Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: I am trying the Shadow Effect's six-week breakthrough plan, and while I am having a lot of small breakthroughs, on page 40 of the book, it reads, "...feeling angry is useful, while aiming anger in the form of blame isn't." How can one use anger to benefit oneself? How is anger useful? Because when I feel angry, something is wrong and it needs to be fixed, and someone has to be blamed, me or the other. I don't know how to feel anger without blame, I guess.
— Mariam G., Los Angeles, California
Thanks for your honest and clear question. Anger has two faces. One face is our immediate reaction when something goes wrong. Something feels unjust or unfair. The brain goes into a fight-or-flight response, and as the adrenaline courses through the body, we have little choice but to go along. This face of anger has no hidden motives. Once the outburst is over, you feel drained but better. Often you are in a position to apologize to the person you felt angry toward, but that's not necessary. If you were in the right, someone else may have to take his lumps (not too often, I hope).
But the other side of anger is destructive. It hurts you as much as it hurts anyone else. It's a form of naked aggression. You may feel a moral reason for destructive anger—I detect that when you say somebody has to be wrong—but morality can be destructive too. So how can you tell the difference between useful, healthy anger and destructive anger? Destructive anger follows any of these familiar patterns:
You lash out at the same person again and again. This becomes a ritual, and neither side gets anywhere.
You hold a grudge from the past and use present anger to get back at past wrongs.
You want to show how superior you are and how inferior is your antagonist.
You act out of spite, enjoying the act of making someone else feel bad.
Your anger feeds upon itself, becoming hotter and more furious as you let yourself rage on.
Your anger is a mask for fear.
Your anger is pointless except as a way of defending yourself and feeling big.
Your anger is really a wail of despair. You are calling out for help but using the wrong emotional signal.
If you find your anger is following any of these patterns, then in all likelihood you are expressing energy from the shadow. In that case, I applaud you for facing the hidden dimension of your psyche. But if your anger is of the first type, spontaneous and without destructive intent, don't worry about it. Anger may deserve a much smaller place in our lives, but it cannot be denied any place at all.