2 min read

Tender Hysteria: The Healing Power of Angry Art

Tender Hysteria: The Healing Power of Angry Art

I am not an angry person. But I love making angry art.

Every week, three of my closest friends and I meet at our local rehearsal studio. We pop our old two-dollar foam earplugs in, crank our instruments up as loud as they’ll go, and wail into the void about everything that’s bothering us. 

We write songs about things that make us angry: 

  • Incel terrorism
  • The climate crisis
  • Misinformation
  • Predators and the justice system

The songs are inflammatory. They are written to feed the flames of anger. We’re a punk band. It’s what we do.

I’ve been in punk bands since I was 15 years old. When I was a teenager, I chalked it up to the power of catharsis. And some studies do show how healing catharsis can be. 

But after years of therapy, these topics mostly don’t make me angry anymore. They make me sad. Depressed. Terrified. Anxious. Overwhelmed. Motivated to take action.

So why keep writing angry music if I don’t feel angry anymore?

Anger as a Secondary Emotion

Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion. Many experts believe it is usually a blanket state that conceals a more complex emotion such as sorrow or fear. This means that, for the most part, if you’re experiencing anger, it’s likely not the primary emotion you’re feeling. There is something more uncomfortable laying beneath the surface. 

Here’s an example:

If you’re crossing the street while walking your dog and an oncoming vehicle nearly hits you, you might feel furious: what were they thinking? How could they be so careless? They should have their license taken away!

But, when you examine the root emotion, it’s most likely to be fear. It’s much easier to be angry at a person — to blame an accident on their carelessness — than it is to accept that we live in a world where tragic accidents happen. 

So, our brains default to fear in these complex situations.

While not enough research exists to determine if this is the only instance in which anger will manifest, it is known that anger is often used to avoid dealing with more complex emotions.

The Functions and Effects of Anger

While there are a lot of negative functions of anger, there are a number of functional purposes and benefits as well

  • Provides physical relief from stress
  • Increases energy levels
  • Enhances expressive functionality

All benefits aside, however, anger also makes it so that you avoid contemplative thought. Studies have found that anger disrupts a person’s cognitive scope. By that logic, making angry music wouldn’t help me process the same complex feelings that anger conceals, right?

So, Why Make Angry Art?

When I first started making angry art, I was angry. All the time. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to understand that my anger was helping me avoid processing scarier emotions like fear and helplessness.

So at that time, I didn't think too deeply about it. I was mad so I made art that encouraged — validated, even celebrated — my rage. It’s the opposite of what we, as women, are taught to do. And in doing so, something magical happened.

There have been plenty of studies that show that angry music can help people experiencing anger process their feelings. They come out of the other side of a song feeling more uplifted and positive. But why is that? When every other thing we understand about anger points to the opposite?

My thinking has always been that art provides a safe space to feel angry in a world that is constantly forcing you to suppress the same unpleasant emotions it triggers in you. 

When I gave myself space to be angry while listening to angry music, I allowed myself to explore the source of my anger. Eventually, I felt comfortable and familiar enough with the issue or situation to look at the difficult feelings that were concealed inside it.

It was an incredibly powerful and transformative tool for me, which is why I still invest my time and energy into making angry art. I want to create that same safe environment for people who are overwhelmed by their pain to explore and understand it. This way, I can help make the world a little bit less lonely, terrifying, and angry.

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