Many view anger as a ‘bad’ emotion, one to be avoided, and one that is destructive. Why is this so?
First and foremost anger is always potentially life threatening. Anger always has the potential to become physically destructive. To avoid destructive anger under extreme provocation requires an individual to be mature and have a strong sense of self. As a consequence it would seem that one reason why many have trouble coping with anger is because it always can become destructive, or it is the emotion that is usually present when destruction is occurring.
Related to this is the developmental explanation for an aversion to anger. In the majority of cases when a child is smacked the punishing parent is angry. This leads the child to connect anger with physical pain. They become linked and as most people wish to avoid pain, they therefore wish to also avoid anger. Similarly psychological pain often becomes linked with anger. For instance an angry parent who threatens to send a child to an orphanage will encourage that child to link anger with the distress of abandonment. Logically then, this developmental answer goes along way to explaining why many people do not like anger.
We can also look at this from a cultural or historical point of view. A few years ago I was passing time in my hotel room. I spotted a Gideons Bible and decided to look up what it had to say about anger. The index indicated four references to the emotion of anger. Each one presented anger as either bad or negative in some way. Perhaps an even more clear indication of the biblical/cultural influence on anger is presented in the Living Word Edition of ‘The Holy Bible’ Heyden and Son (1971). In the dictionary and concordance it stated:
“As a human passion, anger is severely condemned by Jesus in Matt. 5:22”
“Not only is anger the source from which flow injuries to one’s neighbour, but it excludes that interior communion with one’s neighbour that must mark the Christian. Col. 3:8” (P9)
These references clearly present anger as an undesirable thing. To confirm this one takes a look at Young’s (1936) concordance, which is one of the most comprehensive and well known indexing systems for the bible. The number of entries for anger is surprising. In it we find that anger, or being angry, is referred to 221 times and wrath is referred to 243 times. The vast majority of these references portray anger as being bad and something to be avoided. In summary, one is told to love they neighbour, not be angry at him. As a result, this historical, biblical view of anger shows another reason why that at a societal or individual level, anger is seen negatively.
Another thing that significantly effects any society is the myths or legends that have been part of it for many generations. Again we find support for the negative cultural belief about anger coming from mythology. What position or role does anger take in mythology? In surveying mythology as is presented in Bullfinch’s Mythology (1962), one is immediately struck by the frequent reference to the anger of the gods. It appears that the worst thing one could do was to anger the gods.
Take the story of Niobe, the queen of Thebes. At the annual celebration of the goddess Latona and her two offspring Apollo and Diana, Niobe became very angry at her people for honouring and worshipping these gods. She boasted that she, Niobe was worthy of such worship because she was so powerful and rich. More importantly she had seven sons and seven daughters whilst the goddess Latone only had two children. This made Niobe seven times more fortunate than Latona.
When Latona heard of Queen Niobe’s statements and boast, she because indignant and full of rage (anger). Apollo and Diana, the two children of the goddess Latona said that Niobe must be punished for her disrespect. Apollo then, one by one, shot an arrow through each of the seven sons. One by one they dropped lifeless to the ground.
It is hard to imagine Queen Niobe suffering a worse fate. Obviously upon hearing such a story a child would feel that an angry god is a very dangerous god. This single example is one of many many myths which demonstrate that anger leads to death and destruction. So again, from a mythological view an individual would learn that anger is a negative or bad thing, that causes much pain. Even in the stories that are handed from generation to generation, that have lasted the test of time, we find story after story illustrating negative aspects of anger.
From different points of view anger is portrayed as a bad or negative thing. From the biblical, the mythological and the everyday experience of each of us we gain confirmation over and over again of ‘bad’ things about anger. Hence it seems reasonable as to why many people view anger as bad.