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Did you know that not everyone experiences anger in the same way? For some, it may feel like a racing heart and rising temperature; for others it may feel like a quiet, cold frustration; and still others may experience it as a sense of rage or being out of control. Although we experience it differently, anger is a common emotion and it is also a valuable indicator of our internal state, needs, and desires.

Anger is a signal. It is our body and mind’s way of telling us important information. Because anger is often portrayed as a very expressive, intense emotion, we may mistake it for purely an external experience—one that is directed outward towards others. However, anger is very much an internal experience as well.

Here are five different messages your anger could be giving you.

  1. Your boundary has been crossed. Boundaries are a critical part of healthy relationships. If you have clearly defined a limit or have not consented to a certain experience, anger can be a signal that someone is violating that boundary.
  2. You have basic unmet needs. The term “hangry” exists for a reason. When we are functioning on a low amount of sleep, are hungry, or are physically uncomfortable, it can make us more reactive and prone to anger. If you find yourself getting angered easily, ask yourself if you have any basic needs that are going unmet.
  3. You need to make a life change. Anger often occurs when we realize we need to change our circumstances but don’t feel able to do so. Sometimes the burst of energy and adrenaline that comes with feeling angry gives us the extra motivation to make a scary decision that is ultimately in our best interest.
  4. You need to confront a hidden or undesirable aspect of yourself. Other people act as mirrors. They reflect back to us things about our own personalities or ways of thinking, and sometimes these reflections aren’t flattering. It is likely that the thing that most angers you about another person is something you don’t like about yourself, or a tendency you don’t want to admit you have. For example, if you regularly get livid when other people don’t show you respect, consider whether you feel worthy of respect or consider the ways you are disrespectful to others.
  5. You are hiding sadness or fear. Anger isn’t a very vulnerable emotion, but sadness and fear are. Sometimes anger can serve a protective function to cover up signs of or feelings of sadness, insecurity, grief, and fear. Anger allows us to express displeasure without appearing vulnerable or helpless.

It is very natural to feel angry. It is a complex emotion that serves many functions—one of which is to relay important messages about our inner world and the things that matter to us. The next time you feel anger, check in with yourself to see if it is telling you any of these crucial pieces of information.