Anger and Rage — What Is the Difference?
“When a person’s speech is full of anger, it is because he or she suffers deeply. Because he has so much suffering, he becomes full of bitterness. He is always ready to complain and blame others for his problems. This is why you find it very unpleasant to listen to him and try to avoid him.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
It is not accurate to use the words anger and rage interchangeably. For me, there are two important differentiating differences:
1. Anger is in the present — it is an active response to a current situation or issue which breaches an agreement, a boundary, or a value which is important to you.
Anger is what you feel when the washing hasn’t been hung or your boss said something to you.
Rage is rooted in the past. It is a reaction to suppressed feelings which may or may not be related to the present moment or even the person that you are enraged with.
Your boss might have been sarcastic with you for months and, fearing for your position, you sucked it up and stuffed it down until one day there is an explosion — the kind which could lose you your job.
With rage, the offending person might be at the receiving end, but just as often, your partner might be the victim of a rage you have held in since you were a child which was triggered inadvertently today.
Thich Nhat Hanh once said that any emotion allowed to flow through you will pass in 90 seconds. Anger is active, motivating and seeks to right a wrong. It need not be expressed with aggression, violence, or a need to hurt.
2. Anger, expressed well, is all about ‘me’ — my reactions, my needs, and so on.
Rage is all about ‘them’ — their faults — and conceals what I am feeling and experiencing.
Most arguments that divorcing people engage in are rage battles. They can go on for hours and achieve no resolution. They create disconnection, fear, and a lack of safety. Very often, words are said that can never be taken back.
And it’s not just about the words. The tone, the loudness, the facial and bodily expression, the contempt and disdain — these all DESTROY relationships and connection, and create anxiety, defensiveness, and separation.
Rage is about dominance. I am right and you are wrong — very wrong, crazy, sick, messed up, a failure, worthless, and hopeless.
Enraged people can’t stop yelling. All that pent-up repressed energy has nowhere to go but out. Rage can very often be a violent reaction to someone who you perceive as ignoring you, closing off from you, and does not engage.
It is a deep, unmet need in you and, for some, that can feel like a betrayal or abandonment. Those are very painful feelings to contain. But it is very hard to see beyond rage to the hurting person.
Rage is win/lose. Always.
Anger is win/win.
Anger can generate solutions and even greater connection. It brings up what the angry person is feeling and experiencing right now and expresses it in a way which can be heard.
“I am angry and I need to talk. Can we talk now?”
Most people are open to agreeing and listening to what is going on.
Being able to express yourself this way is a skill we need to have modelled for us as children. If you can teach children that 1) it is okay to be angry, and 2) it is important to express your anger and here is how you do it so that I can hear you, then you have gifted your child something more than its weight in gold.
For the rest of us, this is a skill we need to be taught.
But take care; having the vocabulary “word perfect” is not essential.
Taking the time to understand yourself and why you are feeling this way is the key, as is setting your intention before you begin; this is not a boxing match, but rather a dance of connection.
It does you no harm to express that at the outset. Because, let’s face it, “We need to talk.” is traditionally a prelude to a lecture that we all fear and withdraw from.
So, if you value someone, rage is NOT the way to go. Rage’s underlying message is “I don’t value you” and we all feel it, because rage is disproportionate to the triggering event. If you are raging, you owe it to those you love and live with to seek help.
If you would like to learn more about this, I recommend one of my favourite books on this topic: Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh. He makes a lot of sense to me and his wisdom integrated into daily life can be life-enhancing.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to share! If you want more resources like this, I invite you to visit my website where I offer lots of free content (and no pressure). :)