Anger: The Black Sheep of the Emotional Family




I’ve been doing a bit of a study on anger and other related concepts lately. For me this means exploring the thoughts and sensations I’ve attributed to it. I’m left wondering, could anger be the most widely misunderstood expression/emotion?

Anger is often considered so taboo and “not ok” that it is not met when it arises, and is instead shoved in a corner, only to erupt later, or it gets left to stagnate in the corner/in the body. That passive aggressive movement, sometimes acted out in violent displays, is then labeled “anger”. Anger has then been made into the enemy- something to be avoided at all costs. The cost of this is that I judge myself according to a label that has negative associations, but which in and of itself is merely an expression.

A conversation with a friend about this topic helped me realize how anger is related to the enlightenment myth. In her experience there is nothing wrong (or right) with anger. However, in enlightenmenty circles, where there is a heavy buy-in to the perpetuation of the enlightenment myth, anger carries a heavy stigma*. The enlightenment myth overtly, or covertly suggests that enlightenment equals peaceful equanimity. This is a huge topic, but for the sake of this blog post, it’s enough to note how the enlightenment myth will perpetuate the repression, resistance and abhorrence of that which could be associated with anger. If enlightenment is the same as equanimity, then anger (or sadness, or bliss) will be demonized and considered “unenlightened,” leading ironically to more suffering.

When I took the feelings and thoughts of anger to inquiry, I got to deconstruct what I had velcro’d to the concept. I saw the illusive associations I had attached to the word and to the sensations, including benign images that I made mean something and which I attributed to anger. I got to experience words simply as words, images as images, and sensations that didn’t mean anything in particular. I found that it was only my conditional thoughts about anger, and my fears of it, that kept it alive and kept me suffering as I tried to hide from it and deny it. Without the identification of anger meaning XYZ, anger gets to be here, or not. It doesn’t really matter.


I have often been afraid of what will happen if anger arises due to the box I’ve put anger into- and what culture has ‘made it out to be’- that I’d sometimes do whatever it took to disconnect from it. But anger doesn’t equal violent displays and yelling, just like crying doesn’t equal depression. As with any emotion, there is a wide range of expression within the field of anger. When I allow myself to be with the expression as it is, it comes and goes just like all expressions do.

It seems to me that part of growing up/embodiment is connecting with the emotions as they are, when and as they arise. In my experience, anger can be so simple. Being with anger may simply look like a stern brow, or a deepened/louder voice, or seriousness. It might look/feel like solidity or firmness, or even fierceness at times. It might have the attributes of certainty or pushiness. It may arise coupled with certain sensations in the body. It may lead to actions, it may lead to nothing. It can fuel amazing and straightforward interactions. Simple movements. Wow, what would it be like for anger to rise and move itself through, without all the baggage?! In my experience,it can be quite productive and simple. How is anger any less perfect then any other emotion passing through? What would it be like to allow anger, just like we allow the simple arising of joy or sadness?

When it’s free to come and go without judgment, it often does exactly that- it comes and goes.

“There is a type of freedom to be had by fully accepting the flow of life and living without resistance to its highs and lows… To dissolve the structures of the conditioned mind…  this is true freedom.” Keith Penn






* This blog post is focusing on the typical bias found in spiritual circles, where anger is deemed automatically inappropriate. However, there is also the other extreme bias, where people’s predominant method for expression is reduced to anger. For such people, sadness or fear is seen as not acceptable, so they hide in anger rather then from it.

2 thoughts on “Anger: The Black Sheep of the Emotional Family

  1. Carl Karasti

    Anger will arise within us when we recognize some injustice in the world. And we recognize injustice through our heart quality. Enlightenment arises through the opening of one’s heart, which also makes one’s heart more sensitive to injustice – not only injustice against one’s self but also, and even more significantly, against others, against all beings.

    So, enlightened sensitivity can actually increase and intensify one’s experiences of anger, which is why one also needs to develop skillful means for managing and utilizing their anger energy so it can be used effectively towards dealing with injustice in the world. Effective use of anger energy requires that one not be controlled by one’s anger, but that one instead be in control of this strong energy so it can be directed appropriately – with intelligence and wisdom. This, too, is a significant aspect of enlightenment. The ideal of enlightenment is not that one should never be angry, but that one should never be controlled by one’s anger.

  2. Carl Karasti

    Hazrat Inayat Khan, a teacher of Universal Sufism, said:

    “Man must realize that he has a power in him which is greater than all other powers – and this power is his will. Anger is a power, for it is a part of the energy that manifests as anger. Excitement, passion, and other emotions are manifestations of one energy, yet all such powers are in the hands of one single power – namely the will. They are ruled, controlled, and utilized by it. A person cannot be angry unless his will is at the back of it. He has to have the will power to defend himself, otherwise the anger would be helpless. The anger is there, but the will power is greater. If the will power is not behind it, the faculty will not work, even if not suppressed. As long as the will power does not help, the faculty, though present, is ineffective.

    “This one power, the will power, is within. Should the power work with the consent of wisdom, everything becomes allowable – anger, calmness, war, fighting, peace, love, hate. For instance, there is a time when anger helps; there is a time when peace helps, when calmness helps. We have to understand the rhythm, for, as in music, if we do not keep the time right it is because we do not understand the rhythm. But when we understand that, it will not matter what we do, things will come out all right. All is right when wisdom, counsel, and will power are harmonious.

    “But if the will is under the control of anger, passion, etc, so that they manifest regardless of wisdom, and come into play at their own time (which depends on the person’s habit) then a person will get cross every day! He gets cross because he has made it a habit, and his will has submitted. If this happens every day for eight days, it will happen on the ninth, or else perhaps he may fall ill. The power which should be obedient to the will controls it instead, and so the will works without wisdom in spite of the fact that wisdom is the only reliable power which God has given man.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *