We all know what anger is. It can vary from a mild irritation to a full rage. It is a completely normal human emotion. Healthy anger is just as normal as any other human emotion.
Charles Spielberger, a psychologist specialising in anger study defines it as:
“An emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage”
Anger is an instinctive human response to stressful situations. You may have heard of the fight or flight response. In stressful situations, the human body becomes prepared to fight or run. Our adrenalin/epinephrine levels will increase, our blood will be pumped to our vital organs and many other bodily changes will occur. We are then ready to run or to fight something. In modern society, we are not always able to run away or physically fight during stressful situations. For example, say you have an argument with your manager - it would not be socially acceptable to run off or begin to fight him. Consequently, all the bodily changes that occur have nowhere to go, so we are left with a stressed body that has no release. This can lead to stress and anger.
However, when anger gets out of control or is denied, it can lead to problems in your personal relationships, work life and your overall quality of life. Those who deny aggressive feelings may project these feelings on to others and unjustly accuse them of being aggressive. Or if we allow our anger to take hold, we can feel as though we are at the mercy of this powerful, unpredictable emotion.
Anger can be caused by –
- External Events - another person annoying you, traffic jam, a broken cup etc.
- Internal Events – worrying about how you will pay a bill, traumatic memories, and an event triggering angry feelings.
Here are some comments on anger, and how to deal with it constructively:
- Anger is created by the desire or expectation that things should be de different/better. Our anger is usually directed at persons, groups or things that we believe block these expectations.
- Trying to change other people can create anger. Similarly, anger can often be eased if we stop trying to change others.
- Anger is sometimes used to hide less acceptable feelings such as fear or hurt.
- As with any other behaviour, dealing with anger becomes easier with practice.
Our instinct when angry is to behave aggressively. This is a natural, adaptive response to a perceived threat. This allows us to fight or run and is necessary for our survival. However, in modern society, we cannot physically attack every person who annoys us. There are social and moral limits on how far we allow our anger to be shown physically.
People will try to deal with their angry feelings in both a conscious and unconscious way. These include:
Expressing angry feelings in an assertive way is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you need to –
- Clearly define your needs.
- Clarify how you would like your needs to be met
- Communicate this without verbal or physical abuse to others
Anger can be consciously suppressed and converted or redirected to focus on something more positive. This is most often helpful when to express the anger would be damaging to either yourself, another or an object. The anger can then be expressed in constructive behaviour, after having some ‘time-out’ or creating some physical distance between yourself and the frustrating matter. However, if this anger is not expressed at some point, it can be turned inwards and cause problems such as high blood pressure and depression, self-sabotage, self-harming behaviours etc.
Also, it can lead to pathological expressions of anger such as –
- Passive aggressive behaviour – Indirectly getting back at people without telling them why or confronting them head on.
- Cynical and hostile personality – constantly putting down and criticising others.
These are not likely to be good for successful relationships.
When anger is repressed, it is done so subconsciously, hence the person who is angry, is not even aware that they are ‘stuffing’ their anger inside. This can lead to critical pathological behaviours such as multiple personality disorders (where the alternate personality is allowed to express the anger – but often very destructively), and extremes of self mutilation (suicide). Often however, through sensitive questioning, this anger can be identified and released via someone who is able to expertly bring the anger into the person’s conscious awareness (it is recommended that only specialist anger counsellors undertake this task as awareness of one’s anger may be shocking and traumatic for the client).
This requires that a person’s self control is used for both outward and internal behaviour, e.g. Lower your heart rate, count to 10 (or 100), visualise yourself being in control, monitor your feelings, take time out.
If none of these techniques work, then Dr. Spielberger points out “someone will get hurt”.