Anger is a necessary emotion and reaction to threat. In ages past it mediated the survival of the human species – if we were laid back about the predator entering our cave, we became immediate and phylogenetic history. Anger can also buttress appropriate outrage, for example if we encounter a playground bully, racism, or emotional abuse. Anger, however, is generally thought of as a “secondary emotion”, meaning anger is generally secondary to other emotions, such as fear, hurt, or sadness. Shame is a particularly unbearable emotion that can morph into anger. Anger can be thought of as one side of a coin, with the other side being another emotion. Therefore, to successfully express and resolve anger, we must be able to flip that coin and access both sides. Unfortunately our culture encourages men to keep only the anger side flipped up and women to keep the vulnerable side flipped up.
The expression of anger can be thought of as being on a continuum. At one end is passivity, which says, “I will let you stomp on me”. At the other end is aggression, which says, “I will stomp on you”. The entire middle of the continuum, however, is assertiveness, which says, “I will not stomp on you; neither will I allow you to stomp on me”. We have the option of being directly or mildly assertive, with many alternatives in between. In most cases, assertiveness results in the best outcomes, and enables us to be genuine advocates for ourselves and for others.