An Educational Blog
Back in the 1700’s there was a Scottish surgeon called John Hunter regarded as one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day. He had a very bad temper and, not surprisingly, suffered from angina pectoris. He used to say: “My life is at the mercy of any scoundrel who chooses to put me in a passion”. This was prophetic. At a meeting of the board of St. Georges Hospital, he became involved in a heated argument, walked out, and dropped dead. The government of India wrote to UN that my personality is not good and I have to improve. They were referring to my alleged angry nature. I am using the word ‘alleged’ because the government had no contact with me and based their judgment on mere ‘hearsay’. Indian TV channel was investigating my performance in government hospital secretly and found that I got angry on some patient. Way back in 2003-2004, Mumbai police was investigating theft charge against me made by estranged wife and secretly recorded telephone conversation between me & estranged wife; and found that I got angry on her in conversation but I did not steal her ornaments. Since the word ‘anger’ is linked to me, I thought why not discuss anger. At least it will improve my personality. Aristotle has said that anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. With violent crime rising among adolescents, wide spread familial abuse‚continuing racial/casteist discord‚ and recent acts of terrorism‚ attention has turned to anger as a major problem in human relations. More than one in 10 people say they have trouble controlling their anger, but of these people, less than one in seven admit to seeking help for their problems. This may mean that anger in the general population is severely under-managed and as a result may have detrimental effects on family, work and overall well-being for a great many people.
You may read my article on ‘The Intelligence’ on my website. I quote myself- “Human beings are emotional animals. Emotions have been inherited as survival instincts which are manifested due to neuronal activation and release of chemical neuro-transmitters in the hippocampal and amygdala region of the human brain. What emotional intelligence does is to control, with the help of cerebral cortex, the primitive survival instincts like fear, anger and lust released by the amygdala region of the brain, to improve intrapersonal and interpersonal relations which makes a person successful in life.” So anger is an inherited primitive survival instinct.
A Study on anger management at work conducted by The Sunday Times in 2006 found:
1) 45% of us regularly lose our temper at work.
2) 64% of Britons working in an office have had office rage.
3) 27% of nurses have been attacked at work.
4) 1 in 20 of us has had a fight with the person living next door.
5) UK airlines reported 1,486 significant or serious acts of air rage in a year.
6) More than 80% of drivers say they have been involved in road rage incidents; 25% have committed an act of road rage themselves.
7) 71% of internet users admit to having suffered net rage.
8) 50% of us have reacted to computer problems by hitting our PC, hurling parts of it.
Anger is the primary protective emotion, designed to protect us from harm or from loss of something of value. The most physical of all emotions, anger sends action signals to the muscles and organs of the body to prepare us for one purpose and one purpose only: to neutralize or defeat the perceived threat. Anger is a basic emotion which has allowed us to survive as a species. When a baby screams because it is hungry, too hot or too cold, it is displaying its raw anger. Anger is the emotion of not having our needs met. We are programmed with the ability to express our anger from birth – and then it gets complicated. Anger is a psychophysiological response to pain, perceived suffering or distress, or threat thereof, which has been uncalled for or unjustly brought upon oneself or others, at least from a subjective viewpoint. A threat may be real, discussed, or imagined. Anger is often a response to the perception of threat due to a physical conflict, injustice, negligence, humiliation, or betrayal. Although it is a healthy, normal emotion, it is probably also the most complex. It can be a creative force for change or to correct an injustice. Societies and families hold different views on how it can be used and by whom. It is often poorly managed and can be destructive when it is out of control and turns to aggression. In the early days of our evolution only those individuals with the quickest reactions may have survived. Only their genes made it into the gene pool. Consequently our species has developed a hair-trigger reaction to threatening conditions. Like the dog that barks too much we may need to re-evaluate what is appropriate. Anger may do more harm than any other emotion. First of all it is very common and secondly, it upsets at least two people–the aggressor and the aggressed against. There are two problems: how to prevent or control your own anger and how to handle someone angry against you.
Anger is a natural emotion that every human and many non-human animals experience. Experts say anger is a primary, natural emotion with functional survival value, which we all experience from time to time. Anger is a universally experienced emotion, fed by “feelings of disappointment, hurt, rejection, and embarrassment.” It stimulates the adrenal glands, and results in unpleasant physiological changes and reactions. The raised heart rate, blood pressure, and release of hormones prepare us physically for remedial action – which is either to fight or run away at top speed (fight or flight). Instinctively, anger may surge in humans and non-human animals to protect territory, offspring and family members, secure mating privileges, prevent loss of possessions or food, and many other perceived threats. In many cases, humans and non-human animals express anger by making loud sounds, baring teeth, staring and specific posturing as a warning to perceived aggressors to stop their threatening behaviors. It is unusual for a physical attack to occur without these signs of anger appearing first. If a stranger approaches some newborn puppy-dogs the mother will most likely growl, bare her teeth and adopt a defensive or ready-to-attack posture, rather than silently attack without any warning.
Anger is a normal process that has allowed humans to evolve and adapt. It isn’t a bad thing in itself, but problems occur if it isn’t managed in the right way. Anger is also a mixture of both emotional and physical changes. A big surge of energy goes through your body as chemicals, such as adrenaline, are released. Once the cause of the anger is resolved, you may still have to deal with the physical effects – all that energy has to go somewhere. If this is taken out on another person, it becomes violence, or an object – by punching a wall, it becomes self-harm. Either way is unacceptable.
There is a lack of conceptual clarity of anger due to multiple definitions.
Many words in our vocabulary describe forms of anger. They often differ in the intensity of the anger they express, but the basic archetype is the same. Here is a partial list, in approximate order from the most mild to the most intense: annoyance, irritation, aggravation, agitation, frustration, peeved, annoyed, miffed, sulking, offended, bitter, indignation, exasperation, incensed, pissed, outrage, hostile, spite, vengefulness, resentment, wrath, rage, fury, ferocity, and livid. Bitterness describes a long-lasting result of unresolved anger. Hate is a form of anger because you blame the other for your difficulties when you decide to hate them. Rage and fury imply intense, explosive, often destructive emotion. Ire is a term for anger most frequently encountered in literature. Wrath applies especially to anger that seeks vengeance or punishment. Resentment refers to indignant smoldering anger generated by a sense of grievance. Indignation is righteous anger at something wrongful, unjust, or evil. Revenge means a deliberate response to an offense, delayed until after a period of reflection. Exasperation is anger at having your patience unduly tried.
Anger is an emotion that can range from mild annoyance/irritation to intense rage/fury. The words annoyance and rage are often imagined to be at opposite ends of an emotional continuum: mild irritation and annoyance at the low end and fury or murderous rage at the high end. Anger means a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility. It is a feeling that is accompanied by biological changes in your body. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up due to increased levels of your energy (stress) hormones, adrenaline (epinephrine) & noradrenaline (norepinephrine). This can cause you to shake, become hot & sweaty and feel out of control. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.
Anger is an emotion, resulting from a perceived loss, attributed to a willful agent, and judged as unfair. Let’s examine this definition closely. Because anger is an emotion, it evokes a physiological response. In the case of anger, this is usually a strong arousal. Often the arousal is so strong it can lead immediately to an ugly, destructive, and unnecessary “anger display” of shouting, threatening, and even violence if it is unchecked. A wide variety of perceived losses can trigger anger. This may include having your possessions stolen, abused, or destroyed. It can also involve loss of stature or ego, such as when you lose a competition, suffer an insult, or are humiliated. The idea of “trespass” is important here, because the person trespassed against often considered it as a form of loss. Sadness, as well as grief and depression, are other emotions arising from a loss. The distinction between anger and sadness is the role of the “willful agent”. An agent is someone who acted deliberately. For example, if you lose your pet because it dies of natural causes, you are sad, but not angry. If your pet is killed by a malicious or even a careless person, you are angry at that person. You are angry because you believe that person acted with the deliberate intent to cause you harm. Now it has become a deliberate act and a personal affront. Often the willful agent is yourself. Extending the previous example, you may blame yourself for the loss of your pet if you believe you did not take sufficient care of the pet, or if you believe you could have done more to protect the pet and prevented the loss. Finally, to result in anger, you have to judge the willful agent as acting unfairly. If you lose a tennis match, you may be sad. If you believe the opponent cheated, or the referee made a mistake, this is unfair, and you become angry.
Anger is an emotion related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged or denied and a tendency to undo that by retaliation. Some psychologists describe anger as a normal emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceived provocation. Some view anger as part of the fight or flight brain response to the perceived threat of harm. Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to immediately stop the threatening behavior of another outside force. All anger is, at its core, a dark and cruel wish for harm to come upon the person who hurt you. Anger can potentially mobilize psychological resources and boost determination toward correction of wrong behaviors, promotion of social justice, communication of negative sentiment and redress of grievances. It can also facilitate patience. On the other hand, anger can be destructive when it does not find its appropriate outlet in expression. Anger, in its strong form, impairs one’s ability to process information and to exert cognitive control over their behavior. An angry person may lose his/her objectivity, empathy, prudence or thoughtfulness and may cause harm to others.
Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by virtually all humans at times, and as something that has functional value for survival. Anger can mobilize psychological resources for corrective action. Uncontrolled anger can, however, negatively affect personal or social well-being. Modern psychologists, in contrast to the earlier writers, have also pointed out the possible harmful effects of suppression of anger.
Is anger primary feeling or secondary feeling?
Many psychologists believe that anger is a secondary emotion. A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel angry. We always feel something else first before we get angry. We might first feel frustrated, afraid, attacked, offended, disrespected, forced, trapped, or pressured. If any of these feelings are intense enough, we think of the emotion as anger. There is a quote which goes like this: Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom. It may be helpful for us to try to widen this space during our lives. In fact this may be one sign of wisdom and maturity. It may also give us an increased sense of control over our feelings and reactions.
