Anger is an emotion that is useful and necessary as well as harmful. We teach anger management skills as well as interventions for resolving the underlying reasons for an individual’s anger
Anger is complex, and perhaps the most misunderstood of our emotions, because it shows up as severaltypes of anger. Like all of our other emotions, such as affection, empathy, humiliation or grief, anger is part of our human evolutionary tool kit designed to increase our survival as a species. It is both necessary and has the potential for becoming destructive to our relationships and ourselves. When you are able to identify it, accept it, experience it, explore it, and put it to work for you, anger can help you discover what you want and to provide energy for solving problems. Anger and anxiety motivate action, but both can overwhelm constructive function.
Our angry feeling is a response to a perceived threat to our physical body or our psychological sense of self. When an experience is threatening, we feel a primary fear or anxiety. This primary fear is quite visceral and almost beyond consciousness, signaling the older survival-oriented parts of the brain, like the Amygdalae and limbic system, to make ready for defense. Fear responses prompt our natural and involuntary survival response to crisis: fight, flight or freeze. Thus, our fear responses override our logical thinking, making it difficult to “outthink” our fears.
“No passion can so efficiently rob the mind of its powers of acting and reasoning than that of fear.”
~ Edmond Burke
Anger is really a secondary feeling that results from this response to fear or hurt. It is our first line of defense against a threat to self. Like our immune system, our anger goes on the attack to defend our physical or psychological integrity.
The problem with this is that we can have our primary fears and associated conclusions stimulated by current experiences that do not warrant reaction. Like a “false positive,” these attributions can act like cognitive triggers that erroneously prime and sustain arousal and anger. We are programmed to react to fear first, which can create lots of “false positives” that misinterpret benign situations as hostile or aggressive. We act first and think later.
For example, because of a past experience where we experienced emotional or physical pain, we might expect, and see, danger or hostility in a current situation in which there are some similarities but that are not the same. Irrational beliefs, such as a sense of false entitlement, the need to be right or a fear of abandonment, can lead to secondary emotions like anger, irrational jealousy or a need to be in control at all times, all of which can lead to anger.
Every individual has a different definition of threat and a different response. Physical triggers, like fatigue, pain or sleep deprivation, as well as dietary factors like high sugar and low-fat diets, contribute to high reactivity. Past learning, degree of arousal, present situation, temperament, personality features, level of self-esteem and self-awareness are all factors influencing if and how we respond. For example, an expectancy bias, where we see danger or hostility in situations in which there is none, can lead to ongoing acting out.
Those who see the world with a fearful or negative bias may respond to a benign experience with anger. Others see the same experience, but seem to take the world as more benevolent without the need for constant vigilance and retribution. Some aggressive types blame others for their angry responses, having great difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions and feelings. Others seem to be able to take responsibility for their feelings, particularly after they have reduced their hyper-arousal, allowing their more self-conscious part of their brain to take control again.
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