Embracing our emotions can be challenging. When it comes to finding healthy ways to feel and even express our anger, specifically, the stakes can feel even higher. We often think of anger as something to be ashamed of, avoided, or hidden.
However, learning how to feel and express our anger in healthy ways is an important part of our emotional development. It makes us better leaders, better partners, better parents, and better people.
Although anger is an intense emotion that can be challenging for us to embrace, there can be real value in giving ourselves more freedom to tap into it. Anger can sometimes motivate us to say things we need to say and help us dig deep enough to have those important, sweaty-palmed conversations that are long overdue and can be easy to avoid.
(Are you avoiding a difficult conversation? Read this post next)
Good vs. Bad Emotions
First, let’s talk about what we deem “good” emotions versus those, like anger or jealousy, that we tend to see as “bad.”
Keep in mind, while we may be experiencing certain emotions in a negative context, that doesn’t mean any emotion is inherently good or bad. Instead, emotions become problematic when we suppress them and don’t feel them authentically. After all, we’ve been trained to suppress our emotions and in service of being “professional,” “grown-up,” or “appropriate.” This can sometimes mean we can get stuck and unable to feel or express our true emotions.
Many of us have been conditioned to keep our feelings under wraps. Things like our age, gender, race, background, and other factors often play a role in how much space we feel we have to express our emotions. For example, many men in Western society are socialized to “be strong” and not show weakness, which can make it harder for us to embrace our emotions—especially those seen as negative. Alternatively, many people who self-identify as being a member of one or more non-dominant groups, may not feel safe enough to express their true feelings for fear of retribution, isolation, or even violence.
When we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, they can start to control us. We may find ourselves lashing out in anger or freezing up when we’re feeling overwhelmed with sadness. In these cases, our emotions are no longer serving us—they are running our lives.
Passing Emotions vs. States
It’s also worth mentioning there’s a difference between feeling an emotion and living in that state. Emotions come and go, and feeling a certain way is different than being that way.
For example, when we say “I’m feeling mad,” as opposed to “I’m mad,” it makes it more about the passing emotion and less about living in a state of anger. Not to mention, anger is often a secondary emotion. The truth is, bursts of anger can really be unresolved hurt and disappointment, or underlying sadness or fear. But embracing the emotions you’re feeling in that moment can help you get to the root of what’s causing you to feel that way in the first place. Feeling these feelings is also what can stop us from becoming them.
In short, all of our emotions are valid and worth exploring—even the ones we don’t enjoy. So, how do we do that? How can we start to embrace our anger and other challenging emotions in a healthy way?
Here are some of my favorite ways to do so…
- Give yourself permission to be angry
- Write an anger letter (read more about anger letters in this post about the power of forgiveness)
- Practice visualization
- Do healthy productive things to get the anger out physically in a conscious way (beat on pillows, yell in a secluded environment, exercise)
To learn more about these strategies for embracing emotions, check out my entire podcast episode on the importance of embracing emotions.
Emotions and Leadership
If you’re in a leadership role, keep in mind that great leaders provide a safe space for their team to express their emotions. Just imagine what it could mean for your team if people could express their true feelings in mature and genuine ways. It takes quite a bit of emotional intelligence and maturity to hear and receive someone’s anger and not react to it. But when you demonstrate this skill as a leader, it helps establish a psychologically safe environment in which people can share openly without judgment or fear.
Do you find it hard to feel and express certain emotions? What can you do to allow yourself to tap into anger and other hard emotions in an authentic and liberating way? Feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.
Mike Robbins is the author of five books, including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.
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