Triggers of anger:
Words used to describe the “triggers” of anger include being wronged, lack of justice, betrayal, mistreatment, resentment, being dumped on, having one’s space or person invaded, having social norms violated, reputation hurt, being made to feel helpless, frustration, blocking of goals, lack of control, and so on. The commonality (essence) among all these events is that there has been a violation of expectations, of the order of your reality, especially in reference to one’s personal order, i.e. one’s identity. In other words, we respond to a situation with a sense that this shouldn’t be happening, especially not to me. Anger triggers differ for everyone. They vary by age, gender, even culture. One study evaluated anger in babies of different ethnicities. Chinese babies were generally found to be calm in any position they were placed. In one experiment in which a cloth was briefly pressed against the baby’s face, American babies tended to get fussy and push the cloth away, while Chinese babies usually put up with the cloth, not letting it anger them. While this study is interesting, it doesn’t mean that anger is hardwired into a particular culture. It doesn’t even mean that a baby will grow up angry; studies have shown that even a 1-year-old with a penchant for throwing temper tantrums can be a perfectly mild-mannered 5-year-old. Each of these babies, though, will learn the triggers that are acceptable for that culture, and the way that the culture deals with them. Anger in women is more likely triggered by their close relationships; they feel let down by family members and friends, or they feel that these people expect too much of them without anything in return. A man is more likely to be angered by strangers, objects that aren’t working correctly and larger societal issues that prompt concerns about right and wrong. Men’s anger is a little more abstract, while women’s anger appears to be intermingled with the hurt they feel with those closest to them. Children’s anger tends to be about goal blockages and objects; if you’ve ever seen a child separated from toys, this likely makes sense.
Anger is an emotional reaction to a set of circumstances or triggers. The trigger or stressful event is known as provocation. Anger can have positive functions or negative functions. Anger can be positive as it can make us become more assertive and stand up for ourselves, it can help us express tension, and it can energize us and help us feel in control. It has negative effects when it is used too frequently, when it leads to aggression, when it is too intense, when it disrupts relationships or when it dictates the way we feel all the time. There are two extreme positions on the subject of anger: on the one side are the people who believe that anger is a healthy, constructive force that can right wrongs and overturn social injustice. On the other side are those who would like to see anger be entirely eradicated, because playing with fire means we’ll only get burned. Not surprisingly, wise man precepts to navigate a more nuanced “middle way” between those extremes. The goal surely is to conquer anger, but not destroy the fire it has misappropriated. He will wield that fire with wisdom and turn it to creative ends.
Before managing anger, you must know what is behind anger.
A hot head or someone with a bad temper is anyone who has poor impulse control and moves quickly from anger toward rage, dramatic anger displays, and even overt violence. These people may also have hostile personalities. They often have a fragile self-esteem and are hypersensitive to criticism or disrespect. Privately they see themselves as weak, vulnerable, and not particularly strong, capable, or worthy. They fear humiliation. To bolster their own opinion of themselves they believe others should show them respect and acknowledge their high stature. If others fail to demonstrate respect they are dismissed as unfriendly, critical, and hostile. Irritability is the mood associated with anger. If you are in an irritable mood, you require less provocation to become angry. Hostility is the personality trait associated with anger. Hostile people are more likely to become angry.
Psychologists who specialize in anger management explain that there are several sources of anger: physiological, cognitive, and behavioral. Physiological anger is natural anger. In certain threatening situations, for instance when we are attacked physically, our bodies respond by making us physically angry. Cognitive sources of anger are based on how we perceive things. These perceptions may be accurate…a situation may indeed be threatening, or they may not be. Sometimes we will perceive a threat, even though the external situation is not actually as dangerous as we think it is. In other words, there may be no real reason for anger, but our personal biases and emotions take over, leading to aggression. Finally, behavioral sources of anger come from the environment we create for ourselves. Chronically angry people create an atmosphere in which others are aggressive in return, creating a cycle of anger.
Classification of anger: There are many ways to classify anger depending on cause or onset of anger.
One is certainly genuinely entitled to anger at those who do one harm, cheat, lie, steal from one, or violate one in some way. One may be legitimately angry at circumstance such as the situation of an orphan, incest, rape, deceit and innumerable other injustices. And so the anger is justified and it is there, and it is quite natural. This justified anger may be amplified by frustration, where one cannot do anything to rectify the cause, either because it is in the past and done, or because the cause cannot or will not be changed.
It means one creates expectations of one’s own choosing, or adopts them from family, friends or the culture in general. Anger may arise when actual experience or present thinking does not conform to expectation, and where that expectation is important and has consequence. Expectation is standards, rules, laws, tradition, custom, the way one expects others in general to be. When reality does not meet expectations, one may get angry.
Anger at circumstance can be difficult to solve since it is often difficult to change, like children who don’t like their family for instance. Learn to accept reality as it naturally is. Avoid circumstance that causes anger whenever possible, like avoiding certain people, situations and relationships. Learn one’s own capacities and do not get angry at one’s inability to live up to things that are not realistic for one’s own abilities.
Another way to classify anger:
Three types of anger-
1) The first form of anger, named “hasty and sudden anger” is connected to the impulse for self-preservation. It is shared between humans and non-human animals and occurs when tormented or trapped.
2) The second type of anger is named “settled and deliberate” anger and is a reaction to perceived deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others.
The first two types of anger are episodic.
3) The third type of anger is called dispositional and is related more to character traits than to instincts or cognitions. Irritability, sullenness and churlishness are examples of the last form of anger.
Expression of anger:
The pictures below show examples of angry man & angry woman. Note clenched fists, wide-opened eyes & mouth and teeth.
The external expression of anger can be found in facial expressions, body language, physiological responses, and at times in public acts of aggression. Humans and animals, for example, make loud sounds, attempt to look physically larger, bare their teeth, and stare. The facial and skeletal musculatures are strongly affected by anger. The face becomes flushed, and the brow muscles move inward and downward, fixing a hard stare on the target. The nostrils flare, and the jaw tends toward clenching. This is an innate pattern of facial expression that can be observed in toddlers. Tension in the skeletal musculature, including raising of the arms and adopting a squared-off stance, are preparatory actions for attack and defense. The muscle tension provides a sense of strength and self-assurance. An impulse to strike out accompanies this subjective feeling of potency. The behaviors associated with anger are designed to warn aggressors to stop their threatening behavior. Rarely does a physical altercation occur without the prior expression of anger by at least one of the participants. Angry behaviors include yelling, throwing things, criticizing, ignoring, storming out and sometimes withdrawing and doing nothing.
Symptoms of anger:
|raised voice||negative thoughts||reddening of the face|
|revengeful attitude||rapid pulse||aggressive behavior|
|standing to speak||clinched fist||rapid speech|
|restlessness||glaring stare||exaggeration of irritations|
|tightness of the jaw||unwillingness to listen||nervous twitching or shaking|
|argumentative||sharp words or cursing||forgetfulness|
|closed communication||violent actions||backbiting|
Learn to identify the early signals that you are becoming angry to alert you to use strategies in order to stay in control. Learning to recognize when one is angry involves understanding the “signals” that are often indicators that emotions are high. The key to recognizing these early signals is to develop self-awareness. Strong emotion like anger has three parts: body signals, thought signals and actions signals. Below are some examples of anger signals.
Reactions to being angry:
How people react to feeling angry depends on many things including the situation, their family history, cultural background and stress levels. It may be shown in many different ways, including: sarcastic comments, swearing, shouting, name-calling, bullying, and physical violence such as hitting, pushing, kicking or breaking things. Other people might react to anger by hiding it or turning it inwards against themselves. They can be very angry on the inside but feel unable to let it out.
Active versus passive anger:
In the case of “active” emotion, the angry person “lashes out” verbally or physically at a target. When anger is a “passive” emotion, it is often characterized by silent sulking, passive-aggressive behavior, hostility, and tension. Passive-aggression is wanting to look good while doing bad, is a popular response to anger. But this passive-aggressive behavior leads to a covertly violent state that can be as destructive over time as an overtly violent state. Anger can also be caused as irritation escalates during exposure to an annoyance. Humans often experience anger empathetically. For example, after reading about others being treated unjustly, one may experience anger, even though she/he is not the victim. Anger is usually magnified and lasts longer when a cognitive decision is made about the intent of the individual inflicting the pain. In other words, if one decides the pain infliction was intentional or deliberate, the emotion is usually more intense.
Passive anger can be expressed in the following ways:
1) Dispassion, such as giving the cold shoulder or phony smiles, looking unconcerned, sitting on the fence while others sort things out, dampening feelings with substance abuse, overeating, oversleeping, not responding to another’s anger, frigidity, indulging in sexual practices that depress spontaneity and make objects of participants, giving inordinate amounts of time to machines, objects or intellectual pursuits; talking of frustrations but showing no feeling.
2) Evasiveness, such as turning your back in a crisis, avoiding conflict, not arguing back, becoming phobic.
3) Ineffectualness, such as setting yourself and others up for failure, choosing unreliable people to depend on, being accident prone, underachieving, sexual impotence, expressing frustration at insignificant things but ignoring serious ones.
4) Obsessive behavior, such as needing to be inordinately clean and tidy, making a habit of constantly checking things, over-dieting or overeating, demanding that all jobs be done perfectly.
5) Psychological manipulation, such as provoking people to aggression and then patronizing them, provoking aggression but staying on the sidelines, emotional blackmail, false tearfulness, feigning illness, sabotaging relationships, using sexual provocation, using a third party to convey negative feelings, withholding money or resources.
6) Secretive behavior, such as stockpiling resentments that are expressed behind people’s backs, giving the silent treatment or under the breath mutterings, avoiding eye contact, putting people down, gossiping, anonymous complaints, poison pen letters, stealing, and conning.
7) Self-blame, such as apologizing too often, being overly critical, inviting criticism.
8) Self-sacrifice, such as being overly helpful, making do with second best, quietly making long-suffering signs but refusing help, or lapping up gratefulness.
The active (aggressive) anger can be manifested in following ways.
1) Bullying, such as threatening people directly, persecuting, pushing or shoving, using power to oppress, shouting, driving someone off the road, playing on people’s weaknesses.
2) Destructiveness, such as destroying objects, harming animals, destroying a relationship, reckless driving, substance abuse.
3) Grandiosity, such as showing off, expressing mistrust, not delegating, being a sore loser, wanting center stage all the time, not listening, talking over people’s heads, expecting kiss and make-up sessions to solve problems.
4) Hurtfulness, such as physical violence, verbal abuse, biased or vulgar jokes, breaking a confidence, using foul language, ignoring people’s feelings, willfully discriminating, blaming, punishing people for unwarranted deeds, labeling others.
5) Manic behavior, such as speaking too fast, walking too fast, working too much and expecting others to fit in, driving too fast, and reckless spending.
6) Selfishness, such as ignoring others’ needs, not responding to requests for help, queue jumping.
