Anger is a powerful emotion. It is called a positive emotion because it draws us towards the subject of the emotion rather than away from it. You might feel yourself driven to stand up or approach the other person while they, in fear, may move back or withdraw.
Anger is useful in moderation. Without anger we would be unable to stand up for ourselves, so it has a protective factor. It is normal and OK to feel angry, but not to be controlled by it.
We can acknowledge angry feelings while remaining calm enough to be assertive. Staying calm is vital in order to be able to think clearly and be able to respond assertively. Assertiveness can spill over into aggression when the anger is uncontrolled.
I can remember encouraging clients to punch a cushion to let the anger out, back in the 1980’s. It used to be thought that expressing the emotion/ letting it out was the way to deal with it.
We now know that all this does is exacerbate the anger. Practicing/ rehearsing/ repeating the angry feelings deepens the neural pathways, you become better at it, it becomes more of an automatic response. Instead of becoming skilled in anger management, you become skilled at anger expression.
Men and women both get angry and feel anger to the same intensity. The main difference is that men do more damage than women when they get physical.
Research shows that women are just as likely as men to become physically aggressive inside the home or with those close to them. Men are more likely than women to be physically aggressive outside the home. A British study in 1999 found that 4.2% of women and 4.2% of men had been assaulted in the previous year by their partner.
In 1/3 of violent relationships it is the woman who is the violent partner, in 1/3 it is the man and in 1/3 it is both.
We experience anger in response to a threat. This may be physical danger or it can be a perceived psychological threat. The brain’s amygdala, constantly scanning the environment for threats to our safety or security, responds to the threat by triggering the release of adrenaline and cortisol sparking the fight or flight response. In a split second the fight or flee choice is made.
Anger hijacks the rational, thinking part of our brain (the neocortex) and our thoughts become black or white, all or nothing simplistic thoughts. The more angry we become, the more black and white thinking takes over as neural pathways to the neocortex shut down and in effect we become temporarily stupid.
Some people respond habitually with anger, often because, through conditioning, they have learned this behaviour since childhood.
Anger can be addictive. Especially in shy people or people with low self esteem, an anger outburst temporarily makes the person feel powerful, people take notice, it can bring a buzz. Even though the outburst may be deeply regretted afterwards, the brain may recall the euphoric pleasure of that blast of power and energy and this is the addictive component.
In some cases problematic, recurring anger outbursts can be an outcome of trauma. In this case the trauma can be treated by a qualified therapist. (Human Givens therapists are trained in effectively treating trauma)
In other cases, understanding the anger triggers, recognising the early symptoms and learning some techniques to reduce the intensity and frequency of anger attacks will all help to manage this powerful emotion and take back control.
The experience of anger is a result of the fight-or-flight response being triggered. The physiological effects are:
The significant effects of chronic anger on health include: