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Exploring the Presence: More Faith Patches

The Gift of Anger: Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peace
by Marcia G. Cannon
Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2011
192 pages
Reviewed by Margaret Blackie

The Gift of Anger: Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peaceis a very useful resource for spiritual directors. Anger is one of the most challenging emotions for any well-intentioned person of faith. Many of us, particularly women, are taught from a young age that anger is not acceptable. As a result, we find ways to circumvent our anger. This book provides a way in which we can develop a healthy respect for anger. It begins from the observation that anger is deeply personal. A situation which makes one individual raging mad may be only a minor irritation to a second individual. The point is that the situation itself is only a part of the puzzle. If we can explore the situation in the light of our own response we can learn about our own needs and insecurities. Examining our own anger gives us a window into our woundedness.

The Gift of Angeris primarily about the process by which we can come to understand the meaning of our own anger; it is not a “how-to” guide to conflict resolution. The entire process can take place internally without any interaction with the other. The first stage of anger is described as a protective stage, providing a power boost to make a person feel bigger and stronger in order to face a person who seems more powerfulor a situation that seems too difficult to manage. While this is a basic premise of the book, the focus of the author is on the second stage of anger: the awareness and growth stage. If the first stage of anger is understood to be the generation of power to protect oneself, the questions of the second stage become centered on an examination of the reasons a person feels threatened, why there is not access to sufficient personal power to deal with a situation calmly, and so forth. When viewed in this way, anger is not a failure but rather an invitation to growth. Anger can be a catalyst to healing.

The seven steps are simple, and when followed,they provide enormous personal power. In order, they are: Acknowledge your anger and safely regain your emotional balance; Notice your thoughts and feelings; Give yourself validation; Identify your unmet need; Take action to meet your need; Explore the other person’s frame of reference; Free yourself with forgiveness.

The Gift of Anger arrived just after I had allowed myself to follow my anger at a particular person through this trajectory. It has validated my own experience, but far more important, it holds a message which we should be shouting from the rooftops: that anger really can be a gift if we have the courage to grapple with it. Because anger is often a hidden and unexamined emotion when we accompany spiritual directees during spiritual direction, we must learn to give ourselves the compassion and empathy to wrestle with our own anger, and we must be present to its power and invitation to spiritual and psychological growth in our spiritual directees.

Margaret (Mags) Blackie is on the faculty in the department of chemistry and polymer science at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She works as a spiritual director in her spare time and participates in the training of spiritual directors in Cape Town.

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