7) Threats, such as frightening people by saying how you could harm them, their property or their prospects, finger pointing, fist shaking, wearing clothes or symbols associated with violent behavior, tailgating, excessively blowing a car horn, slamming doors.
8) Unjust blaming, such as accusing other people for your own mistakes, blaming people for your own feelings, making general accusations.
9) Unpredictability, such as explosive rages over minor frustrations, attacking indiscriminately, dispensing unjust punishment, inflicting harm on others for the sake of it, using alcohol and drugs, illogical arguments.
10) Vengeance, such as being over-punitive, refusing to forgive and forget, bringing up hurtful memories from the past.
A psychologist has identified six bipolar dimensions of anger expression. They relate to the direction of anger, its locus, reaction, modality, impulsivity, and objective. Coordinates on each of these dimensions can be connected to generate a profile of a person’s anger expression style. Among the many profiles that are theoretically possible in this system, are the familiar profile of the person with explosive anger, profile of the person with repressive anger, profile of the passive aggressive person, and the profile of constructive anger expression.
Anger in animals:
The bullfight begins and the matador waves his red cape. We expect the bull to charge because the red makes it angry. There’s just one problem — bulls are color-blind. The bull isn’t getting angry at the color; it’s responding to the movements of the cape and the matador. It’s easy to think that animals get angry like we do. You step on a cat’s tail and it hisses, arches its back and seems to have murder in its eyes. Dogs growl and bark at mailmen. But anger requires a mental component that many scientists think that animals aren’t capable of. Anger and fear do similar things in the body, but an animal’s response is more likely attributed to fear, a primary emotion. Anger is considered a secondary emotion because we use our brains to attribute blame. The destructive passion is shown in a general tension of the muscular system, in gnashing of teeth and protrusion of claws, in dilated eyes and nostrils, in growls. It is the combative rather than the hunting instinct which is essential. Many graminivorous animals which are usually peaceful are highly dangerous in the breeding season, when the combative impulse is excited in connection with the sexual, and finds its proper field in sexual rivalry. In general we may say that some animals, such as the elephant, meet danger and opposition by main force; others, such as the rabbit and hare, by flight and concealment. Yet others mostly resort to evasion and escape, but become combative and even aggressive at certain seasons. The conditions which occasion fear in one animal may occasion anger in another. Let me put it differently. Upon similar trigger (hurt), timid (weak) will be afraid and brave (strong) will be angry. The combative tendency is the predisposing cause of that emotional seizure we call anger. All fierce animals, such as the lion or tiger, become fiercely aggressive when they are hurt. The effect of a little corrosive sublimate sprinkled on the path of leaf-cutting ants in dry weather is to make them mad and exterminate one another. … In a couple of hours, round balls of the ants will be found all biting each other and numerous individuals will be seen bitten in two, while others have lost their legs or antennae. So even ants exhibit anger and aggression. The aggression is not unique to predators but even the graceful swan will chase and bite you if it has a cygnet to protect. A study found that angry crows never forget your face. Crows remember the faces of threatening humans and often react by scolding and bringing in others to mob the perceived miscreant, according to a new study published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The following figure illustrates choices we have and paths we can take to either inflame or resolve our anger.
This diagram is an example of a type of chart known by systems analysts as a state transition diagram. Each colored elliptical bubble represents a state of being that represents the way you are now. The labels on the arrows represent actions or events and the arrows show paths into or out of each state. You are at one place on this chart for one particular relationship or interaction at any particular time. Other people are likely to be in other places on the chart. This is similar to an ordinary road map where you plot where you are now, while other people are at other places on the same map. Begin the analysis at the green “OK” bubble, or wherever else you believe you are now.
There are 5 phases in the anger-assault cycle. These are as follows:
A) The trigger phase
B) The escalation phase
C) The crisis phase
D) The plateau or recovery phase
E) The post crisis depression phase.
The trigger stage is the event which sets off the anger reaction. This event is seen as threatening to the individual and starts off the chain of angry responses. At this stage it is still possible to intervene to calm the person down or for the person to calm himself or herself down. Once the escalation phase is reached there is less chance of calming down, as this is the phase where the body prepares for fight or flight. The next stage is the crisis phase. Here the individual may be unable to respond to calming techniques and may find it very difficult to respond to others once this phase has been reached. The recovery phase lasts for about 45 minutes (though it can be as long as 90 minutes after a serious outburst) for it takes some time for the body to return to normal. It is possible for the anger to be re-ignited during this phase and this may result if an inappropriate intervention is attempted. Finally, the post-crisis phase is one of resting and recovering from the high state of arousal that the body has just experienced. The ability to think clearly begins to return at this stage and the person may feel guilty about what has happened.
What keeps an anger problem going?
There may be a noticeable pattern to what happens before and after an angry episode. For example, whilst driving, looking after the children or whenever you’re talking about money; it might be that we are getting into the habit of getting angry in such contexts. This might be difficult to break. When looking more closely at what prevents us from overcoming anger problems, it becomes clear that our behavior, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations all interact and combine to keep our problems with anger going. One example is sufficient. The figure below shows how road rage initiates and perpetuates.
Causes of anger:
Anger is often associated with frustration – things don’t always happen the way we want and people don’t always behave the way we think they should. Frustration is defined as ‘an interference with the occurrence of an instigated goal response at its proper time in the behavior sequence.’ It is the feeling we get when we don’t get what we want, when something interferes with our gaining a desired and expected goal. It can be physical (a flat tire), our own limitations (paralysis after an accident), our choices (an unprepared for and flunked exam), others’ actions (parental restrictions or torturing a political prisoner), others’ motives (deception for a self-serving purpose), or society’s injustice (born into poverty and finding no way out). Anger is feeling mad in response to frustration or injury. You don’t like what has happened and usually you’d like to get revenge. Even though frustration as defined may have a limited role in explaining anger as aggressive behavior, it fails to provide for an adequate explanation of dislike, contempt, ambivalence and hatred.
Anger is usually linked with other negative emotions or is a response to them. You may be feeling hurt, frightened, disappointed, worried, embarrassed or frustrated, but may express these sorts of feelings as anger. Anger can also result from misunderstandings or poor communication between people. People feel angry when they sense that they or someone they care about has been offended, when they are certain about the nature and cause of the angering event, when they are certain someone else is responsible, and when they feel they can still influence the situation or cope with it. Usually, those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of “what has happened to them” and in most cases the described provocations occur immediately before the anger experience. Such explanations confirm the illusion that anger has a discrete external cause. The angry person usually finds that the cause of their anger is in an intentional, personal, and controllable aspect of another person’s behavior. This explanation, however, is based on the intuitions of the angry person who experiences a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability as a result of their emotion.
Unforgiveness is probably the one major source for anger. Unforgiveness is holding someone accountable for a past offense. We have the expression, “It was the straw that broke the back of the camel.” In reality, the straw did not break the camel’s back, but the straw was added to all the other weight. Conflict issues which are not properly handled are simply accumulated. The accumulated stress may one day give away as anger. Modeling is a major factor in the development of anger behavior. Children who observe their parents exhibiting anger may grow up acting out their anger, that same anger. The anger that is glorified in the drama on TV, movies, and videos is often translated into a set to react in the minds of many children and adults. Furthermore animated video games of unrestricted anger, aggression, and violence implant a stage for unrestricted anger and violence to be acted out without conscious thought of what is right or the consequences of such behavior. The newest villain is the medieval and occultic war games that one my access through the internet. Possessiveness coupled with loss or fear of loss is another major cause for anger. Possessiveness is holding on to what one believes to be his personal right or expectation. Therefore, when someone believes that he should have a certain job, position, or recognition, but loses or fails to receive it, the result may be anger. If a child believes he should have a toy, but a sibling gets it instead, the result is anger. The wife that feels that she should have the right to be appreciated by her husband, but does not receive it may get angry. The teenager who feels he should be free to go with anybody wherever he wants, but is grounded by his parents, may become angry. The man who fails to live up to his self imposed expectations may get angry at himself. You may become the “bully” displaying anger to control the situation. In marriage, he may use anger to control his wife and children. Anger becomes a means of manipulation.
How angry are you?
There are so many frustrations in our daily lives; one could easily become chronically irritated. Perhaps more important than the variety of things that anger us, is (1) the intensity of our anger and (2) the degree of control we have over our anger. That is, how close are we to losing control? About two-thirds of the students feel the need to gain more control over their anger. How much of a temper do you have? Ask yourself these kinds of questions:
1) Do you have a quick or a hot temper?
2) Do you suppress or hide your anger (passive-aggressive or victim)?
3) Do you get irritated when someone gets in your way? fails to give you credit for your work? criticizes your looks or opinions or work? gives themselves advantages over you?
4) Do you get angry at yourself when you make a foolish mistake? do poorly in front of others? put off important things? do something against your morals or better judgment?
5) Do you drink alcohol or use drugs? Do you get angry or mellow when you are high? Research clearly shows that alcohol and drugs are linked with aggression. Drinking decreases our judgment and increases our impulsiveness, so watch out.
You probably have a pretty accurate picture of your temper by answering above questions. But check your opinion against the opinion of you held by relatives and friends. There are also several tests that measure anger.
Anger and negotiations:
The main question in this matter is whether show of anger during negotiation increases the ability of the anger expresser to succeed in negotiation. Few previous studies have found that the anger expressers were perceived as stubborn, dominant and powerful. In addition, it was found that people were inclined to easily give up to those who were perceived by them as a powerful and stubborn, rather than soft and submissive. Based on these studies, it is found that people conceded more to the angry side rather than for the non angry one. One question that has been raised based on these findings was whether expression of emotion influences others, since it is known that people use emotional information to conclude about others’ limits and match their demands in negotiation accordingly. Psychologists wanted to explore whether people give up more easily to an angry opponent or to a happy opponent. Findings of their study revealed that participants tended to be more flexible toward an angry opponent compared to a happy opponent. So expression of anger may clinch a deal in tough negotiations.
Anger and Gender:
Men and women often, but not always, manage and express anger in different ways. With men, anger may be the primary emotion, as many men believe that anger is a more legitimate emotion to express in a situation. Often men find it harder to express the feelings underneath the anger like hurt, sadness or grief. For women the reverse may often be true – the anger gets buried under tears. There is no evidence to suggest that men get angry more than women. There is no evidence of this at all. However, in our society, obvious anger by men is more acceptable than obvious anger by women. We see anger in women quite frequently too, but usually more subtly than the anger seen in men. Only two generations ago, a woman had to exhibit her anger only in ways that people wouldn’t be able to pick it up. There’s still some of that hiding of anger by women, but that doesn’t mean women get angry any less than men. Anger is not part of how we identify women in the culture, but it is part of how we identify men. Therefore a woman being angry is less acceptable in our society.
