Anger is an emotion. That seems like an obvious statement, but with the way our culture uses anger, it needs to be said. Anger is not the anti-Gandhi boogie man, and though the narrative around it has been weaponized, it doesn’t always have to be a weapon. At it’s base level, anger tells you that what’s happening isn’t right, and it wouldn’t be effective to let it happen. It tells you to fight and resist, which is part of the reason I’m writing this blogpost. ‘Fight’ and ‘resist’ aren’t impulses we necessarily want to reject at this time (or ever), and they can be useful within the realm of mission-driven work. Enclosed are a few handles to get a grip on your fury in professional settings.
Anger vis a vis fact
I identify as black, am a practicing Muslim (who others casually assume to be Christian or other), queer, and a fem. In the onset of our current administration, I worked with a nonprofit in which white supremacy was pervasive and unchecked on both the organizational and intrapersonal levels. In the face of those very primary and non-alternative facts, my anger was a natural and justifiable emotional response. Before deciding that being angry is wrong, examine your situation and allow yourself the space to ask the same question: “Does my anger fit the facts?” If it does, then you can problem solve on how to address it what caused it. If it doesn’t, then you can behave in opposition to that feeling.
Anger does not mean zero control
In real life, you can’t choose when you’re going to feel angry. You can choose what you do when you’re angry. For many, feeling anger can be terrifying because we link it to an extreme of total lack of control. However, unless you are inhibited by a substance or a disorder that prevents you from doing so, we are all capable of taking a moment to assess our behavior—even during the most emotionally charged instances. This goes for all of your emotions. Just because you feel something does not mean you have to act on it. If your brain is healthy (or mostly healthy), have a little more faith in yourself that you can feel angry and still act effectively.
Notice anger in the moment
The first step in understanding your behavior when angry is to just notice it. It’s also one of the hardest since many of us have been conditioned to immediately jump to an action–whether it be suppression or swinging–when angry. The minute you feel angry, take the opportunity to observe it. Notice what it does in your mind and body. What thoughts does anger lead to? Where are you tense? Can you notice these without attaching value to it or commitment to action? If you feel a value attachment coming on or an impulse for action, acknowledge it and continue to observe the anger itself. This can also help you figure out exactly why you’re angry so you can express that if there are any mediation steps going forward.
Suppressing anger has consequences
We tend to think of the consequences of acting out of anger. Now, take a moment to consider what happens when we ignore anger. A great and terrible rule of reality is pretending something isn’t happening doesn’t make it go away. Same goes for anger. Studies show that suppressing emotions makes you physically ill. Not only will you still be angry when you ignore it, your fear of anger will probably let what made you mad continue to happen, and you’ll make yourself sick. If that doesn’t quite do it for you, sit down and think actively through the actual consequences of getting angry. Sometimes you’ll find yourself jumping straight to “I’ll be terminated” when it’s possible “We’ll go to an HR meeting and resolve the issue” is an option.
Remember: What you believe and how you behave are reflective of who you are, and beliefs/behaviors are not the sum total of who you are. Acknowledging anger and acting out of anger doesn’t mean you’re less than human or that you’re proving the stereotype. It just means you are capable of experiencing the spectrum of human emotion. Though others might deny you that right, you won’t deny it of yourself. Go you.
Commarrah Bashar is a performer, writer, and advocate and serves on the Governance Committee of YNPN-TC. She also works at the Saint Paul Foundation, which has her endorsement for taking up the task of establishing racial equity. The views expressed here don’t necessarily represent those of the Saint Paul Foundation. Please direct all inquiries to