“Anger is the energy that people use in order to act. But when you are angry, you are not lucid, and you might do wrong things” ~Thich Nhat Hanh.
Anger, as an emotion, is a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by all humans at times, and has functional value for survival. Anger alerts our body to take corrective action when we or someone we care about have felt wronged or mistreated. Although anger as an emotion is normal, it’s what we do with this emotion that can lead to destructive actions. Uncontrolled anger can have a negative affect on our physical, mental, and social well-being.
“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one”. ~Benjamin Franklin
Anger is oftentimes a cover for deeper, underlying emotions such as fear and loss of control. We may feel justified when we are angry and feel we know the source of our anger but oftentimes, it’s less about the other person and more about our perceptions. Personal perception plays a big role in eliciting anger. If a person perceives to lose control of a situation, they might get angry despite what the reality of the situation might be. We often notice when we are happy, a similar situation may not stir the emotion of anger inside of us as when we are irritated, feeling down on ourselves, etc.
“When anger rises, think of the consequences” ~Confucius
Although anger can at times be constructive, most times it clouds our judgment and creates stress in our lives. If anger leads to aggressive behavior toward others, it can lead to permanent harm to personal relationships. Prolonged or excessive anger, deep resentment, and even mild anger has been linked to cardiovascular problems and heart attacks.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”. ~Buddha
We must learn to pay attention to our anger and explore the underlying emotions related to it such as hurt or fear. Learning to feel empathy for others and taking the perspective of others is often helpful as well. For example when driving and experiencing road rage, you can view what might possibly be going on with the other driver. If you view the driver as ignorant and lacking proper driving skills, you might become enraged but if you view the driver as being sick or elderly, you might not be so quick to lose your temper. How often have you made mistakes on the road that you did not intent to? Maybe drove a little too slow while answering your phone or slowed down to hand something to your child in the back seat. We can imagine the person in front of us making such unintended mistakes as well and therefore not be so harsh in our judgment. Simply assuming the good intentions of the other person oftentimes has the ability to cool our fires. Another way to slow the speed of your rage is to think about your expectations of others. What are you expecting that you aren’t getting? Is the expectation reasonable? Can a compromise be made in meeting your expectation? Can you forgive the short comings of the person you have expectations from? Many individuals have difficulty forgiving others and would rather hold onto the anger out of revenge and spite or fear they may forget. Claudia Black, a psychologist says it best when she says “Forgiving is not forgetting, it is remembering and letting go”. Sometimes we just need to let go of our anger and make the choice to be happy. Holding onto to anger for the sake of revenge is a useless and destructive habit.
“For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness”. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unexpressed anger can have destructive consequences not only emotionally and socially, but physically as well. According to a New York Times article, chronic anger can be more dangerous than smoking and obesity in shortening your life. Additionally, chronic anger can also rob you of the chance to be happy and simply enjoy life.
“Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.” ~Buddha
Anger management strategies
1.) Learn to recognize your physiological reaction to anger (e.g. increase heart beat, sweaty palms, clenched fists, face feeling flushed, etc.)
2.) Take a time out and count to 10 backwards when you feel the anger building up. Breathe deeply 4-5 times in order to allow yourself time to come up with an appropriate reaction or plan to deal with the situation. Also keep in mind the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who said: “The best of you are those who are slow to anger and swift to cool down.” (Tirmidhi)
3.) Learn to communicate your feelings and be assertive rather than aggressive. Express your feelings using “I” messages (e.g. “I am feeling upset right now because I feel what I’m saying is being taken out of context”).
4.) Learn constructive ways to channel your anger out (e.g. walk away from the situation and clear your head, exercise, meditate, write in a journal, speak into a tape recorder, talk to someone that is not related to the situation in order to get a clearer perspective, etc.). The Prophet (peace be upon him) has also advised us about the benefits of doing the following:
- Making Wudu (Ablution): “Anger comes from Satan and Satan was created of fire; and fire is extinguished only with water; so when one of you becomes angry, he should perform ablution.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)
- Changing Physical Position: “When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)
5.) Accept that you can’t change the world or anyone else…you can only change your reaction. When you give up the idea that you can somehow change a person’s behavior or thoughts you become empowered and in control. You realize the only thing you have control over is your reaction to the person. You can choose to laugh about the situation, ignore it, make a joke out of it, or get angry. All those emotions are under your control and your choice.
6.) For chronic anger, you might want to look into an anger management program to learn strategies and coping skills in better managing your anger. Talking to a trained mental health professional is another recommended option.
“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger”. Buddha
This is why we are advised in Islam to fight our emotions and hold back our anger. Abu Hurayrah (may God be pleased with him) reported that a man said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), “Advise me.” He said, “Do not become angry.” The man repeated his request several times, and each time the Prophet (peace be upon him) told him, “Do not become angry.” (Al-Bukhari)
Furthermore, The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The strong man is not the one who can overpower others (in wrestling); rather, the strong man is the one who controls himself when he gets angry.” (Ahmad). And in another tradition he said, “The strongest man is the one who, when he gets angry and his face reddens and his hackles rise, is able to defeat his anger.” (Ahmad)
These words of wisdom, as with all advice in the Quran and Sunnah of our Prophet (peace be upon him) are meant to help us live better lives. As the above quote by Buddha states, it’s not necessarily that God will punish us for being angry in the literal sense but that we get punished by our anger. Chronic anger eats away at us physically and spiritually. For this reason we are encouraged to control our anger.
Dr. Nafisa Sekandari is the director and founder of Mental Health 4 Muslims.com. Dr. Sekandari is currently licensed and practicing in California and Arizona. Dr. Sekandari is also the current founder and director of MH4M Counseling and Education Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Additionally, Dr. Sekandari is a published author and lecturer.
Hosai Mojaddidi is the co-founder and past editor of MH4M. She has been actively involved with the Muslim community in the San Francisco Bay Area and the southern California community for nearly 15 years. Additionally, Sr. Hosai is a published author and lecturer.