Anger and Religion:
Anger has been getting a bad rap for centuries through various religions. Anger in Catholicism is counted as one of the seven deadly sins. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna regards anger as a sign of ignorance that leads to perpetual bondage. In Buddhism, anger is seen as aversion with a stronger exaggeration, and is listed as one of the five hindrances. Buddha teaches that anger side-tracks enlightenment and is rooted in illusion. In Islam, general suppression of anger is deemed a praiseworthy quality and Prophet Muhammad is attributed to have said, “Power resides not in being able to strike another, but in being able to keep the self under control when anger arises”. In Judaism, anger is a negative & evil trait. In other words, all religions are against anger but at the same time, all religions talk of wrath of God. A rather contradictory stance. Humans must control anger while God can become angry. The characteristics of those upon whom God’s wrath will fall is as follows: those who reject God; deny his signs; doubt the resurrection and the reality of the day of judgment; criticize prophets; do mischief, are impudent, do not look after the poor (notably the orphans); do not follow sacred texts; persecute the believers or prevent them from praying etc.
Anger and Social Status:
Various studies examined stereotypes of the emotions associated with high-status and low-status group members and found that high-status people feel more angry than sad or guilty; and that low-status people feel more sad or guilty than angry. This difference in emotions between high-status and low-status group is attributed to different perception related expectations.
Anger and Substance Abuse:
Alcohol intoxication and withdrawal, withdrawal from tranquilizers & barbiturates, and use of cocaine, marijuana, anabolic steroids, PCP (Phencyclidine), and amphetamines all produce degrees of irritability, anger, hostility and sometimes aggression. Also, anger due to any other cause can lead to substance abuse. Unfortunately, most substance abusers may not even be aware that they have an underlying anger problem and do not “connect” their anger problem to their alcoholism, drug addiction and substance abuse. Therefore, they do not seek (or get) help for their anger problem. But more often than not, their anger is the underlying source (and psychological origin) of their disorder. Anger “emotionally” precedes the use of cocaine and alcohol for many alcohol and cocaine dependent individuals. Anger is an emotional and mental form of “suffering” that occurs whenever our desires and expectations of life, others or self are thwarted or unfulfilled. Addictive behavior and substance abuse is an addict’s way of relieving themselves of the agony of their anger by “numbing” themselves with drugs, alcohol and so on. This is not “managing their anger”, but suppression. When we do not know how to manage our anger appropriately, we try to stuff the anger down inside ourselves and “keep it there”. Over time, it festers and often gives rise to even more painful emotions, such as depression and anxiety. Thus, the individual has now created an additional problem for themselves besides their substance abuse, and must be “dual diagnosed” to receive proper treatment. Several clinical studies have demonstrated that anger management intervention for individuals with substance abuse problems is very effective in reducing or altogether eliminating a relapse.
Anger and Alcohol:
One effect of alcohol is that it can reduce your ability to control your actions. You might never get into a fistfight with someone under normal circumstances, but still end up hitting them if you have had too much to drink. If you combine that tendency with an increased tendency to want to blame someone for their actions just by being in the environment in which alcohol is present, then you can see why parties with alcohol can get out of control. This tendency may also make couples more likely to fight if they have been drinking, because they may be more prone to view actions taken by their partner as intentional. The relationship between alcohol and aggressive behavior is well known. Alcohol is involved in half of all murders, rapes and assaults. A study of the effects of alcohol on anger-related aggression has found that intoxicated individuals will display more facial expressions of anger than will sober individuals. Another study finds that drinking alcohol may place those individuals with a tendency toward anger at greater risk of becoming aggressive. If individuals tend to express their anger outwardly, alcohol will ‘turn up the volume’, so that such a person will express anger more frequently and more intensely. A heightened response will most likely occur when the provocation against the drinker is a strong one, and will less likely occur when the individual is experiencing a low provocation and is sober. Alcohol intoxication brings out people’s natural tendencies in the expression of anger. Alcohol abuse is often a problem behind anger management issues. If the alcohol addiction is not treated, the anger issues will never be resolved. If you have both anger and alcohol issues, the alcohol problem has to be dealt with first, meaning you can’t deal with the anger and just keep drinking. Alcohol tends to lower inhibitions and increases the tendency toward rage, violence and other destructive behaviors. When chronic alcohol or other drug abuse problems are managed poorly, it leads to broken family relationships and domestic violence problems. Binge-drinkers are twice as likely to be violent towards their partners, with female-to-male aggression most common, a University of Otago study reveals. For individuals struggling with the combination of anger management issues and substance use, working with a counselor, psychologist or therapist can help them uncover the underlying reasons for the anger issues and why they turn to alcohol.
Righteous indignation is typically a reactive emotion of anger over perceived mistreatment, insult, or malice. It is perceived as a justified response to the sense of injustice. This is the only anger accepted in Christianity as justified and not sin. Much violence has been committed in God’s name, and terrorism is a classical example of justified aggression acceptable to perverted believers. In 2007, a study of almost 500 college students examined the effect of violence in Scripture. Half of the students were from Brigham Young University, a religious university associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The other half were from Vrije University in Amsterdam. Of the Dutch students, 50 percent said they believed in God, and 27 percent believed in the Bible, while 99 percent of the Brigham Young students believed in God and the Bible. The groups were asked to read an obscure biblical passage that told of a woman’s brutal killing and her husband’s revenge, which involved killing everyone in several cities. Half the participants were told that the story was biblical, while the other half was told that the story was found on an ancient scroll. Half of both groups were provided an additional sentence that indicated that God commanded the husband’s violence. The groups were then tested for aggression, using a common laboratory exercise for measuring the behavior. The study found that religious students acted more aggressively when told that the violence was in the Bible. But both religious and nonreligious students were more aggressive when told that the violence was sanctioned by God, although nonreligious students were less affected than religious ones. This study indicates that scriptural violence has an effect on believers, but the study’s authors note that this was one violent episode taken out of context. If religious extremists were to focus on such passages, they might be angrier, but within the context of an entire scriptural work, believers find many examples of how to deal with anger more peacefully.
Children’s temper tantrums:
Temper tantrums are a common behavior problem in preschool children who may express their anger by lying on the floor, kicking, screaming, and occasionally holding their breath. Tantrums are natural, especially in children who are not yet able to use words to express their frustrations. Tantrums typically appear at age 2 or 3 and start to decline by 4. 23 to 83 percent of all 2- to 4-year-olds have occasional temper tantrums. Tantrums typically occur at age 2 to 3 when children are forming a sense of self. The toddler is old enough to have a sense of “me” and “my wants” but is too young to know how to satisfy the want. Tantrums are the result of high energy and low ability to use words to get needs or wants met. Most children throw tantrums in a particular place with a particular person. They usually are a public display after the child has been told “no” to something he or she wants to do. The tantrum usually stops when the child gets his or her wish. What happens with the temper tantrum depends on the child’s level of energy and the parent’s level of patience and parenting skill. How parents respond is critical in tantrum management. Parents can learn how to nurture and discipline effectively. Overly authoritarian parents who exercise too much power and use discipline punitively can learn more effective “authoritative” parenting. Overly permissive parents who exercise too little power and use too little discipline can also learn to be authoritative parents. As is often the case, balance is important. Parents can learn to calm themselves, state clear rules, notice and compliment appropriate behavior, and teach understanding and empathy. Children who have temper tantrums often have other problems like thumb sucking, head banging, bed wetting and problem sleeping. If these behaviors happen, or if your child has temper tantrums that last more than 15 minutes or occur three or more times a day at younger than 1 or older than 4, seek help from a family physician, psychologist, or marriage and family therapist. Most tantrums and angry outbursts come and go as children and youth grow in their ability to use language and learn to solve problems using words. But occasionally, fits of temper and violence persist into elementary school and may signal serious problems.
Anger-related behaviors in children:
1) Over-react to simple requests/events.
2) Changed mood over long period of time.
3) Drop in school grades.
4) Social withdrawal. Loss of friends.
5) Great changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
6) Moody, irritable, discourteous to others.
7) Provokes fighting with others.
8) Loss of interest in physical appearance.
9) Blames others for their problems.
Short term rewards of anger:
As discussed earlier, the tantrum of a child usually stops when child gets his/her wish. So there are short term rewards of being angry.
1) Creates an adrenaline rush
2) Provides a sense of power
3) Provides Excitement
4) Relieves boredom
5) Makes people listen to you
6) Enables you to avoid crying or showing vulnerability
7) Keeps you from facing feelings of sadness or fear
8) Gets people to do things for you through intimidation
9) Establishes superiority over others (“I’m better than you”)
10) Puts the blame on someone else, other than yourself
11) Shows other people that you are not a wimp
12) Scares other people into submission
13) Motivates you to get things done
Note: Many people believe that explosive and volatile anger is a sign of power, confidence, and “being on top of your game.” In fact, this is not the case at all. Rage and disrespectful anger actually come out of a deep sense of powerlessness, inadequacy, and despair. Another word for that place is shame. So there is connection between shame and rage i.e. from feeling defective & inadequate to becoming disrespectful & explosive.
The anger mechanism would not have survived millions of years of evolution if it did not provide important survival benefits. Here are some of those benefits:
1) Anger tells us that something needs to change.
2) Anger can provide the motivation to constructively change whatever it was that caused the anger. It can energize the fight for legitimate rights. It contributed to eliminating slavery and apartheid, and lead to women’s suffrage and civil rights. Anger can motivate us to overcome oppression and topple a tyrant.
3) Anger can provide the motivation to constructively correct an injustice. It urges us to act on our sense of justice.
4) Anger can provide the motivation to constructively teach offenders what they did to make you angry, and to learn to act differently.
5) Anger can help to reduce or overcome fear and provide the energy needed to mobilize needed change.
6) Anger sends a powerful signal that informs others of trouble. It notifies the offender that you have perceived an offense.
7) Anger helps us to preserve our ego and think good of ourselves.
8) Anger is a normal response to an external stimulus that needs to be addressed.
