Anger shields us from pain. As long as anger is predominant in our feelings, sadness and hurt and everything else have to sneak in around the edges. Sometimes, staying angry feels easier or less scary than facing our full emotional reaction, even when the events in question are long past and we’re safe in the present.
Anger helps us legitimize how we feel. If we tend to question whether our perceptions are true or our emotional reactions are valid, anger can help us stay connected to our original perception of the event. Conversely, letting go of anger can sometimes feel like saying our pain wasn’t — or shouldn’t have been — real. Sometimes, it helps to remember that feelings are automatically okay.
Anger is one of the ways that we indicate that our boundaries have been crossed. Letting go of the anger can sometimes feel like we’re saying that crossing that boundary was okay, at least sort of, and in cases where we can’t agree with the boundary-crosser about what happened, that can feel anywhere from bad to dangerous. Unfortunately, once someone unrepentantly tromps on your boundaries, you can’t guarantee that you staying mad about it will change their behavior, or even make them feel bad, and so you’re stuck carrying the pain and your anger.
Anger is one of our heart’s warning signals, and sometimes holding on to that feels like the only way to ensure that we don’t get hurt again in the same way. It can take time to trust that a lesson has become part of us, even without the anger that initially fueled it.