Transmuting anger

“I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world” Mahatma Gandhi

ID-10032230 I have written before that I find it difficult feeling, dealing with or expressing anger. I am not inherently an angry person and I hate confrontation. I am generally of a forgiving nature – perhaps too forgiving – and I am tolerant of other people’s up and down moods. However, I tend to put anger in a different category than a simple ‘mood’ and I am prone to associate anger with aggressive, toxic and hostile people.

So if ever I find myself becoming angry, it fills me with angst as I become concerned that I may be turning into an angry toxic person. Then, as I am reluctant to face my anger, my emotions start to twirl around in an uncontrollable fashion.

Having had to deal with a fair amount of anger over the past few years, I have come to realize that the feeling anger has a defensive form and it tends to be this defensive form that is the one that sometimes hits me. Usually it hits me in response to an aggressive action directed at me. In those circumstances my own anger that I feel has actually been the one emotion that is everything to do with defending my values.

Anger is my reactive emotion whenever I have perceived mistreatment, insult or malice. It is the feeling of anger that gives me a sense of justice, and to want to right wrongs. It is anger that leads me on to defend morality. For example, anger is the outrage I feel when I hear about child abuse, racism, mistreatment of women, rape or murder. From a personal perspective, it has been anger that has empowered me to do good in past causes that I have taken on such as the saving of wilderness areas, and fighting for free speech.

Anger is also the feeling that empowers me to become the best I can be. Anger has been the emotion behind my silent protest against what I initially saw as a reprehensible situation, on the collapse of my marriage. Anger planted within me an inner drive to get through the mess, survive and thrive. When I have felt utterly worthless and useless, anger has been the rebellious spirit within me fighting for feelings of self-worth, courage and dignity. Being energy-charged, anger has enabled me to keep going though all the turmoil, through all the mud. When I felt all the values I ever believed in had been violated, it was anger that gave me the drive to fight to maintain my own values, to keep believing in them, and to keep living by them – no matter what. Anger has kept me striving towards a life of moral principles to live by … and to keep doing what I believe is right.

Rather than try and bury anger, which I am prone to do, it is far better that I ask ‘what value do I feel has been violated that is making me feel this way?’ Then with a rightful indignation against the violation of that value, affirm within myself that I will never compromise that value and determine to keep living by that value’s code. Once that value within me is reaffirmed, the course of action out of turmoil into a land of peace and harmony becomes more obvious to me.


This is a third post in a series on feeling my feelings.
# 1. Feeling my feelings
# 2. Recognizing my own feelings


34 thoughts on “Transmuting anger

    • Elizabeth this is an interesting post and I think you have nailed the description of anger. @jmgoyder asks an interesting question. In emotional intelligence theory it isn’t that there are good forms and bad forms of emotions. There is instead a healthy level of each emotion. At this healthy level the emotion has a gift to offer us. The gift of healthy anger is setting boundaries, and I think the way you describe your anger expresses this well.

    • After reading and thinking about this post and many of the comments, I believe that justified anger is healthy and useful, while chronic anger that is actually a crutch, to help us avoid acknowledging and feeling the real emotions that are even more uncomfortable for us to feel than anger is, is unhealthy and harmful.

      • Your reply got me thinking. I feel now there are 3 situations. The first one is chronic anger, that you speak of – covering up another emotion or inadequacy that needs addressing. That is unhealthy anger. The second, also mentioned, is justified anger channelled into positive actions. That is healthy and useful anger. The third situation, not discussed, is dealing with the anger of another. When the anger is not your own, one can take it on, avoid it, run away from it, fear it or stand up to it. That aspect deserves some more thought and perhaps another post. Thanks for your comment.

      • You’re right, of course, which is to say I agree with you. Thanks for your wisdom.

        I’ll be thinking about ways to respectfully stand up to the anger of someone else, without taking it on, avoiding it, or fearing it. At the moment, I don’t have any idea about that.

  1. Terrific post Elizabeth! I can definitely empathize with you. Anger has characterized much of my life and it is something I’ve had to overcome in order to recover my health. A couple of things have helped me immensely. First, is knowing that I became addicted to anger because anger helped me overcome fear. Second, is knowing that it felt better to feel anger than to feel rejection, shame, guilt or other emotions. Third, is knowing that anger stems from feeling unlovable, unworthy, inadequate and powerless. I have put my focus on becoming spiritually conscious, as well as understanding and accepting that people mistreat others because they’re spiritually unconscious. Have a blessedly awesome day! Fred

    • I like Fred’s take on this, and it rings so true: anger stems from the fear of being unlovable, unworthy, inadequte or powerless.
      I also think that anger can be a healthy driving force to fight against injustice.

    • Very interesting post, Elizabeth, and an enlightening comment, Fred. It appears to me that those of us prone to stuffing or swallowing anger, do so because anger is more uncomfortable for us than are feelings of rejection, shame or guilt. While those of us who are more hot-headed, are more comfortable with anger than with other difficult emotions.

