In the same way that anger is a messenger, it is also a catalyst.
Merriam-Webster defines a catalyst as “an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.” In other words, anger lets us know that something needs to change. Something about our current situation is not serving us well, and corrective action is needed.
If we listen to the message in our anger, it will often reveal our longings to us. It will help us recognize that we want something different than what is happening. We need something more, we deserve something better, we desire something healthier and more life-giving.
Anger also lets us know about our pain and suffering. Anger tells us that we cannot continue to tolerate what we’ve been tolerating. It shows us the negative impacts that are piling up. It reveals the costliness of our situation.
When anger connects us to our pain, our suffering, and our longings, it is acting as a catalyst. It is advocating for change. And the higher our level of anger, the more significant the need for change.
When we ignore the message in our anger and instead persevere in our suffering, we can unintentionally make anger an emotional home. Over and over, betrayed partners enroll in our Braving Hope™ coaching program stating that they need to find a way to deal with their anger. They are angry and have been angry for months and sometimes years. They know their anger is eating them alive but they can’t figure out how to move out of the rage that has become their prison.
Often, a significant portion of the work we do in the program is focused on helping these individuals listen to their anger. Usually, their anger is telling them something that feels too scary to acknowledge. It may be telling them that they need to start having a voice in their relationship in a new and different way. It may be telling them that their partner is unwilling to change and their relationship needs to end.
Whatever the message, anger usually is asking them to create change in their relationship. Because this feels risky and scary, however, they have gotten stuck in their anger. Rather than using their anger as the catalyst for needed change, they let it become their emotional home. And with that, they are trapped in the old painful patterns that revolve around and continually generate more and more anger.
Anger can also be a catalyst for feeling and processing deeper emotions – the emotions that betrayed partners typically find difficult to experience. This is another place where we can get stuck and stay in anger rather than allowing ourselves to dip down into emotional experiences that may feel overwhelming.
Emotions such as grief, sadness, and loneliness can be hard to bear. These are tender, heart-breaking emotions, and we can get stuck when trying to navigate them. Anger, with all its powerful action-oriented energy, makes us at least feel like we are doing something. It can pull us out of grief and sadness. But in the process, it will short-circuit the healing work that needs to be done.
The goal for us is to allow anger to bring its messages, thereby acting as a catalyst, and to then let it move through us. Anger is not meant to be an emotional home, and it will damage our physical, mental, and emotional health if we allow it to become one. Instead, it is meant to be a powerful signal alerting us to the need to pay attention and tend to whatever issue it is highlighting.
In next week’s post we will look at how we express anger – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and how to develop something called anger competency.