A version of this article on channeling anger was originally published by Supportiv.
Anger is a normal, valid, and often adaptive response to frustrating situations. It’s not always the demon it’s often made out to be. But anger—even righteous anger—can quickly become self-destructive if not processed carefully.
In this guide, we discuss where anger comes from, how to understand your own anger, and how to use anger as motivation for healing. Healing from anger is very different from ignoring or stuffing it down.
Whether your anger is a response to everyday life or to systemic justices, anger can be used to inspire healing and motivate you to make a change. But it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t be on you to solve the world’s problems alone—the pressure is on the entire system to change.
We will stop being angry about injustice in America, especially injustice toward communities of color, when there is fundamental positive change toward equality and fair treatment.
Anger can be useful
Negative emotions signal that a change is necessary. In whatever way we can, we want to change our lived experience to decrease the sadness, frustration, loneliness, or anger that we feel. Most of these negative emotions trigger an avoidance response, meaning an increased motivation to escape obstacles or situations. Anger, on the other hand, triggers an approach response, meaning an increased motivation to overcome obstacles or change situations.
Because of anger’s motivational capacity, anger is often a useful emotion that results in:
- increased effort toward reaching goals
- increased investment of time and money
- increased drive to change other people’s behavior
Anger can lead to individual and societal change. Without anger, we would be more passive people, missing a key driving force toward improvement.
When anger becomes self-destructive
However, when we are unable to use our anger to make changes in our life or the world, it internalizes and begins to tear us down from the inside out. Anger, which starts as a driving force for external change, becomes a lingering internal emotion that only frustrates and hurts. Unfortunately, marginalized groups may even experience the intergenerational impacts of internalized righteous anger and frustration. 
Here are some of the signs of more serious issues that can occur when anger remains unprocessed:
- you feel frustrated, lost, and stuck
- you feel your anger is out of control
- your anger damages your relationships
- your anger leads you to do or say things you regret
- your body hurts after you get angry
- you regularly feel like you’re going to explode
In these cases, your held-in anger is unleashed on your own well-being, escaping by unproductive outlets that will do nothing to change the root cause of your frustration. The combination of negative consequences and a lack of positive changes can further increase feelings of anger, creating a destructive loop. To break the cycle and get back to the root of your feelings, anger must be reflected on and processed.
Use your anger to motivate healing
When you’re the victim of injustice, anger can be used to self-motivate. If people won’t treat you how you deserve, you can learn to assert your boundaries, understand your own needs, and advocate for yourself.
Pay special attention to your desired outcomes: What change do you want to see? Start with outcomes that relate to your personal well-being. In the wake of large-scale injustice, your ultimate goal is systemic change, but talking about your anger might bring you the peace you need to continue fighting. Letting things out and processing tough emotions may help you cope with your anger, while you work toward the change that can heal it.
Lastly, don’t compound your anger by getting frustrated with yourself for feeling the way you do. People tend to think hiding their anger is the right thing to do. But anger is normal and understandable. It’s a gut feeling that you’re being mistreated.
As discussions about police violence and systemic racism continue, African American leaders say it’s crucial for people to find a way to safely process both historical and current events and get help when they need it.
Remember to give yourself patience and time. Processing anger isn’t easy or simple—especially not when it’s so deeply justified. No justice, no peace!
- Thayer, Zantea. (2015). Racism Hurts Your Health—and Your Children’s, Too. The New Republic. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/120858/racism-has-intergenerational-effects-health