      Anger, rejection, fear, guilt and shame are all challenging emotions, but if we learn to recognize the truth of our emotions, (rather than default to the uncomfortable emotion we’ve made into a crutch of avoidance) we can choose how to deal with the trigger–whether we can and/or want to change, accept, or move away from the person/situation that makes us uncomfortable.

      This little conversation was very empowering, and is helping me to understand how I might finally be able to resolve a long-term and chronic problem in my life. It has also deepened my understanding of and compassion for the people in my life who have a different emotion-preference from mine.

      I sincerely thank you both.

      • Thank you so much for this Tracy. I agree with you on every point. I also try to remember that people come into our lives and interact with us in a way that brings unresolved emotional pain to the surface for us to dissolve. I also do my best to live in spiritual consciousness, excepting the present circumstances, trusting that my life is unfolding the way it is meant to and having faith that no matter what happens, I will be okay.

        Many blessings on your day!

      • I like your expression of those of us prone to ‘stuffing and swallowing’ anger, which is what I often tend to do. I probably also stuff away guilt and shame as well. If the truth were known, it is fear and rejection at the root of it all for me. Your comment has helped me see that. Thanks.

      • I’m the same, and I haven’t thought about fear and rejection for quite some time, because I’ve been pretending to myself that I’ve changed. In some ways, in some relationships, I have grown. But I haven’t finished the work yet. I thank you! This is most helpful to me. ā¤

  2. Sometimes anger arises that seems unsurmountable and no matter what, it keeps on bubbling away. Perhaps with time it subsides and changes into accepting that nothing can undo the past and one just has to keep going. There is relief in doing things.

  3. I related to SO much in this post, Elizabeth. This year, finally, I learned something very helpful about my anger. I signed up for a yoga class. My instructor is the wife of one of the professors I had in my master’s program, and she is a jewell.
    It was my second session (I’m in a group of 12), when she was introducing an open-hand move that supports a deep breathing stretch. I was stunned to realize that all my adult life, I deal with anger by holding my breath and with my hands at my side, making tight fists, counting to ten. With is the fight preparation, in dangerous combination with the held breath.
    Now, when I feel angry, I open my hands at my side, so wide open that I feel the pull in the palms, and I focus on breathing in through the nose and out through the nose with almost a soft growl in the back of the throat before it’s out the nose. I don’t know all the yoga terms, but it’s an amazing combination for me. As my instructor says, to do that combination, you can’t focus on or brace for anger, you just can’t. And after doing the combination for 4-5 breaths, what is left is not raging anger.

    • Got to come in here Marylin and say – YES! Good for you!! When we connect to the breath it moves the energy through the body. Anger is energy. We can move it through and release it in a healthy way.

  4. There is amazing advice here and I found myself reading slowly how others cope with anger. I was a “stuffer” and sometimes a door mat until I went through couples therapy in 1983 thru ’84. I learned to ex l rest anger by saying it in terms of how I was feeling. I think it was so funny because 3 of 3 men, 2 who had gone through therapy thought my feelings and expectations as “selfish!” This clearly meant they did not understand the two completely different counselors. Both said, “When a person leads with “you did this” or other “you” statements; the other person feels attacked. As I became “better” at quietly expressing myself, my assertive self upset the exes. One drank more and stayed out late, another went out with women and the last, a religious man felt he had ” lost control over me.” Obviously, the way to being my true self has brought me closer to brothers, my Pl aren’t before my Dad died, then friends we hope have stayed with me, constant and steadfast. Not sure if there will be someone who realizes we wait on each other, take care of each other and enhance each other’s lives. Elizabeth, you will be a stringer and happier woman if you continue your already great progress and express yourself with open arms and hands releasing any residual anger and become “free!”

    • I LOVE this comment. I especially like the story of how your exes saw you expressing your feelings as being selfish and losing “control” over you. Amazing!
      It is hard to assertive sometimes, but well worth the effort. Finding someone who accepts that assertiveness is a whole different question. We can only but try šŸ™‚
      thanks for your reponse

      • I am so glad you loved this comment, Elizabeth. Expressing oneself should be welcome with friends and someday a special man in your life, maybe mine, too. šŸ™‚

  5. Anger comes in different flavors and dimensions .. like all emotions Elizabeth. Our belief about anger can make it difficult to acknowledge it and master it fully.
    Channelling anger into outrage and positive action is one way.
    I have found that using your breath and moving the body is an other way … and more direct. That’s why athletes punch bags! And that’s why I do yoga and dance.
    As you let yourself feel more and more Elizabeth, get ready to dance your socks off!!

  6. Feeling our emotions is always the beginning of healing. Great post Elizabeth. Describing the feelings you have experienced and the different forms it takes over time, is true for us all. I like using my voice to release anger! It could be a big Ommmmm or Ahhhhh and this really helps and I can do it in the car as I drive too ha. šŸ™‚

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