Recently, I came across a video that provided an interesting perspective on anger. It featured Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, providing key insights on healthy and unhealthy anger. The doctor himself had experienced a transformation that changed his outlook toward rage, and he uses this knowledge to help us understand the differences between constructive and destructive anger.
To quote him:
“If I were to infringe on your boundaries, either physically or emotionally, the healthy response for you is to mount an anger response,” No, get out, stay away.” That’s healthy. Healthy anger is in the moment. It protects your boundaries, and then it’s gone. It’s not necessary anymore. However, if you could not express it, it doesn’t disappear. It gets suppressed.”
In other words, he says healthy anger helps draw boundaries. Once you express your anger constructively or healthily, you step back. The incident ends there. It does no harm to the other but protects you from damage. However, this type is often misconstrued. People who go through this type of anger are often subjected to dialogues like “you are too sensitive” and “you are overthinking.” A form of gaslighting takes place to downplay the situation. When you are unable to express your anger constructively, or you were discouraged from doing so in your childhood, your feelings can become suppressed, potentially leading to you expressing your anger in a destructive manner later in life.
Here’s another interesting anecdote that he shared in his video, which goes against the typical “punch the pillow when you’re angry” technique:
“Just as healthy anger expresses itself, does its job, and then it’s gone, rage the more it explodes, the bigger it gets. That’s what happens to me. It doesn’t pass through me. Sorry no. I’ve worked with certain therapists who’ve said punch a pillow, express the rage, let it just pass through you like the wind. But that isn’t, in fact, what happens with me. And I know I’m not the only one. It actually magnifies and intensifies and extends this feeling because it recruits more brain circuits into its service.”
In short, he states that the more you indulge your anger without regulation, the more unmanageable it can become, unlike constructive anger.
The unhealthy kind is volatile. A person who goes through it cannot control himself or his words and expects us to sail through it. I have heard family members of people with unpredictable temperaments say with conviction, “That’s his only flaw. His partner will have to adjust to his anger.” “When she’s angry, step away.” This type of anger, which causes the most harm, is justified by the person and their family. Volatile people often blame the other person involved in the argument for “provoking” their anger. They use the same defense time and again to validate their own misdeeds. The worst thing I have heard such people say is, “But I cool down soon after I get angry, so it is not that bad.” This means they have no intention of correcting themselves, and it is a problem the people around them have to deal with. I am of the thought that unhealthy anger is the reason for most bad marriages. Even if only one partner struggles with anger management issues, it can still damage the relationship’s progression.
The ode here goes to “healthy anger.” Being nice all the time can earn you a lot of friends. However, it does not serve you well. Healthy anger helps you get out of a harmful situation, end bad marriages, friendships, or relationships, and confront anyone mistreating you. It enables you to take a stand. When you take this defense mechanism out of your life, you risk being treated as a doormat.
My anger nowadays is mostly healthy, and it comes up when I am pushed around or disrespected. I used to feel unhealthy anger in my younger days. But that behavior taught me it only harms the household and relationships.
I have also been subjected to unhealthy anger from some of my ex-partners. That was when I realized the destructive power of anger. It can affect someone’s mental and emotional well-being to the point of no return. I believe those exposed to rage regularly should seek therapy to help them feel balanced again.
Dr. Gabor Maté goes on to discuss why experiencing rage, which does not imply acting it out, is the way to process the harmful emotion. You sit with yourself, understand why you feel the way you do, and work effectively towards resolving it constructively instead of letting it out on the other person. He admits that he faced challenges in his marriage and with his kids due to his rage. I found his honesty refreshing because I believe the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Most hate to admit their imperfections and get defensive about them.
Anger management is something we must all learn and practice. Knowing when to be angry, how to express it, and how to calm ourselves down before it gets out of hand is vital to successfully taking control of our anger. If you are someone with destructive anger issues, work on improving yourself with the help of a therapist for the happiness of your family, friends, and people around you. Do not indulge those inner demons thinking they are untameable. They can very much be brought under control. But it requires your active participation.