Anger as a problem:
Anger becomes a problem when it creates trouble for you with other people, your work, your health, day-to-day living or the law. Anger is also a problem when other people around you are frightened, hurt or feel they cannot talk to you or disagree with you in case you become angry. An anger problem is any behavior caused by anger that hurts you or someone else. Anger problems affect men and women of all ages, and from all walks of life.
Signs of anger as a problem:
1) Anger involves verbal, emotional, physical or psychological abuse.
2) Trouble with the law.
3) Out-of-control behavior, such as breaking things or driving recklessly.
4) You feel angry a lot of the time.
5) People close to you are worried about your anger.
6) Anger is leading to problems with personal relationships and work.
7) You think you have to get angry to get what you want.
8) Anger seems to get bigger than the event that set it off.
9) Anger lasts for a long time, and well after the triggering event has passed.
10) Anger affects other situations not related to the original event.
11) You are becoming anxious or depressed about your anger.
12) You are using alcohol or other drugs to try to manage your anger.
13) You are getting angry with the people who are closest to you, or with people who are less powerful than you, rather than dealing with the situation that sparked off your anger in the first place.
14) You are using anger to cover up guilt, shame and vulnerability.
Effects of anger on health:
Anger is the affective state most commonly associated with myocardial ischemia and life-threatening arrhythmias. The scope of the problem is sizeable-at least 36,000 (2.4% of 1.5 million) heart attacks are precipitated annually in the United States by anger. The lethal cardiovascular consequences in ischemic heart disease are attributable to the unique physiology of this state, which activates high-gain central neurocircuitry and the sympathetic nervous system, leading to acute sinus tachycardia, hypertension, impaired myocardial perfusion, and a high degree of cardiac electrical instability. A 2000 study published in Circulation Magazine found that among men and women with normal blood pressure, people who were chronically angry were two times as likely to develop coronary heart disease and three times as likely to have a heart attack, compared to the least-angry subjects. A review panel on coronary prone behavior and coronary artery disease (CAD) came to the conclusion that the effects of hostility (a state of mind in which angry thoughts and feelings are deemed necessary for protection from perceived threats) are equal to and possibly greater than the effects of high serum cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and high blood pressure. Anger is also a mortality risk, especially for women. In one long-term study, women who often suppressed their anger had three times the mortality rate than women who did not. Most people are well aware of the hazards associated with unprotected sexual intercourse, having sex with multiple partners, or having sex while under the influence of drugs. High-risk sex, it turns out, is often accompanied by anger. Anger is also responsible for on-the-job injuries. Up to a third of people who were injured on the job admit that they were experiencing some level of anger prior to the injury.
Type A and type B personality:
Chronically angry, hostile and irritable people have been described as having “Type A” personalities. People with more laid back personalities are correspondingly described as having “Type B” personalities. These categories were invented in the late 1950s by Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman as means of differentiating patients likely to develop heart disease from those who were not. Type A personalities are more likely to display aggressive and competitive personality traits and to achieve great professional success. Type B personalities have a more easy-going approach toward life. The driven Type A personalities are more likely than the type B personalities to develop serious heart disease. Specifically, common traits of Type A personalities, such as being quick to anger, and demonstrating explosive reactivity, competitiveness, impatience, irritability, and hostility strongly indicate a high risk for heart disease. On the positive side, Type A personalities are often very driven and determined to succeed. They will allow nothing to stand in their way when striving to reach their goals. Because of their focus, however, people with Type A personalities are always in a hurry; they have no patience for people around them, and often fail to give others their full attention because they are busy doing something else. Type A personalities also tend to be critical and judgmental people, often focusing on the weaknesses of others – lateness, poor driving skills, indifference, etc. They are likely to become angry and hostile towards those people they deem incompetent or in the way. Physiologically, Type A men, especially those with high hostility levels, show weaker parasympathetic nervous system response than more laid-back Type B men. The parasympathetic nervous system (or PNS) is a part of the body’s nervous system that functions to calm people down. The opposite of the parasympathetic nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system (or SNS), which causes arousal, and which is heavily invoked in anger responding. The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with stress hormones (primarily adrenaline and noradrenaline) which cause arousal. The parasympathetic nervous system counters this arousal by releasing another hormone, acetylcholine which neutralizes the stress hormones and allows the body to calm down and relax. Healthy parasympathetic nervous system responding causes the heart and organs to work less hard and thus reduces strain on the body’s organs. Because Type A men’s parasympathetic nervous system response is relatively weak, they are unable to calm down as effectively as are Type B men, and they suffer bodily damage because of it.
Long term health effects of frequent or chronic anger:
1) Hypertension (high blood pressure), increased cholesterol levels and damaged or blocked arteries
2) Increased susceptibility to infection, due to a depressed immune system
3) Increased susceptibility to diabetes
4) Gastro-intestinal system – contributing to the development of conditions such as ulcerative colitis (inflammation and ulcers in the lining of your large bowel), gastritis (inflammation of the lining of your stomach) or irritable bowel syndrome
5) Immune system – making you more likely to catch the flu virus and slow your recovery from accidents or operations
6) Heart and circulatory system – increasing your risk of coronary heart disease or a stroke
7) Mental wellbeing impaired – including insomnia, depression, addiction (alcohol, drugs), self-harm, compulsion and bullying behavior, eating disorders, low self esteem, moodiness,
8) Low pain threshold e.g. headache, backache
9) Skin disorders
10) More prone to inflammation as their blood show increased levels of circulating marker of inflammation known as interleukin-6.
Overall effects of anger:
Out-of-control anger hurts your career. Constructive criticism, creative differences, and heated debate can be healthy but lashing out only alienates your colleagues, supervisors, or clients and erodes their respect. What’s more, a bad reputation can follow you wherever you go, making it harder and harder to get ahead. Out-of-control anger hurts your relationships with others. It causes lasting scars in the people you love most and gets in the way of your friendships and work relationships. Chronic, intense anger makes it hard for others to trust you, speak honestly, or feel comfortable—they never know what is going to set you off or what you will do. Explosive anger is especially damaging to children. The overall effects of anger are enormous and eventually anger is related to violence, crime, spouse and child abuse, divorce, stormy relationships, poor working conditions, poor physical health (vide supra), emotional disorders, and so on.
Anger as a symptom of brain disorders & mental disorders:
Anger can be a symptom of brain tumours, strokes, brain surgery, tuberous sclerosis, epilepsy or brain trauma etc. The most commonly used psychiatric diagnoses for aggressive, angry or violent behavior are Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Conduct Disorder (in children and adolescents), Psychotic Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Antisocial, Borderline, Paranoid and Narcissistic Personality Disorder; Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Depression, goes the old saying, is anger turned inward. Various studies have found anger attacks to be common in 40 to 60 percent of those with unipolar and bipolar depression. Anger can also be a symptom of smoking cessation, lead poisoning, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and psychological addiction.
Drugs causing anger:
The following drugs, medications, substances or toxins are some of the possible causes of Anger as a symptom. This list is incomplete and various other drugs or substances may cause anger as a symptom. These drugs are BuSpar, BuSpar Dividose, Buspirone, Buspirone Hydrochloride, Desyrel, Desyrel Dividose, Neurosine and Trazodone.
Rage is a mental state that is one extreme of the intensity spectrum of anger. When a person experiences rage, it usually lasts until a threat is removed or the person under rage is incapacitated. It denotes aggression where there is anger present that is motivated by causing some harm to others, and that is characterized by impulsive thinking and a lack of planning. Rage occurs when oxytocin, vasopressin, and corticotropin-releasing hormone are rapidly released from the hypothalamus under influence of amygdala (vide infra). This results in the pituitary gland producing and releasing large amounts of the adrenocorticotropic hormone, which causes the adrenal cortex to release corticosteroids. This chain reaction occurs when faced with a threatening situation. Biochemically, when you are in a state of rage, you’ve moved from your prefrontal lobe “down to your midbrain, where you can only fight, be in flight or freeze”. That’s why rage is uncontrollable — and frightening. On the other hand, with healthy anger, you’re still in your prefrontal lobe, where capable of managing your responses.
Two pedestrians fight a driver and his passenger after a near-collision in New Delhi, India.
Road rage is a dangerous behavior pattern that can affect any of us at any given time. Road rage refers to incidents where violence erupts between drivers and passengers — in or around vehicles. Such behavior might include rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner, or making threats. Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults, and collisions which result in injuries and even deaths. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates — conservatively — that, between 1990 and 1996, road rage caused 218 traffic fatalities and over 12,000 injuries. Even more alarming is their estimate that this problem is increasing yearly by somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. Bottom line: You may literally be putting your life in someone else’s hands every time you get behind the wheel. Road rage isn’t about the road — it’s about rage. There are differing views on whether or not “road rage” is a mental issue. Police usually charge road rage with reckless driving. Police do not normally take road rage complaints seriously and only act when somebody has been seriously assaulted or killed by an angry driver. Now people can vent road rage on a new website http://www.driver-ratings.com/ but can it replace an old adage, forgive and forget? The best solution to a person suffering from road rage is to give up driving and giving up driving may not only be safer but could also make him healthier.
Many politicians have given up even the facade of dignified debate. They push, shove, yell, and scream at the least provocation. In the past, attack ads were a tactic reserved for the most dire situations. But now the attack ad has become the norm, rolled out even before names are on the ballots. The attacks aren’t limited to political views either. Anything and anyone in a politician’s life is fair game. Sometimes the attacks occur in “off the record” comments or inadvertently show up in recorded voice mail messages. Even people not running for office are on the attack.
The same issues that can arouse anger in individuals can also arouse anger in large groups. This concept of social rage, or social anger, is an important one for understanding conflict. Social rage is similar to personal rage, but it is generated by social issues and expressed by social groups. Examples of social rage are abundant: anger at immigrants over unemployment, hate crimes, homophobia, etc. Many of the factors at play in personal rage are also important in social rage, including humiliation and a sense of violation of expectations.
