Is Anger a Bad Emotion?


If you look at all the spiritual celebrities, you may assume they never ever get angry at all! Enlightened beings are in control of a bad emotion like anger. Mr. Wunderlich introduces us to the ‘God of Anger’ and why his or her job is an important one.

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Thank you for your attention, yours truly, Mr. Wunderlich

Read the transcript

If I had to illustrate a pantheon of the Gods and if anger would be one of the Gods, what would it look like?

I would draw anger as a baby. Because babies can be so angry! They get red baby heads and their baby fists clench and they can scream so loud that their parents’ ears simply fall off. It’s a fact. Happens a lot.

What babies feel is real anger. They are not sad, these little babies, don’t let yourself be fooled by their tiny little faces with their huge eyes! They are not capable of many emotions yet, but anger is already hardwired.

From all the emotional circuitries in our brains one of the first to be installed by our DNA is anger. Anger is so old, maybe even amoebas get angry.

And it’s very easy to deduct why anger is important to babies. Because they get angry when they are in need of care. Because babies can get angry, more babies survive. Anger is a baby live saver emotion.

When your baby gets angry, you better find out why. That’s what your parent instincts tell you to do. And your ears, too.

So we understand anger if our babies are involved. But nobody likes an adult with a red face, clenched fist that screams, like a baby would, if it could: “I have to defecate!”

That would be inappropriate under almost any circumstances I can think of.

Adults better behave. They should be able to master their emotions. And they should better master their anger, because this emotion is the one with the worst reputation. Sure, no one likes greed or pride or sloth, but anger is the worst!

This is true for most religions.

Anger is not popular in any big religion. Maybe the disciples of Kali in “Temple of Doom” or the Sith, but not real religions.

In Judaism it is compared with worshipping idols by some scholars. Which means breaking the most important of all commandments, the first one. If you are angry against something in your life you are angry against the plan of God, because the cause of your anger maybe ordained by him.

In medieval Christianity anger was tolerated as a passion and thus not positive or negative. But in the form of wrath it clearly is seen as a deadly sin. And the debate about when anger becomes wrath is very complicated.

This ambiguity makes sense. The bible is full of examples of people gettin angry. Moses, Job, Elijah, Naomi or Jeremiah get angry. As does God himself again and again. And in the New Testament Jesus gets angry, too. But that’s not wrath.

Krishna is more distinct. In the Bhagavad Ghita he declares that greed, lust and anger are the most prominent signs of ignorance that lead to permanent bondage to the neverending circle of reincarnation. Which is not regarded as a good thing in Hinduism.

In Buddhism the verdict is the same. In almost every tradition anger is seen as one of the five hindrances. Hindrance to your meditation, hindrance to live a free life and, like Krishna says, the cause for reincarnation.

In Islam anger is instigated by Sheitan, Satan himself. Anger hinders the faith of an believer and the suppression of anger – kazm – is a praiseworthy character trait of true believers. The well known saying “Anger begins with madness, and ends in regret.” is from the Islamic hadis.

Yes – Yoda seems to have derived his wisdom from Islam. If the Jedis have a religion, they are against anger, too. Anger is the path to the dark side, Luke. Anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. And suffering leads to 9 movies about a cult of celibate monks and nuns.

Anger seems to be a very bad emotion.

When I was about fifteen or sixteen years old, I became a participant in the so called “peace movement” here in Germany. This movement was a predecessor of the Green movement and the Green political party.

We were the first generation to be raised in the Cold War and we did not believe in the principle of deterrence. The more complicated the weapons got and the more overkill capacity the super powers developed the more the probability of a third World War was increased.

And, being German, you could not negate that the first two World Wars were a human catastrophe of never experienced proportions. So we demonstrated against the stationing of Pershing II rockets in Germany.

We really wanted to be peaceful. No war in Europe ever again. And no more war with German participation.

We despised the military and military thinking. We tried to create a peaceful way of living together. Only if we could manage to live peacefully ourselves could we bring peace to the world. And this could only be achieved if we were able to communicate without anger.

Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it! Peace, Love and Happiness.

Okay. There I sit in our little group and the alpha male talks to me: “I am so sorry, Oliver, but what you are saying feels terrible aggressive here at my side of our communication. It seems like you got your anger not controlled properly. As far as we all here are concerned, nobody gave you any reason to react in this way. Though you maybe right with your argument, I simply cannot accept it here. Really, I am very, very sorry.”

And I sat there, listening to the preaching. While I listened, things happened in me. Reason decided to take a break and left my brain. It said something like: “Ahm, I need to find something to eat. Something healthy, of course”.

So anger took the controls. And it fumed.

