Your Anger is Your Real Enemy: Cultivating Resilience in Strife

Anger is a valid emotion, one that serves a good and useful purpose. It can drive us toward overcoming obstacles, seeking justice, setting boundaries, and problem-solving. In its proper place, with the right limits set around it, anger can even be a healthy thing. It is certainly healthier, in almost every case, to experience your anger rather than suppress it.

But anger is not meant to be a long-lived emotion. At least not if we intend to be the most actualized and healthy versions of ourselves. When left out to spoil, anger rots into hatred, malice, contempt, and even self-loathing. It poisons our hearts and minds, and then poisons our relationships.

About three years ago, I went through a six-month period of prolonged and profound anger. My marriage was falling apart and we were separated. I felt alone, isolated, and let down. I was convinced that life had dealt me an unfair hand, and I was furious. During that time, I thought I was healing. I believed it. I allowed myself to experience and express my anger without restraint or apology, and it felt so good. Over time, however, I noticed that my relationship with my anger was changing. I was fixated on it, addicted to it. My anger was becoming part of me.

Thankfully, I caught the problem before it did too much damage to my inner well-being and my relationships with others. I began a journey toward healing, both in therapy and in between sessions at home. One of the most important things I did was to purchase the book The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler.

The entire book is excellent and worth your time to read. But today, I’d like to share a few insights from Chapter 13 entitled Dealing with Anger and Hatred. As we navigate our healing journeys, anger and hate will be things we must necessarily work through, and it’s crucial that we do it well. Here are some of the key insights from the book:

#1. Anger and hate stifle compassion and altruism.

Leaning into anger for long periods of time eventually destroys our virtues. It puts us in a mindset that is incapable of showing compassion toward others and to ourselves.

#2. You can’t overcome anger by suppressing it or by acting on it.

Our instincts are to either suppress our anger—shoving it deep down and pretending it doesn’t exist—or to act on our anger by allowing it to gurgle out onto others. Instead, we must work on developing the antidote to anger, which is patience, tolerance, and resilience. These virtues teach us how to keep our anger in perspective, helping us to withstand hardships in a way that is healthy, rational, and proportionate.

#3. Your opponent isn’t the enemy—your anger is.

We always see conflict with others as us versus them. They are our enemy, and our goal is to gain victory over them. But the truth is, any time we engage in battle, it is possible that we will lose. This is bad for our self-esteem and self-image. When we choose to see our anger as the enemy, and to see our fight as overcoming it and finding peace, we will always be victorious. This victory comes, regardless of what happens to our external enemies.

#4. The destructive effects of anger on your body and mind are obvious.

Prolonged anger, hostility, and hatred have a profound effect on our overall well-being. According to the Dalai Lama, anger “obliterates the best part of your brain.” It destroys your peace and presence of mind, clouds your perception of right and wrong, and leads you down paths that stand to harm yourself and others.

#5. Prolonged anger and hate serve no other function than to cause us harm.

Although anger can serve a good purpose in small doses, it only stands to corrupt our own hearts over time. Even if we turn our anger outwards as a means of gaining revenge, we don’t always have control over the outcome. Sometimes, we don’t get the justice we feel we deserve because we live in a world where justice isn’t guaranteed. Other times, we don’t get justice because we have a skewed idea of how bad the harm was and are seeking unjust retribution. Either way, we may not see the justice we seek. So, we can’t count on our anger to ever have consequences on the other person. The only person it stands to harm is ourselves.

#6. Unchecked anger leads to negative consequences for ourselves.

When we act with anger or malice, we often misstep. We behave in ways that feel good at the moment, but that may bring injury, harm, or negative consequences our way. When we respond to the things that make us angry with patience, resilience, and perspective-keeping, we give ourselves the opportunity to make good decisions that don’t lead to self-limiting or self-defeating outcomes.

#7. Self-restraint is a sign of strength, not weakness.

We have a way of perceiving silence and self-control as weakness. We see the most bombastic among us as the ones who are strong, fierce, and brave. Anyone can blow up or seek revenge. That is one of our basest human inclinations. But staying focused, resilient, and patient takes active restraint and self-discipline. These are virtues, not weaknesses.

Ultimately, healing from anger is an inner journey. It’s one that not everyone will choose to take. But if we intend to be our most resilient, healthy, and fulfilled selves, we must do our best to try. Prolonged anger brings nothing but poison to ourselves and our relationships. Peace, patience, and resilience bring perspective and health to both our relationship to self and to others.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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