Anger – Part I
Candace Brown, Registered Psychologist
Northern Alberta Psychological Services
Aristotle wrote, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power, and that is not easy.”
The definition of anger from a psychological perspective is that anger is based in the brain’s response, to real or imagined threats and to our early learning experiences. It is part of our survival brain (specifically the adrenal glands) that releases hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) and cortisol (long-term anger). This in turn gives us physical symptoms such as muscle tension, arousal, increased heart rate, and blood pressure.
Some aspects of anger are positive (positive anger). It is part of the highs and lows of relationships and can be a useful signal that something is not right. Some anger, properly managed, can improve understanding between people, motivate you to make changes in your life, or face problems that you have been avoiding. Anger can also lead to social reform such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (e.g., MADD) or to change policies, laws, and procedures that others and you would find beneficial.
In contrast, anger can lead to significant loss and suffering (destructive anger). Damage to relationships, family members, friends, co-workers and financial situations (e.g., if fired) are common consequences of anger. Long-term anger can cause severe medical problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and potentially cancer. Anger can also cause legal problems.
This article will focus on destructive anger. When we act on the anger emotion, we try to justify our actions: “They had it coming; they shouldn’t have cut me off; they disrespected me or someone I love, or they need to be taught a lesson.” Often, we do not stop there, we label the people we are angry with as “stupid idiot” or “thoughtless jerk.”
For some people, feelings of anger can be frightening, so they seek to suppress the anger emotion in order to avoid conflict. Other people can become self-critical and judge themselves negatively for becoming angry or irritable and for not being nice or lovable people.
Indeed, many people blame, shame, or self-loath if they struggle with negative emotions. Somehow, we think that by being angry with ourselves, we will stop being angry! Some people are angry at what they feel – angry about feeling anxious, angry, depressed, or exhausted.
These negative feelings undermine their confidence, making them feel worse. People who generally feel confident and they like themselves are much less prone to anger than the people who feel insecure with themselves. Most often, these people are easily victimized by others, are vulnerable to rejection, and anger results.
If we are to face anger and to really work with it, then the relationship we have with ourselves is very important. Self-compassion with acceptance and not self-condemnation is a way of being with ourselves with all of our emotions (uncomfortable as they may be). The next article will focus on compassion and how that can help to manage anger.