Let’s look at anger from physiological, philosophical, and psychological perspectives.
When we get angry, adrenalin stays in the blood for 12-20 minutes at a level of 2-3 times normal, during which time your entire body is in a state of heightened alert. This adrenalin motivates us to Fight/Flight/Freeze. Which one occurs depends on temperament (pit bulls fight, collies run, possums freeze), experience (what you have seen at home), and training (response to this adrenalin surge can be controlled through anger management training).
Anger is physiological. We cannot stop ourselves from being angry.
Greek and Roman philosophers thoroughly analyzed anger. They wrote about the dangers inherent in “anger-fueled aggression” and also argued for the separation of anger and aggression. They believed in the power of reason (cognitive functioning) to maintain control over the passions. They stressed the crucial need for vigilance and discipline in anger expression.
Plato used the metaphor of anger as a standing army in peacetime. The inherent danger of the undisciplined soldier is that he becomes too aggressive and destroys the integrity of the state, or too passive, in which case he is incapable of participating in defense of the state.
Psychologically, we look for the pain underneath the anger.
Top Ten Anger Producers
Not getting our way (Children admit to this but adults do not)
Things aren’t meeting expectations
Things aren’t going the way they “should”
Someone has harmed us/boundary violation
Something goes against our beliefs
Misperceptions or misunderstandings
Taking something personally
This about covers most of the situations we face in our life, work, and relationships. Our anger is designed to help us respond to these situations. Used adaptively, anger gives us both information about a situation around us and mobilization for action. It empowers us to be assertive, not aggressive, makes it easier to use “I” statements, maintains a moderate arousal state, and attaches meaning to the felt emotion (hurt, fear, frustration).
Maladaptive anger, on the other hand, destroys or blames, possibly with aggression or violence; is focused on others, tends toward “you” statements, maintains an arousal state that is either too low or too high. It is difficult to attach meaning to the emotion – you don’t know why you are angry.
The cascade of anger is as follows: We feel hurt, frustration or fear in response to specific experiences. Because of these feelings, we become physiologically aroused in order to deal with whatever has hurt, frustrated or threatened us. This physiological reaction is anger, which leaves us with two choices: either we express the anger effectively, or we express it ineffectively. If we fail to cope adequately with the hurting event, then we are left with a residue of resentment. Over time, attitudes of negativity, resentment, and pessimism lead to hostility. As hostility hardens, it becomes hate.
Anger will be expressed one way or another. It will be expressed well, in a manner that serves the intimacy of the relationship, or it will be expressed badly, in a manner that breaks down intimacy.
In the next post we’ll compare and contrast the different ways we mismanage anger.
(Some of this material is from Neil Clark Warren’s 1990 book, Make Anger Your Ally).