It told me to stand up and put my fist at the highest speed my untrained body could accomplish into the face of this alpha male. Not only because he was an arschloch whose existence on this planet was totally superfluous, but because I single handedly wanted to prove that violence can sometimes be justified.

I didn’t do that, as you can imagine. I swallowed my emotions. At least I didn’t smile. Reason had left for its break, but it had left a little post it at the controls. Something like: “Happiness and Love and Peace, too. Remember Peace, Man!”

I was very young. And I really wanted to be peaceful. As peaceful as possible! I was too inexperienced to understand that the behaviour of this alpha male was aggressive. That there’s a passive form of hiding anger so that it looks peaceful on the outside, but is poisonous on the inside.

I didn’t know that. The mistake had to be on my side. I was not ready for peace. And love. And happiness. Anger was the problem, my anger was the problem.

Years later I began to meditate. And the people there were not very different from the ones I knew from the peace movement. For them, too, anger was a problem. The teachers radiated their ‘not being angry’ like the spiritual celebrities from YouTube nowadays do.

I thought that I had come to the right place. Eastern wisdom may have the better solutions of dealing with my anger than the three book religions. Because meditation was a practice and not only letters in a book.

The funny thing is: Especially in Zen there are lots of people who really do have anger issues. Some of the more popular Zen teachers I met are full of anger. But it’s never a topic. It seems like especially Zen helps to surpress anger very successful.

So, what to do with anger in the Zen way?

Here’s the recipe: If you are feeling the first signs of anger, simply watch it. Be the witness of the anger in you. Listen to the thoughts that anger thinks in you. But, don’t forget: This is not you thinking angry thoughts, that’s anger.

If anger is in control, it changes your perception of reality. You cannot think anymore, all your thoughts are about your anger and the object of your anger.

But if you can be the observer of your own emotion, if you actively watch yourself being angry, you don’t have to act it out. You watch your anger arising, you let it be there and then you let it go again.

You externalize anger. You separate anger from you.

Anger cannot make you do angry things anymore. No red face, no clenched fists and no yelling around anymore.

You are not actively angry anymore.

This is a very popular method right now. It is called the RAIN process in mindfulness meditation schools. Whereas…

R stands for “Recognize what is happening”

A for “Allow life to be just as it is”

I for “Investigate inner experience” and

N for “Non-Identification”

To be honest: I have a little problem with mindfulness based systems. In my opinion it’s a typical Western way of reducing religious practices of other traditions to methods and processes and packaging it into seminars that are easier to sell. Meditation requests a life long commitment, it is not there to be consumed.

That said, I admit: This method can help. Sometimes. It seems useful for emotions like social anxiety and specific forms of anger Especially if your anger is connected to something that has a slow build up inside of you.

One example: I am allergic to some specific body postures. If I have to install a lamp at the ceiling I slowly get angry. I know this and I can watch myself losing my temper. Especially if the lamp is installed and I use the light switch and nothing happens! This is the moment I deeply quarrel with god and his creation.

But I know about this. There’s no need to yell at someone or to throw the screwdriver through the living room. I am prepared. The anger is externalized and I can smile about it. A bitter smile. A smile that still quarrels with creation.

This method, this process has just one huge design fault. It does not change the reason of your anger. It just treats the symptoms.

Maybe you are smiling. You recognized what’s happening, you externalized anger and you do not act it out.

You are not actively angry.

But you maybe still passively angry.

It’s not making your anger vanish in the thin air of a meditation room. It is just another method to surpress agressive behaviour. It may help with some specific forms of anger, but not with every form.

The understanding of anger did not really progress in modern times in the West. Especially in the Sixties and Seventies we began to understand that the suppression of anger can be harmful.

We now know suppression can lead to depression or anxiety. But it is linked to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart problems, headaches, and digestive problems, too.

Still, there is no way to manage it.

Well, you could act out your anger. That’s the idea behind many methods that were en vogue in the Seventies. You act out anger, just one simple example, not on the person who made you angry, but on a sparring partner. Or a punching ball. Or on a small piece of rubber as some telemarketers use them.

But nowadays science is very clear about this: Acting out anger doesn’t reduce it. It may relieve the stress associated with suppressing anger, but it doesn’t reduce anger itself. The opposite seems to be true.

The fact that you are not hitting your boss, but a punching ball doesn’t redirect your aggressive behaviour. Even if you are physically exhausted, the anger is still there.

There seems to be no single therapeutic solution to handle the oldest emotion in our brains in a satisfying manner. In a manner that turns us all into civilized, peaceful individuals that are predictable and easy to handle for the communities we live in.

Is there nothing we can do to live peacefully?

To be honest: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I really tried hard to be as peaceful as possible, to be as enlightened as my role models, to believe in all the projected calmness I encountered in my teachers, but it didn’t work.

