This article is part of a series of articles unpacking different emotions. It is inspired by Andrew Fuller’s book, ‘A to Z of Feelings’.
Anger is an outer response to an inner sense of powerlessness, and vulnerability. It is typically thought of as a hot emotion, “erupted”, “fired up”, “boiled over”. However, in terms of how anger is experienced, people roughly divide into two groups. Hot heads and cold hearts. The hot heads explode with anger, the cold hearts quietly sit with their anger calculating the best chance of achieving justice. Most things that make us angry are deeply rooted in incidents experienced in our earlier years. An echo of an early experience often provides a sensitive area that, when triggered, sets off the feeling of anger. Anger is often driven by feelings of injustice, frustration or being controlled and thwarted (held back from achieving something).
Although anger is usually viewed as a ‘negative’ emotion, it is a very valuable feeling because it shows we care deeply about something. It signals what is really important to us. It helps create personal boundaries and know where we stand on important issues in life. It is also a sign that we need to take care of ourselves or to protect ourselves from something. It arises in the face of a real or perceived threat to our boundaries and core beliefs. If we miss that message, our anger can go unchecked and become uncontrolled. Anger left unleashed can shame us. You don’t have it, it has you. And projecting your anger onto someone else doesn’t help.
Anger protects us from pain and vulnerability. It can provide us with the energy and courage we need to overcome our fears or stand up for ourselves. There are times where we know that removing anger means confronting a painful truth, to grieve and to sit with our hurt. It is easier to feel hate and anger than deal with rejection and pain. This can make it tempting to hold onto anger for a long time. However, if we spend too long being angry we can place ourselves at risk, physically and mentally, and make unwise life decisions.
You probably know what happens on the outside when someone is angry. Clenched fists, flushed face, fixed glare, tight stomach, raised or very tightly controlled voice. But what happens behind the scenes?
Anger begins in the amygdala, a part of your brain shaped like an almond that deals with emotions. It is activated and raises the alarm. This causes you to react with a burst of energy, preparing you for physical activity. Hormones known as epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released into the body, raising your heart rate and blood pressure. Soon you are unable to focus on anything else. Your body is preparing for a fight if required. At the same time, another part of your brain, the frontal cortex, responsible for making judgement is also activated. The frontal cortex and the amygdala should ideally interact with the frontal lobes reminding the amygdala not to make illogical decisions. The amygdala can override this though, disregarding consequences and potential punishments to make a decision you might later regret.
Powerless, impatience, injustice, frustration, annoyance, thwarted, controlled, confusion, hunger, jealousy, tiredness, stress, betrayal, rejection, hate, boredom, grief, undervalued, unappreciated, resentment, grudge, belittled, disrespected, fear, sadness, disappointed, defensive, disgusted, spiteful, offended, irritated
What you can do that helps
- Our response to anger is actually what matters. We cannot control its arrival but we can control how we respond to it. The question to ask yourself when anger arrives is, what does this anger want from me? Make a plan before you react to anger.
- Each morning we should remind ourselves that the day ahead will have its challenges. Injustices will take place and people will threaten my boundaries but with each moment I will not allow my anger to control me.
- The best way to deal with anger is to prepare for it. Prepare for what we know will challenge us and what might frustrate us. Everyone faces up more bravely to the things for which they have prepared for.
The next time you get angry, pause and ask yourself, what does this anger want from me.
Wishing you well on your wellbeing journey!