Are You Dependent on The Use of Anger?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Steve Earlam. MSc. Dip HE. MNCS (Accd). MFDAP
4th February, 2011
Angry people generally become dependent on the use of anger as a preliminary means of expressing themselves; when they feel threatened. Inappropriate or uncontrolled anger is harmful for both targets of anger and the angry person as well. Inappropriate anger destroys relationships, makes it difficult to hold down a job, and takes a heavy toll on an angry persons physical and emotional health.
Anger is a basic emotional response to fear or pain; anger is generally expressed as a secondary emotion in other words as a result of a reaction to some other event, that is not dealt with appropriately. People from an early age copy angry behaviour if they observe and then attach to their experience the behaviour as a way of acceptance within the group or as a way of being rewarded or obtaining satisfaction.
Civilised society has an uneasy relationship with anger we are mainly taught that anger and aggression are not acceptable as a means of reaching goals. People who regularly display aggressive and angry behaviour may repress their feelings instead of expressing them appropriately.
Anger can be a destructive force as well as being a key requirement for self preservation, the choice of when to apply anger productively and when not to, can at times be unclear. People need to understand how to learn and apply healthy and respectful use of anger in order to preserve productive relationships.
Anger and aggression are most commonly triggered when obstacles prevent the attainment of personal goals. Mabel.S (1994) Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology
Angers main antagonist is the belief that our long held and well-embedded beliefs, values and attitudes are being challenged.
The experience of angers varies, the length, magnitude and intensity of anger is proportionate to the number of angry people, in other words there is no measurable standard of anger volatility. Some people are aware of anger build up, others are not, and those that feel the pressure may, if they choose, elect to impose restraint. Those who are not aware, may it seems, self propel directly into the explosion phase of anger development.
Some anger ‘experts’ suggest generally people get angry once a day and get annoyed about three times a day. Other ‘expert’ suggests anger at fifteen times a day may be a more realistic assessment.
Regardless of how often we actually experience anger, it is a common and unavoidable, although controllable, emotion.
Pain itself is not sufficient to cause a blast off, what is also required in the mix is an anger triggering thought, unfortunately most of the time the triggering thoughts are negative and automatic, akin to the negative automatic thoughts that are well known in the anxiety feeding frenzy.
Anger triggering thoughts and feelings of pain or threat encourage the attack response; this is usually directly after a defensive position is taken against the perceived threat.
An interesting phenomenon with anger is that sometimes people introduce anger as a deterrent against pain because it feels better to be angry than to be in pain. Making yourself angry can help you to hide the reality that you find a situation frightening or that you feel vulnerable.
Angry people can usually justify their anger outbursts, unfortunately other people don’t necessarily agree. Some people utilise anger to prevent feelings of vulnerability and helplessness overcoming them and instead find that anger converts vulnerability into power and control, of course the feelings are short lived and after the downward spiral that always follows an anger explosion, the previous feelings, vulnerability and helplessness are compounded and magnified. Anger of course doesn’t make the pain go away, it only momentarily offers a distraction.
The effects of anger, even though it is an emotion, are experienced physically, heart rate increases and muscles tense. Emotions tend to begin in the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for identifying the presence of a threat, and for preparing us to deal with the threat. The amaygdala is so efficient and responsive that it promotes a reaction before the cortex, which deals with thought and judgement, is ready to analyse the reasonableness of our reaction. This explanation of brain function is not to be accepted as an excuse for anger because it is possible to control aggressive impulses. Anger management can be learned, it is not something that we are ‘born with’, that we know instinctively.
Inside your brain, neurotransmitter chemicals known as catecholamines are released causing you to experience a burst of energy lasting up to several minutes. At the same time your heart rate accelerates, your blood pressure rises, and your rate of breathing increases. Your face may flush as increased blood flow enters your limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. Your attention narrows and becomes locked onto the target of your anger. Soon you can pay attention to nothing else. In quick succession, additional brain neurotransmitters and hormones (among them adrenaline and noradrenaline) are released which trigger a lasting state of arousal. You're now ready to fight.
Although it is possible for your emotions to rage out of control, the prefrontal cortex of your brain, which is located just behind your forehead, can keep your emotions in proportion. If the amygdala handles emotion, the prefrontal cortex handles judgment. The left prefrontal cortex can switch off your emotions. It serves in an executive role to keep things under control. Getting control over your anger means learning ways to help your prefrontal cortex get the upper hand over your amygdala so that you have control over how you react to anger feelings. Among the many ways to make this happen are relaxation techniques (which reduce your arousal and decrease your amygdala activity) and the use of cognitive control techniques, which help you practice using your judgment to override your emotional reactions.
Once our anger has dissipated, after the explosion, we then experience a cooling down phase; we begin to return to our ‘resting state’, or in the case of angry people, it may be our ‘pretends to be resting state’. The problem for us is that it takes an awfully long time to reach the ‘resting state’ and our physiology may still be charged with energy. During this cool down phase we have to be on our guard against minor irritations, that normally would not bother us, but in our present state we are like tinder awaiting a spark.
Anger or anger arousal make it difficult for us to remember explosive actions, there is a point of energetic arousal at which our concentration and focus operate efficiently, but once past that point, concentration, ability to think and focus is lost, that is why people say it is difficult to remember the events of a really explosive argument.
Related articles from our experts
- Acknowledging our difficulties can turn anger and anxiety into self-compassion
Alessio Rizzo, UKCP Accredited Psychotherapist, MA, MSc, MBACP16th April, 2018
- Anger carries a message... do we know what it is?
Alessio Rizzo, UKCP Accredited Psychotherapist, MA, MSc, MBACP15th March, 2018
- Anger management: “How do you transform a raging lion into a purring cat?”
Shane Sneyd MBACP, UKCP & BPC17th February, 2018
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.