Mad? Maybe It’s A Good Thing

istock angry womanAnger is something that we tend to avoid – especially when it’s blowing outta other people. But what if there is an upside to getting really pissed?

One of the neat things about anger is that it can provide clarity and focus pretty quickly. If we resist the temptation to quickly “shut down” these emotions in ourselves and in the people we work with, we may find something extremely valuable.

Anger can be a great source of motivational fuel. Often, it’s in that very moment that you are “fed up” that the fog surrounding actions that should have been taken long ago finally lift. There is something very healthy and cathartic in realizing that you’re “mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore”. The very fact that you have been tolerating situations, places, things and people that don’t bring out the best in you or your life is a key insight that often drives the rage. In many cases, this can become the catalyst for fierce action that could not happen without strong emotion to propel it. This can be a good thing!

When people are dealing with barriers and struggling, anger channeled in a positive way can actually provide the push needed to overcome the things that are holding them back. On the other hand, people in this same situation can also negatively channel anger in a way that makes it unhealthy and destructive.

For example, what if you have a client that has failed twice to pass a certification test for a training that they have completed. They need this certification in order to get a job. This can go one of two ways if they get really mad:

Option #1: “It’s On Me” – in this scenario, the person takes the failure as an opportunity to self-examine. They are angry with themselves because they failed. If they get the right coaching support from us, they may be able to channel this anger into determination. Determination does not “stew” – determination mobilizes. They may seek tutoring. They may repeat a class. They may make plans to study harder and focus. Anger in this sense drives action. The goal is seen as a challenge and the challenge is accepted. In other words “it’s ON now!”

Option #2: “It’s On You” – in this scenario, anger takes a different turn and focuses on any perceived external barriers that can be linked to the failure. In other words – it’s somebody else’s fault they keep failing. They’re angry because they believe the test is designed to confuse them so that they will fail. They blame the teachers because they didn’t learn. They get mad at the “system” because this is just another example of society making sure they don’t succeed. Anger in this sense drives inaction. The goal is seen as a prize that they will not be allowed to have and any constructive efforts to reach it are dismissed as a useless waste of time.

Too often in the work that we do, we see anger roll into Option #2. Unfortunately, the more often healthy challenges are framed in anger that is not “inspired” – the harder it becomes for many people to continue to try.

As coaches, mentors and counselors, there are things that we can do to help people begin to make the shift from “mad at the world” to “let’s get it ON”;

Identify: The first step is to clearly identify the real reasons for the anger. What may look obvious on the surface may actually hide a deeper hurt. Are they angry because they didn’t get the job or are they angry because they actually tried and failed? If it’s the former, the anger is about a missed opportunity. If it’s the latter, the anger is about not believing that they are good enough and feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Those are two very different things!!

Activate: The second step is to mobilize the anger into a positive sense of determination or perhaps even clarity. If this is really what the client wants then what needs to happen so that this goal can be achieved? What help can be provided? What strategies? This is where a healthy sense of anger can start to propel a person into sustained and positive action. The messages coming out of this sound more like “I can do this”, “I deserve this”, “this is what I want and I’m determined to succeed.”

Plan: The third step is to move quickly from this energetic focus to supporting the person as they begin to make plans and set goals around what it is that they want to accomplish and how they are going to proceed. It is important to use the momentum of emotion to start the actual work of making things happen. This last critical step will provide lasting focus once the anger calms down.

There are many ways that we as helping professionals can support our clients through difficult events. The key is for us to begin to look deeper into their thoughts, beliefs and attitudes instead of just reacting to the behavior that we see every day. If we can start coaching and supporting our clients with these new insights, we will begin to see changes that we may not have believed were possible. Building coaching skills to help people in social services is a great way to take the knowledge and skills you currently have to the next level. To find out more about how we can help you do this, check out our website at

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