOME & artistic way to vent your frustrations!!! 😀

    Many thanks for the great blog Vanessa, very inspirational reading!
    Cheers, Mel

    • Hi Melanie, thank you for your comment, it is very insightful… what I love about your comment is how you are owning and taking responsibility for creating a situation that you are unhappy in. That not only takes courage, but is also the beginning of turning your situation around and creating something a lot better. It sounds like you are doing really well to release the “nice pattern”, start making decisions based on your on truth, and releasing pent up anger safely. And drumming is a great way to release frustration and anger, and channel the energy into making music!!!! I have African djembe drums which are great for releasing anger too! Beautiful!!!

      Keep going, you’re doing well!
      Lots of love

  • Great article! I’ve stood in both Veronica and Sandy’s shoes. My life completely changed when a therapist friend recommended that I read and apply the lessons in the book “The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships” by Harriet Lerner. When anger shows up in my life, it is a sign for me that in some way I am not honoring my own requirements for a mutually beneficial, loving and harmonious relationship. You have provided valuable tips for setting appropriate boundaries and honoring our inner guidance system. Thank you

    • Hi Kadena, thank you for sharing your experience with anger. I love Harriet Lerner’s books and yes, I have read that one too… it’s great stuff! Thanks for reminding me of that book and for other people reading my blog to see.

      Have a fantastic day
      Lots of love

  • Great post Vanessa. It gives me a much deeper understanding of how anger fits with depression. I’ll be passing it on to someone I know and love who needs this message right now. So very timely… Thank you

Leave a Reply