Using Constructive Anger to Help You Stay in Control

Discover Constructive Anger's Healing Help in PTSD

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Constructive anger is anger that can help with healing, forward movement, and recovery. The term constructive anger comes from Seeking Safety, an effective treatment for PTSD and substance abuse.

So Anger Isn't Always "Bad"?

Not at all. If you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you know that anger is a common PTSD symptom. You also know that destructive anger can be very intense and upsetting.

If that's been your usual experience with anger, you aren't alone: Many people think anger is always negative and harmful.

But it isn't. Anger is a valid emotion that can have bad or good outcomes, depending on how you handle it.

Can Destructive Anger Ever Be Constructive?

Generally speaking, only when you decide to use healthier, more productive ways, such as constructive anger, to let other people know what you need. Think about it: In calmer times, it may have occurred to you how unlikely it is that yelling, criticizing, and fighting with others will actually get you what you want. It's just that it's so easy to get mad!

But when you do, the other person hears only your anger, not the message you're trying to communicate. The other person's natural response is to get mad, too, so nobody's message gets across. Worse, the same argument may happen again and again, with the same frustrating result.

What Makes Constructive Anger Constructive?

Just the fact that you don't express destructive anger in an upsetting situation is constructive. In addition:

  • Expressing constructive anger shows respect for yourself and the person you're "arguing" with.
  • Most important, using constructive anger lets you be heard as you want to be heard--instead of as someone who's upset, critical, and unwilling to hear or consider the other person's viewpoint.

    Then there are the long-term benefits:

    • As you explore and improve your ability to get past destructive-anger urges to a more constructive outcome, you can expect to gain new understanding of your own and others' feelings.
    • Over time, as you practice constructive anger, you may find your relationships improving--and lasting longer.

    How to Use Constructive Anger

    As in any situation where you want to prevent something bad from happening and hopefully turn the situation around, the key to making constructive anger work is having the tools you need when you need them.

    For example, your own common sense. Let's say you're feeling anger boil up inside because you think you've been treated unfairly at work. Before you press Send with that harshly worded email, before your angry feelings can get even stronger, and especially before you "get in the other's person's face" with your side of the situation--STOP. Remind yourself 1) how useless destructive arguing can be and 2) how unlikely you are to get your needs met that way.

    Now, with your common sense taking over from your angry emotions, you should be able to see other, less judgmental (not to mention less upsetting and loud) ways to talk constructively about how you're feeling while also understanding the other person's point of view on it.

    As an example of constructive anger, let's say that a friend cancels an important lunch date with you at the very last minute, and not for an especially good reason. Your first reaction is anger: You were all ready to go, and now, nothing! But then, instead of expressing destructive anger, you put those feelings aside in favor of a more constructive response, one that will let you express how you feel without damaging your friendship.

    You make plans with your friend to meet another time soon. At that meeting, you calmly and without criticism talk about how the last-minute cancellation upset you. Your friend hears you clearly, without feeling shamed or judged, and responds with regret for how you felt. With that, the "argument" is over, you're still friends, and chances are you're closer than ever--thanks to your constructive anger.


    Shpungin E. From destructive to constructive conversation in 6 steps (2010). New York, NY: Psychology Today.

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