Air rage is the general term for disruptive and/or violent behavior perpetrated by passengers and crew of aircraft, typically during flight. Air rage generally covers both behavior of a passenger, that probably is caused by physiological and/or psychological stresses associated with air travel or when a passenger suddenly becomes unruly, angry and/or violent on an aircraft during a flight. The excessive consumption of alcohol by the passengers is often blamed by cabin crew and flight attendants. Bike rage refers to acts of verbal or gestural anger or physical aggression between cyclists and other users of bike paths or roadways, including pedestrians, other cyclists, motorcyclists, or drivers. Computer rage is a heightened physiological response with associated feelings of anger and frustration resulting from using a computer or other complex electronic device. It may result in the physical assault of the computer or similar item, possibly leading to the device incurring more damage than it had before. Wrap rage, also called package rage, is the common name for heightened levels of anger and frustration resulting from the inability to open hard-to-remove packaging, particularly some heat sealed plastic blister packs and clamshells. Consumers suffer thousands of injuries per year, such as cut fingers and sprained wrists, from tools used to open packages and from the packaging itself.
There are four main reasons why people act in an aggressive manner:
1) Fear that something will be taken away from them or that they will lose something they consider important;
2) Frustration at not been able to communicate in any other way;
3) Intimidation – or to bully another person into giving in; and
4) Manipulation – using temper tantrums as a way to emotionally control other people and manipulate them.
Anger and violence:
Anger, although a healthy and normal response to upsetting situations, it can be so intense that it may lead to violence. Anger is an emotional-physiological-cognitive internal state; it is separate from the behavior it might prompt. In some instances, angry emotions are beneficial; if we are being taken advantage of, anger motivates us to take action (not necessarily aggressive) to correct the situation. Aggression is action, i.e. attacking someone or a group. It is intended to harm someone. It can be a verbal attack–insults, threats, sarcasm, or attributing nasty motives to them- -or a physical punishment or restriction. What about thoughts and fantasies in which we humiliate or brutally assault our enemies? Is that aggression? What about violent dreams? Such thoughts and dreams suggest anger of course, but are not aggression as I have defined it here. While aggression is usually a result of anger, it may be “cold” and calculated: for example, the bomber pilot, the judge who sentences a criminal, the unfaithful spouse etc.
There is confusion between angry offenders and violent offenders. In the most general sense, anger is a feeling or emotion that ranges from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Many people often confuse anger with aggression. Aggression is behavior that is intended to cause harm or injury to another person or damage to property. Anger can also be distinguished from hostility which is a chronic state of anger. Anger is a temporary response, which we all have, to a particular frustrating situation; hostility is a permanent personality characteristic which certain people have. Hostility refers to a set of attitudes and judgments that motivate aggressive behaviors. Anger is a feeling but aggression is an action. Since anger is a normal emotion with adaptive function, the presence of anger, even intense anger, can only be partially predictive of violence; similarly; absence of anger does not guarantee that violence will not occur. Anger gets a bad rap partly because it is often erroneously associated with violence. Experts note that anger seems to be followed by aggression only about 10 percent of the time, and lots of aggression occurs without any anger. Anger is distinct from aggression. Anger is an emotion and is most evident in how you feel, while aggression—an offensive action or attack—is how you choose to act. One of the most dangerous features of anger is that expressing anger increases the anger of others. This can lead to a rapid and dangerous escalation. We may try to harm the target of our anger. We often wish them harm. The impulse to harm is probably a central part of the anger response for most people. While anger can be dangerous and must be constrained, it cannot and should not be eliminated. Anger is a strong emotion designed to send the clear message “something has got to change”. It is an urgent plea for justice and action. If we exercise enough self control to overcome our immediate impulse to lash out and do harm, we can calm down, reflect, and analyze the causes of our anger. Careful analysis can identify what change is needed and can lead us toward constructive and lasting change that fulfills our needs. When cooler heads prevail anger’s energy is channeled in a positive direction, and the anger motivates constructive changes. When we act on our impulses in the heat of passion, the results are too often destructive and tragic. The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival. On the other hand, we can’t physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us. There is a sharp distinction between anger and aggression (verbal or physical, direct or indirect) even though they mutually influence each other. While anger can activate aggression or increase its probability or intensity, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for aggression. Anger can often lead to violence if not properly controlled and some people use anger as an excuse for being abusive towards others. Violence and abusive behavior gives someone power and control over another person usually through creating fear.
Many violent crimes are committed by people described as ordinarily being gentle, passive, quiet, easy-going, and good natured. Naturally, this surprises everyone. Likewise, many psychological tests describe persons who have committed violent acts as ordinarily being over-controlled, i.e. not emotional or impulsive and very inhibited about expressing aggression against anyone. Thus, it seems that they may “store up” aggression until it is impossible to contain and, then, they explode. Many of us, who have been parents, have had a similar experience, namely, holding our tongue until we over-react with a verbal assault on the child. The research about hostility suggests that a safe, appropriate way of releasing our anger is badly needed. Just how widespread is hostility? Very much! Psychology Today (1983) asked, “If you could secretly push a button and thereby eliminate any person with no repercussions to yourself, would you press that button?” 69% of responding males said yes, 56% of women said yes. Men would most often kill the U. S. president or some public figure; women would kill bosses, ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends and former partners of current lovers.
Obviously the most serious anger management problem is murder. The WHO researchers in 2002 found that about 1.6 million people die in violent ways every year. This includes wars, murder by gangs and groups, youth violence, child abuse, elderly abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and suicide. Besides the people dying a violent death, there are, of course, many millions of people injured by violence and/or left to suffer the long-term consequences of violent acts. Keep in mind many violent events occur at home and are never reported. Perhaps other ways of looking at these statistics will be more meaningful to you. For ages 15 to 44, violence causes about 14% of all deaths among males and 7% of deaths among women. World wide about 1425 people are murdered each day, which is almost one person every minute. Moreover, in parts of the world, up to one-third of young girls and teens are forced into their first sexual experience. I hope you are disturbed by these statistics. Enough of us need to get upset enough that we urge and encourage that cultures change. What can be done to reduce hate, anger, and violence? I hope, as you read this article, that you find several opportunities for you to control your anger and to contribute to global efforts to avoid violence or war and to be kinder to each other. If anger is so destructive, why is it so common? The enduring benefit of anger is that it urges us to act on our sense of justice. Unfortunately the powerful urge it provides is primitive and is too often dangerously misused.
Domestic violence is a particular form of Intermittent Explosive Disorder (vide infra), because often these individuals only lose control within the context of a close interpersonal relationship. However, many of these individuals have a generalized anger management problem, but control it better outside their own home. The criteria for a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder are almost always present in domestic violence situations, except when the violence occurs only in conjunction with substance abuse or intoxication. In those situations, the individual usually meets the criteria for a substance abuse diagnosis. Individuals who only lose control within relationships often attach tremendous emotional ultimatums to those relationships. If a person believes that loss of a relationship will doom them forever, then their reaction may be consistent with that belief, even if the belief is false. There are other factors influencing domestic violence that do not always occur in other social conflicts. Within a relationship, each spouse may have specific role expectations for the other spouse. That is, a man may expect his wife to behave a certain way, to think a certain way, and to respond a certain way to him. These expectations may be immature and/or irrational, although commonly held within his social group. These expectations may also serve to increase the emotional tension in the relationship, so that it surpasses his level of control. Since these expectations may not exist in other relationships, he may be able to maintain control outside of the marital relationship. The perpetrators of domestic violence rarely receive adequate psychological treatment, because they are viewed as criminals, rather than individuals with psychological problems. Because denial is often a major component of this problem, the power of the courts may act as a motivating factor to move the person into treatment, but will seldom stop the behavior without treatment. Psychologists recognize that men who cannot control their anger have a number of psychological issues that require treatment, and that this is a mental health issue, not a criminal one. Treatment consists of behavioral self-control techniques, stress management, and cognitive therapy to change the irrational belief system that triggers the violent behavior.
Violent tactics are rarely seen early in a relationship. Initially, a person may be intensely romantic and pressure his or her partner to make a commitment. Gradually, a cycle develops of tension building toward abusive action followed by an expression of remorse or romance. Emotional and verbal abuse may appear before actual violence. One out of 6 women reports that her partner hit her at some point in her marriage. Poor Anger management is also responsible for destroying countless marriages. Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend per year. Women take the brunt of serious domestic abuse. Half (up to 70% in some countries) of all women who are victims of homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or boyfriends. Because 70% to 80% of murdered women are killed by their husband, a family member, or close male friend, it is very important to become aware of how violence can progress over the years. The table below shows how violence progresses in relationships.
There is another way of looking at abusive relationships and violence. Anger isn’t the real problem in abusive relationships. Despite what many people believe, domestic violence and abuse is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his behavior and temper. In fact, abusive behavior is a deliberate choice for the sole purpose of controlling you. If you are in an abusive relationship, know that couples counseling is not recommended—and your partner need specialized treatment, not regular anger management classes.
Aggression breeds aggression:
Observation of aggressive behavior, particularly when that behavior doesn’t lead to negative consequences, could be more important than we realize in provoking angry outbursts. Studies of human behavior involve many potentially confounding factors, that is why many researchers in this area have traditionally studied nonhuman animals. One recent study conducted at Loyola University tested the fascinating notion that brain chemistry and passive observation of aggressive behavior together produce heightened aggressive tendencies in lab rats. The rats who watched aggressive behavior in other rats responded by developing more neural receptivity in their amygdalas than rats who did not observe aggression. So just by watching their, shall we say, rodent colleagues, bash each other, the observers developed greater potential to experience aggression themselves. Of course, rats do not possess neocortex like humans in their brains but yet aggression copying occurred proving mirror neuron activities in the rat brain (vide infra). It was the Tom and Jerry style of violent TV cartoons of the 1950s that led social psychologists to investigate the role of modeling in childhood aggression. Arguments made in human studies, that more violent kids watch more violent shows, were hauled out to counter the conclusion that aggression breeds aggression. Reality TV shows and violence shown in movies do promote anger & aggression among people and may leads to violence in society. So called mob fury when people beat up a pick-pocket, rapist or erroneous drivers causing accidents; may result from this psychology, copying aggression of other. The scientific basis for aggression breeding aggression is activation of mirror neurons (vide infra).
Public anger should not be confused with mob fury as discussed above. Public anger is anger that is collectively directed toward the institutions in power. We express this kind of anger when we vote, based on what we think is wrong with the country and what needs to be done about it. Without public anger exploding over the course of U.S. history, America might still have slaves, and white men would be the only ones allowed to vote. Perhaps we wouldn’t even be talking about the United States – it would still be colonies. Public anger can be a powerful force for changing things that madden us about society. Recently after terrorist attack on Mumbai on 13’th July, 2011; there was widespread public anger in Mumbai against government which failed to provide security to people as Mumbai is the only city in the world which is at the receiving end of terror strikes several times in last decade.
