It can be scary and frustrating when someone expresses anger toward us. We may wonder if this is healthy or abusive. In the heat of the moment we may want to retaliate. We may feel the need to set boundaries but are afraid to do so. We may wonder whether the anger is abuse.
What is Anger?
One thing to consider is that all feelings and are not good or bad, they just are…it is what we do with our feelings that can be good or bad (or as I like to say, healthy or unhealthy). Healthy anger is adaptive and protects us. When we follow its trail inside us we find deep hurts, fears and disappointments. These softer feelings are called primary emotions. Primary emotions bring a sense of connection when shared and in a healthy partner, elicit empathy. When we share anger, this leads to disconnection and hurt feelings that can eventually lead to resentment. However, there are healthy ways to work with anger that can help us heal and grow.
One of the first steps toward healing is to distinguish between anger and abuse.
Here is a checklist adapted from David Ricco’s writings that may help.
True anger is always mindful.
Abuse is ego-driven and caught in mindsets.
True anger is a form of assertiveness that shows respect.
Abuse is aggressive, an attack.
True anger shows tough love that enriches or repairs the relationship.
Abuse explodes in rough or damaging mistreatment that endangers the relationship.
True anger arises from displeasure at an injustice.
Abuse arises from the sense of an affront to a bruised, indignant ego.
True anger focuses on the injustice as intolerable but reparable.
Abuse focuses on the other person as bad.
True anger aims at a deeper and more effective bond; an angry person moves toward the other.
Abuse wants to get the rage out no matter who gets hurt: an abuser moves against the other.
True anger coexists with and empowers love: fearless.
Abuse cancels love in favor of fear: fear-based.
True anger is nonviolent, in control, and always remains within safe limits.
Abuse is violent, out of control, derisive, punitive, hostile, and retaliatory.
True anger includes grief and acknowledges this.
Abuse includes grief but masks it with feigned invulnerability or denial.
True anger believes the other is a catalyst of anger.
Abuse believes the other is a cause of anger.
True anger treats the other as a peer.
Abuse treats the other as a target.
True anger is a form of addressing, processing, and resolving.
Abuse is a form of avoiding one’s own grief and distress.
Is is wrong to express anger?
No! But how we do this can either benefit us or drive us from one another. Need more help? Give me a call and set up an appointment.
Do you live the Hanford or Visalia California area? Call me to set up a therapy appointment today!
Reno NV Therapist / California Teletherapy
Adapted from How to Be An Adult in Relationships, by David Richo (Shambhala, 2002). Copyright (c) 2002 by David Richo.