I’ve given up somehow. I do not fight anger. I do try to control my aggressive behaviour, but I accept that my anger is there for a reason.

Anger is not a bad emotion. Anger is what made babies survive since … since there are babies!

Without anger nobody would try to make the world a better place. Anger overthrows tyrants. It develops medicine. It invents democracy. It can change the world and it can change a person.

It needs a little anger to start living a healthier live. To start jogging instead of consoling oneself with another chocolate bar. And I talk about me here.

Anger is the power of “No!” It yells “Stop” at a world that is just not right. Sometimes this is what is needed. A world without anger would not be more peaceful, it would be injust and cruel and depressing. We need people that can say “No”. And everyone needs a voice in himself or herself that is able to say “No” sometimes.

Anger may give you the energy to leave circumstances in your life that do you harm. You can take this energy and develop a strategy to change things. Maybe you need to quit your relation with an abusive partner or an abusive job. Then you could use your anger as the power of changing your life.

It’s not a bad thing to watch anger in us when it emerges. The RAIN method can be helpful. Because there maybe a valid cause for your anger. And you have to go to the source of your problem.

I believe there are three basic forms of anger.

There is instinctive anger. This short burst that is faster than the RAIN method can ever be. It’s what you feel when you hurt your little toe on the doorframe at night. It hurts. And your reaction is anger. Even the holiest of all spiritual celebrities will curse and swear when they step on a LEGO tile. That’s instinct. That is healthy.

Then there is anger that is internalized. There are people who are so angry that they say “No” to life itself. They are able to be angry at the weather, their own body or simple facts like their need for sleep.

Their anger is so deeply integrated in their personality that they are irritable, grouchy and churlish.

They say “No” to themselves every day of their lives.

I do not know what to do about that. It makes me speechless – and there are lot men and women with this problem.

It is too simple to tell them: “Love yourself! Treat you like you would treat your own baby! Show the respect you want the world to give to you to yourself first.” It’s too simple, but I have no idea about to treat this for of anger.

This leaves us with number three. The anger that says “No” to harm done to you. By an unfair treatment of you or the things and people you stand for. That’s the anger we can work with. It can be seperated from aggressive behaviour and can be the energy source for a change in your life.

But, and here is the real problem:

You have to pick your fights!

You have to know when it’s the right time to say “No”.

This is not easy. It is connected with your expectations. If you are convinced that you are a prince or a princess and everybody who does not treat you in that manner is harming you, you will get angry on too many things. Too many fights. Not enough energy for that kind of war in anyone.

Because expectations are the key, the best way to live with anger is by growing up. By facing reality. Life.

I’m sorry to say this, but life is not paradise. Things don’t turn out like you expect them to. Most of the time they are not what you hoped for. Life does not give you anything you want. You can’t fulfill your dreams. Forget Hollywood brainwashing. Don’t be a prince or a princess.

The truth is: Life is a bloody mess! That’s just its nature.

Oh, and when we speak about nature: Nature is not your mother! The left hand comforts you and the right hand is there to kill you! Viruses, heart disease, cancer – that is nature, too.

Don’t fight life. Don’t fight nature. Too many fights.

Remember Groucho and Carabella? From the Empty Google Car? Well, traffic is not about you having fun with your car! Traffic is danger. Don’t be afraid of terrorists or sharks, I’m pretty sure that it is traffic that’s the most dangerous thing you encounter on a daily basis. If you think of other cars or travellers as enemies, as spoiling your fun, you risk your life and the life of others. That’s just childish behaviour, no excuse for that. Grow up!

Traffic is the wrong battle. Too many fights.

Don’t fight existence. Don’t fight traffic. And don’t fight weather! There’s nothing you can do about it.

You have to accept that there are enemies too big to battle. You will waste your anger and your energy!

Pick your fight, stand your ground and say “No” when you need to.

Don’t suppress anger, but don’t overuse it.

Use anger wisely! Work on your expectations! Grow up!

Don’t expect life to be there for you. That’s an illusion. You have to be there for life!

You are not the master of your life, in the end you are life’s servant.

Which does not mean that there are no battles to be fought.

Anger is an old part of you and can be just the right emotion at the right place.

A baby is really the best picture for the God of Anger, when I think about it.

Yes, it can be angry! Red head, clenched fists and screaming like a siren.

It knows that it has chosen the right battle to fight.

The fight for fresh diapers is a cause worth fighting for, knights of the round table!

If parents find the cause of babies‘ anger, it is suddenly gone! Like a switch turned off!

The baby head regains a color in the normal spectrum of human skin, the baby hands relax and then:

The God of Anger may even smile at you! That’s life itself!