Anger and communal violence:
Substantial research has found that an emotion shapes automatic attitudes towards social groups. An experimental study found that the incidental feelings of anger can create automatic prejudice against out-groups. Because this effect was not produced by a different negative emotion that is functionally less relevant to inter-group cognition (e.g., sadness), the results are inconsistent with a simple valence-based interpretation of emotional bias. Researchers believe that anger, because of its basic association with inter-group competition and conflict, evoked a psychological readiness to evaluate out-groups negatively vis-à-vis in-groups, thus creating an automatic prejudice against the out-group. Can this explain anger associated violence between different castes, different races and different religions? Can this explain ethnic cleansing? Can this explain communal riots? We need more studies.
Approach to anger:
The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming. Some people used to believe that venting anger was beneficial. Researchers have now found that ‘letting it rip’ actually escalates anger & aggression and does nothing to resolve the situation. On the other hand, sitting on your anger and not expressing it may lead to the pressure cooker experience that many people are familiar with. Expressing some feelings of anger in a controlled way, rather than bottling it up, gives you an opportunity to release some of your underlying feelings, so that you can start to tackle the issues that are making you angry. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others. Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward—on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension or depression. Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren’t likely to have many successful relationships. Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside. When none of these techniques work, that’s when someone—or something—is going to get hurt.
Why manage anger?
This is a lot of complexity to incorporate into the split second assessments that so often lead us to anger. Perhaps the useful folk wisdom to “count to ten” recognizes these assessments can often be wrong. Fortunately we can analyze our anger rationally and learn a lot about ourselves. Anger is not usually a good solution to problems, even if it seems helpful in the short term. Unmanaged anger creates problems – sometimes for you and often for others around you. People with poor anger management are more likely to have problems with personal relationships or work, verbal and physical fights and/or damaged property. They can also experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, psychosomatic illnesses, cardiovascular diseases and problems with alcohol or drugs. It is important to manage anger before it leads to other serious problems.
Before discussing anger management, remind yourself of a few facts:
Fact 1: Recognize that you are not omnipotent! You cannot change the world. You cannot win every argument – every I’m-right-you’re-wrong battle. And you cannot change other people – they have a right to their own views and behaviors.
Fact 2: Recognize that, just like you, other people are fallible and human. And that they are just as likely as you to say or do inappropriate and thoughtless things on occasions. Accept this and don’t nourish a grievance when they do get it wrong. It is also a reality that the world is peopled by lots of people with (by our standards) rather crazy rules, values, and behaviors. They will continue to drive their cars differently to us – and to have different views about what is or is not respectful behavior, punctuality, tidiness, honesty, etc. Becoming angry is pointless because it changes nothing. Nor do we even have the right to change other people.
Fact 3: Recognize that your anger hurts you much more than it hurts others – it affects your peace of mind, your relationships and your physical health.
Fact 4: You may feel that you are in the right when you get angry. But the key question is: does it make you happy? Does it contribute towards your happiness and that of the people in your life?
One out of five Americans has an anger management problem. Anger is a natural human emotion and is nature’s way of empowering us to “ward off” our perception of an attack or threat to our well being. The problem is not anger; the problem is the mismanagement of anger. Mismanaged anger and rage is the major cause of conflict in our personal and professional relationships. When an individual becomes angry they are incapable of seeing the other side of the problem. Domestic abuse, road rage, workplace violence, divorce, and addiction are just a few examples of what happens when anger is mismanaged.
The term anger management commonly refers to a system of psychological therapeutic techniques & exercises by which; someone with excessive or uncontrollable anger & aggression can control or reduce the triggers, degrees, and effects of an angered emotional state. The goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can’t get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.
The question of mastering anger in divided in three parts:
1. How to avoid becoming angry in the first place (anger prevention)
2. How to cease being angry (anger control)
3. How to deal with anger in others.
Anger management is a process of learning to recognize signs that you’re becoming angry, and taking action to calm down and deal with the situation in a positive way. Anger management doesn’t try to keep you from feeling anger or holding it in. Anger is a healthy, normal emotion when you know how to express it appropriately. Anger management is about learning how to do this. Although you can learn how to control your frustrations by practicing anger management techniques on your own, the most effective approach is to take an anger management class or to see a mental health counselor.
A) Identify triggers and warning signs of anger: The first step in being able to manage your anger is to recognize the situations that make you angry and identify your body’s warning signs of anger. Make a list of the things that often set off your anger (for example, running late for an appointment and not being able to find a car park, your teenager leaving dirty dishes in the sink or a co-worker blaming you for something you didn’t do). As I doctor I get angry on patients, if he fails to bring previous records and expects doctor to remember everything, if he stops all medicines on his own and expects doctor to save him, if he starts talking on mobile phone during examination by doctor, if he thinks that he is smarter than doctor, if he eats everything and blames doctor for uncontrolled diabetes etc. I feel embarrassed to admit that many people I see everyday are intellectually impaired and I get angry on them due to their stupidity.
B) Notice the warning signs of anger in your body: Notice the things that happen to your body that tell you when you are getting angry (for example, heart pounding, face flushed, sweating, jaw tense, tightness in your chest or gritting your teeth). The earlier you can recognize these warning signs of anger, the more successful you will probably be at calming yourself down before your anger gets out of control. The warning sign of my anger is that my voice becomes loud.
C) Learn strategies for managing anger: There are a number of different ways of managing anger and some strategies will suit you better than others. There are simple strategies like deep breathing, walking away, exercise, distract yourself, come back and deal with it later when you feel calm, change the subject, prayers & meditation, say nothing etc.
1) Control your thinking: When you’re angry, your thinking can get exaggerated and irrational. Try replacing these kinds of thoughts with more useful, rational ones and you should find that this has an effect on the way you feel. For example, instead of telling yourself “I can’t stand it, it’s awful and everything’s ruined”, tell yourself “it’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it”. Cognitive restructuring means changing the way you think. Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colorful terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you’re angry, your thinking can get much exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is “not out to get you,” you’re just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it’ll help you get a more balanced perspective. Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, willingness to do things their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and disappointed when we don’t get them, but angry people demand them, and when their demands aren’t met, their disappointment becomes anger. As part of their cognitive restructuring, angry people need to become aware of their demanding nature and translate their expectations into desires. In other words, saying, “I would like” something is healthier than saying, “I demand” or “I must have” something. When you’re unable to get what you want, you will experience the normal reactions—frustration, disappointment, hurt—but not anger.
2) Develop a list of things to say to yourself before, during and after situations that may make you angry. It is more helpful if these things focus on how you are managing the situation rather than what other people should be doing. Psychologists call this type of thinking “self talk”.
Before anger: “I’ll be able to handle this. It could be rough, but I have a plan. If I feel myself getting angry, I’ll know what to do”.
During anger: Stay calm, relax, and breathe easy. Stay calm, “I’m OK, she/he’s not attacking me personally. I can look and act calm”.
After anger: “I managed that well. I can do this. I’m getting better at this. I felt angry, but I didn’t lose my cool”.
3) Take time out: If you feel your anger getting out of control, take time out from a situation or an argument. Try stepping out of the room, or going for a walk. Before you go, remember to make a time to talk about the situation later when everyone involved has calmed down. During a time out, plan how you are going to stay calm when your conversation resumes.
4) Use distraction: A familiar strategy for managing anger is to distract your mind from the situation that is making you angry. Try counting to ten, playing soothing music, talking to a good friend, or focusing on a simple task like polishing the car or folding laundry.
5) Use relaxation: Relaxation strategies can reduce the feelings of tension and stress in your body. Practice strategies such as taking long deep breaths and focusing on your breathing, or progressively working around your body and relaxing your muscles as you go. Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. Practice these techniques daily. Learn to use them automatically when you’re in a tense situation.
6) Count 10 breaths. The reasons for counting your breaths are: a) to calm and relax you by breathing more deeply and b) to pause for a few moments instead of reacting automatically.
7) Anger diary: Write about it. Get your feelings and thoughts out on paper instead of confronting the source of your anger right away. Some people find that writing down what happened, how they felt, what was occurring before-during-after their episode of anger, helps them anticipate anger triggers as well as coping during and after episodes. Writing about these topics can sometimes help give you some distance and perspective and help you understand your feelings. Being able to read about what happened, what worked, what didn’t work, etc; helps achieve a more effective anger management plan.
8) We normally do not accept criticism whether we express it or not, we get angry when criticized. Getting angry is good but possibly someone is criticizing correctly and in good faith, in this scenario understanding the criticism could be of great help. I was getting angry on media for criticizing me but may be they were doing it in good faith. May be they were jealous of my successes and therefore criticizing me. Why lose cool? Why raise blood pressure?
D) Learn assertiveness skills: Aggression must be distinguished from assertiveness which is tactfully and rationally standing up for one’s own rights; indeed, assertiveness is designed not to hurt others. Assertiveness skills can be learnt through self-help books or by attending courses. These skills ensure that anger is channeled and expressed in clear and respectful ways. Being assertive means being clear with others about what your needs and wants are, feeling okay about asking for them, but respecting the other person’s needs and concerns as well and being prepared to negotiate. Avoid using words like never or always (for example, you’re always late!), as these statements are usually inaccurate, make you feel as though your anger is justified, and don’t leave much possibility for the problem to be solved. Replace aggression by assertion. Being assertive is a healthy way to express anger. Take ownership of the situation and your feelings. Tell people that you are feeling angry and why. Talk slowly and clearly. Use the word “I” to make it about you, not about them. Make requests rather than demands or threats. Say “I could” and “I might” instead of “I must” or “I should”.
E) Try to acknowledge what is making you angry: Acknowledge that a particular issue has made you angry by admitting it to yourself and others. Telling someone that you felt angry when they did or said something is more helpful than just acting out the anger. Make sure you think about who you express your anger to, and take care that you aren’t just dumping your anger on the people closest to you, or on people who are less powerful than you (for example, don’t yell at your partner, children, dog or cat when you are really angry with your boss). Work out some options for changing your situation.
F) Rehearsing anger management skills: Use your imagination to practice your anger management strategies. Imagine yourself in a situation that usually sets off your anger. Imagine how you could behave in that situation without getting angry. Think about a situation where you did get angry. Replay the situation in your mind and imagine resolving the situation without anger. Try rehearsing some anger management strategies with a friend. Ask them to help you act out a situation where you get angry, so that you can practice other ways to think and behave. Practice saying things in an assertive way.
