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  • Writer's pictureLajya Nayak

The Value of Emotion Series: Anger

Emotions are affective meanings that shape the way we perceive our experiences. They shade our daily life experiences, adding color and meaning to them. While our secondary emotions are reactive in nature, they often cover the deep, genuine, personal, and meaningful primary emotions underneath. Our primary emotions have deeper roots within our unconscious, in contrast to our secondary emotions, which are at a more surface level.

Emotions consist of

  • An affective component involves individuals monitoring their internal felt states and recognizing what they are feeling.

  • a cognitive component includes the beliefs, thoughts, and knowledge that affect one’s emotions.

  • a behavioral component and an expressive component describe how we express and show emotions through facial, postural, gestures, and vocal responses

  • a physiological component involves how our body responds or reacts, as a result of the autonomic nervous system’s reaction to the emotion we’re experiencing.

Emotions serve an

  1. interpersonal function, that allows an individual to adaptively relate to an environment;

  2. Intrapersonal function, to direct our cognitive processes of attention, memory, and judgment to deal with our environment

Among the myriad of emotions we experience, anger can overwhelm us to the extent that we feel the necessity to ‘manage’ it. Most of us believe that our anger is dangerous, inappropriate, embarrassing, and shameful. It is essential to focus on the intrapersonal experiences that occur when anger is evoked.

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We can perceive the expression of anger within our intrapsychic experiences through two distinct lenses. Anger can either be experienced as an instinctive reaction of rage that occurs automatically in response to a perceived threat. Anger can also be experienced as a conscious feeling state, which allows us to apply judgment, choice, and differentiation decisions over a situation. Knowing the difference between what overwhelms the ego ( rage, aggression) and what communicates with it (anger) can essentially change the way we relate to ourselves and the world.

We often closely associate anger and rage to be synonymous with each other, but the external catharsis of rage does not transform our anger. It feeds into it. Repetitive expressions of rage further trap us into a vicious cycle of tension release, barring us from looking within. It can seep through significant cracks in the cement of our experiences. This transformed anger may stem from frustrations of your daily life, stress and hassle of financial stability, shame from your childhood experiences, betrayal from systems that have failed us, or injustice and powerlessness of your marginalized identity.

Anger (not rage) arises when our innate urge toward self-realization and understanding of our experiences are blocked in a significant way. Finding personal meaning in the world through fairness and worthiness is a collective experience shared by human beings. Anger protests the experiences of inequality we perceive.

Our anger reminds us of the value and worth we cannot focus on. It reminds us if our time, feelings, or resources have been taken for granted. Anger is the unrecognized warning sign that has the potential to create change. Anger is an important part of the process of transformation or change.

Anger, just like other emotions, isn't good or bad but is judged as appropriate or not. This further magnifies the relationship between anger, rage, and reason.

Anger increases:

  • One’s desire to place blame on individuals

  • One’s tendency to overlook alleviating aspects of the situation before placing blame

  • One’s tendency to perceive ambiguous behavior as hostile

  • One's needs to discount uncontrollable factors while attributing causality

  • Punitiveness towards others

Our anger alarm system can set off with anything that threatens our sense of safety. When an emotion is dominant in our conscious and unconscious mind, our tendency to filter new information through past appraisal patterns can be extremely strong; they can even persist beyond the event that elicited this emotion.

Hence, anger activated in one event, can influence one’s appraisal in other unrelated situations. Especially when justice was not served previously, creating ‘intuitive persecutors’ within us, to restore the imbalance created. Rage instead of anger can drive us to seek blame instead of responsibility, contributing to a vicious cycle. For e.g. A person angry at their mother for invalidating her emotions gets mad at her friend for not listening to her in a conversation.

When what we experience is unfair, we may feel hurt, threatened, betrayed, exposed, vulnerable or inadequate. Our anger serves as a reminder that we’ve been wronged in some capacity; it may force us to look within our experiences and relationships, making us rethink the flow and dynamics of communication.

Anger has been a collective emotion experienced by various groups through history, that’s driven revolutions and change. Anger can either fuel hatred towards a group or fuel a revolution, that’s broken down oppressive systems. Anger as a collective emotion has a lot of power. According to Intergroup Emotion Theory, intergroup behavior is driven by emotions of a uniquely social kind. The emotions driven here are generated by belonging or deriving one’s identity from this social group. Different marginalized groups have unique life stressors and experiences attached to them. Often, anger, anxiety, pride, and guilt are emotions that other groups evoke within us, driving our social, political, and physical responses to them. It is only when we address and take accountability for these emotions individually, that change in intergroup behavior occurs. The cognitive appraisal of the shared emotion is unique to every group member, generating various interpretations of a cause and consequences of an event, as well as desires for future outcomes. The collectivization of various voices of shared emotions directs collective action.

Our impotence to anger within our state of helplessness brews various concoctions of emotions that we’re unable to access until we acknowledge that we’re angry. Anger can propel us from rumination to realization. We’re often told that one’s consciousness of systemic injustice can trap us in a state of helplessness, as we can feel stuck in our state of anger. The intolerance to remain in a state of anger forces us to avoid or displace our emotions, instead of confronting them. Anger through a social justice lens is a powerful emotion that recognizes and validates one’s identity and struggles; it helps individuals reaffirm their painful experiences.

Anger often categorizes us within the role of an antagonist, destroying everything that comes our way. Building a more tolerant and understanding relationship with anger helps us reimagine ourselves as protagonists of our story, at the brink of change.


Goldberg, J. H., Lerner, J. S., & Tetlock, P. E. (1999). Rage and reason: The psychology of the intuitive prosecutor. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29(5-6), 781–795.<781::AID-EJSP960>3.0.CO;2-3

Silva, L. (2021). Is anger a hostile emotion? Review of Philosophy and Psychology. Advance online publication.

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