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Healthy and Unhealthy Anger

Some people think that feelings that have a negative or critical element must be unhealthy. If you hold this view then you might think that anger, for example, is always unhealthy.

There is another school of thought, which suggests that a negative feeling such as anger does not have to be unhealthy. It all depends on how you express the negative feeling and the way you use it.

Thus for example, the psychologist David Burns in his book Ten Days to Self-Esteem argues that there can be healthy constructive anger just as there can be unhealthy, destructive anger. Adapting some of Burns' ideas we might express some of the posited differences thus:

Unhealthy Anger
Healthy Anger
You either deny your feelings of anger or you act aggressively towards the other person You acknowledge and express your anger clearly but you do so in non-violent, reasonable way
You allow your feelings about the situation to get you down You try to act constructively, deal with the problem and learn from it
The anger gnaws away at you and you find it difficult to get rid of it Ultimately you let go of the anger and move on
You treat the other person without respect You treat the other person with respect even though you are angry with them


Is the Distinction between Healthy & Unhealthy Anger Correct?

Not everyone will agree with this analysis. For example, you might say that sometimes people's actions mean that they don't deserve respect or that if you treat some people politely they will take it as an excuse to manipulate or control you.

There may not be a definitive answer to the question of what constitutes healthy and unhealthy anger. However, you can ask whether acting in any of the ways described in the left hand column of the table above in a particular situation produces good results for you, in terms of practical results and how you feel, and in the long term as well as the short term (for example, lashing out may give you temporary satisfaction but later you may experience feelings of guilt or shame).

My suggestion would therefore be that the next time you feel angry and act in any of the ways described in the left hand column of the table above, ask yourself whether acting in that way is producing good results for you. If it is not doing so, then consider try out acting in one of the alternative ways set out in the right hand column above to see if that produces any better results for you practically or emotionally.


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