G) Problem solving: Sometimes, our anger and frustration are caused by very real and inescapable problems in our lives. Not all anger is misplaced, and often it’s a healthy, natural response to these difficulties. There is also a cultural belief that every problem has a solution, and it adds to our frustration to find out that this isn’t always the case. The best attitude to bring to such a situation then is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.
H) Conflict Resolution: Those who are not able to negotiate often resort to conflict. To shift conflict you have to shift perceptions and this can be achieved through effective communication. Emotions play a big role in keeping the conflict going. Many people come to a situation ready to fight it out. The main emotions involved here are fear and anger. Sharing emotions can be as important as sharing perception. In order to successfully resolve a conflict, you need to feel heard, understood and empowered. Usually in conflict situations communications are poor and participants are high in suspicion. You also need to feel worthwhile and that you are capable. The focus for you has to be letting go of mistakes and looking to the future. Those who learn conflict resolution skills develop social competencies of co-operation, empathy, creative problem solving, social cognitive skills and relationship skills. Conflict resolution encompasses negotiation, mediation, peer mediation and collaborative problem solving.
I) Better communication: Angry people tend to jump to—and act on—conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you’re in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don’t say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering.
J) Using humor: “Silly humor” can help defuse rage in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help you get a more balanced perspective. When you get angry and call someone a name or refer to them in some imaginative phrase, stop and picture what that word would literally look like. If you’re at work and you think of a coworker as a “dirt bag” or a “single-cell life form,” for example, picture a large bag full of dirt (or an amoeba) sitting at your colleague’s desk, talking on the phone, going to meetings. Do this whenever a name comes into your head about another person. If you can, draw a picture of what the actual thing might look like. This will take a lot of the edge off your fury; and humor can always be relied on to help unknot a tense situation. There are two cautions in using humor. First, don’t try to just “laugh off” your problems; rather, use humor to help yourself face them more constructively. Second, don’t give in to harsh, sarcastic humor; that’s just another form of unhealthy anger expression.
K) Changing environment: Sometimes it’s our immediate surroundings that give us cause for irritation and fury. Problems and responsibilities can weigh on you and make you feel angry at the “trap” you seem to have fallen into and all the people and things that form that trap.
L) Make relationship your priority: Maintaining and strengthening relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Be respectful of the other person and his or her viewpoint.
M) Focus on the present: Once you are in the heat of arguing, it’s easy to start throwing past grievances into the mix. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the present to solve the problem.
N) Choose your battles: Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worthy of your time and energy. If you choose your battles rather than fighting over every little thing, others will take you more seriously when you are upset.
O) If there is a friend or family member who is easy to talk to and understanding, it might be good to talk to them. When an individual becomes angry they are incapable of seeing the other side of the problem. Talking to someone may help them by sharing their side of the story. The friend or family member may be able to help them sort through their issues and make them look at the situation from the other side.
P) Be willing to forgive: Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can never compensate for our losses and only adds to our injury by further depleting and draining our lives.
Q) Know when to let something go: If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on.
R) The word ‘I’ is more constructive than the word ‘You’. When giving praise, the word ‘You’ is great. However, when you are angry or resentful, the word ‘I’ tends to achieve better results. For example: “I find this subject upsetting. Could we talk about something else, please?” is better than “Why did you bring that up….?”
S) Seeking professional assistance: If your anger regularly causes you to do things you regret, taking a toll on your health, hurts those around you, or is taking a toll on your personal relationships, you can likely benefit from either counseling or an anger management course. If you have run-ins with the police, you physically harm someone, people are afraid of your reactions, or you try to intimidate someone with your anger, you definitely need help controlling your anger. You may benefit from an anger management class, counseling or both. If your anger is still spiraling out of control, despite putting the previous anger management techniques into practice, or if you’re getting into trouble with the law or hurting others—you need more help. There are many therapists, classes, and programs for people with anger management problems. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You’ll often find others in the same shoes, and getting direct feedback on techniques for controlling anger can be tremendously helpful.
S 1) See a psychologist or licensed counselor: Seeing a therapist can help you learn to recognize your anger warning signs before you blow up, and how to cope with your anger. Your psychologist can also help you manage other problems that may be associated with anger, such as depression, violence or difficulties in your personal relationships. People struggling with anger management issues are two to three times more likely to have a psychiatric illness such as depression than those who do not struggle with anger management.
S 2) Take anger management class: An anger management class can teach you what anger is, how to recognize anger triggers and how to keep your anger under control. These courses can be done individually, with spouses or families, or in groups. In addition to the search methods for a psychologist or counselor, you can find organizations offering anger management courses on the Internet and through your district court.
S 3) Read a book: There are a number of helpful books on anger management. A number of them focus on particular situations, such as anger in teens, anger in men or anger in couples. Many of them are workbooks, with exercises that teach concrete skills.
Anger management works fine for managing ordinary anger, but is not successful when it comes to the self-defeating behaviors of problem anger, the kind that is better measured by objective, behavioral indicators like police reports and reports of those who live and work with the angry person, rather than how he or she answers post-treatment questionnaires. Anger management fails with problem anger because it treats it as an extreme or uncontrolled version of ordinary anger. Another failing of anger management is that it relies on conscious control of an unconscious motivation. Problem anger is habitual — habits run on automatic pilot, processed in the brain much faster than conscious awareness. You are never aware of most of your resentment or anger; by the time you know you’re resentful or angry, it’s already in an advanced state. Anger management fails with problem anger for the same reason that diets don’t work. By the time you know you’re hungry, you’re already highly motivated to have potato chips and unlikely to think of eating green salad instead. Treatment for problem anger cannot merely reduce the emotional feelings or arousal of anger; it must restore a state of self-value that is more stable than whatever lowered it, which will replace the habit of blaming with a motivation to improve. And it has to do it fast. To end the roller-coaster ride of problem anger, you must build a conditioned response that works unconsciously, as fast as the anger.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):
Anger has come to be recognized as a significant social problem worthy of clinical attention and systematic research. The basic hypothesis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is that our emotions are greatly influenced by our cognitions. Or, put in plain English, “we feel what we think”. In the last two decades‚ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has emerged as the most common approach to anger management. Based on 50 studies incorporating 1‚640 subjects‚ it was found that the average CBT recipient was better off than 76% of untreated subjects in terms of anger reduction. The cognitive behavior theory attributes anger to several factors such as past experiences, behavior learned from others, genetic predispositions, and a lack of problem-solving ability. To put it more simply, anger is caused by a combination of two factors: an irrational perception of reality (“It has to be done my way”) and a low frustration point (“It’s my way or no way”). Angry people have a certain perception and expectation of the world that they live in and when that reality does not meet their expectation of it, then they become angry. Besides CBT, other modalities include hypnosis, hypnotherapy and NLP. Some people smoke, drink or punch bags which may aggravate anger rather than controlling it.
Buddhist mindfulness techniques advocate non-attachment to angry thoughts that arise. Basically, one is asked to simply observe one’s anger with disinterest and focus on breathing. In a best case scenario, the anger will dissipate. Thoughts only acquire force, say Buddhist teachers, when we attach ourselves to these thoughts. Since our inflated egos are our own worst enemies, it pays to think of ourselves as ego-less Buddhas full of infinite compassion, even for the people we attribute our anger to. Buddhism also teaches loving kindness meditation, part of which involves working to replace angry thoughts toward an individual with Christ-like thoughts of infinite compassion.
Guided Imagery Exercise:
Try this practice for a deeper view of what lies beneath anger. Close your eyes and call to mind something that makes you angry. Experience the pure energy and sensations of anger. Is there tightness in your stomach or heat on the back of your neck? If the feelings had colors, what would they be? What other qualities are present –weightiness, agitation, impulse to flee or fight? Note the scope and level of intensity of your experience. Now allow an image to form in your mind’s eye for your anger, letting it capture the full range of your experience. It may appear as a symbol, a memory or simply a shape and color. Even if it doesn’t quite make sense, trust how your anger is showing itself to you. Take a moment to study it and be present with it. Now imagine “peeling back” your image as though it were a mask or overlay on another deeper image. Meet this new image with curiosity, taking time to get acquainted. Notice its energy, size, shape colors, textures and qualities. How do you feel in its presence? What does it need? Is there anything desiring to be reestablished? Is there anything asking for validation, for protection? What needs to be honored? When the exploration feels complete for the moment, bring your focus back to the room and open your eyes. This exploration may lead to change — the need for a conversation, change in actions or environment or a shift in attitudes or beliefs. Whatever arises, let patience mature and season your understanding. Through this kind of exploration you just may find that in the right relationship, anger can be a true friend and ally, upholding your safety, valuing your unique viewpoint and advocating for your voice.
Laughter dissolves Anger and Stress:
There is no doubt that laughter minimizes the effects of anger and stress on body & brain. Evidence suggests that simply anticipating laughter releases health protecting hormones and reduces the detrimental effects of stress hormones. In one study; researchers had volunteers anticipate watching a humorous video. Their bodies released stress regulating hormones simply from anticipation. Beta-endorphin associated with the alleviation of depression increased by 27 percent; Human growth hormone which boosts immunity increased by a whopping 87 percent. All from the promise and anticipation of laughter. In the control group which was not given the option of anticipation, no such increases occurred. A second study using the same protocol showed that anticipation reduced the stress hormone cortisol by 39 percent, adrenaline by 70 percent and dopamine metabolite which produces adrenaline by 38 percent. These findings strongly confirm the beneficial effects of laughter and joy on body and brain. Another study found that laughing heartily 100 times a day gives the same cardio results as working out for 10 minutes.
Teaching children how to express anger:
1) Lead by example.
2) Let them know that anger is natural and should be expressed.
3) Treat your child’s feelings with respect.
4) Teach practical problem-solving skills.
5) Encourage open and honest communication in the home.
6) Allow them to express their anger in appropriate ways.
7) Explain the difference between aggression and anger.
8) Punish aggression or violence, but not appropriately expressed anger.
9) Teach your child different ways of calming and soothing themselves.
Forgiveness as a cognitive way to reduce anger:
Anger consists of our bitter responses to insults, hurts, injustices, rejection, pain, etc, and the bitterness is repeatedly rehearsed and remembered. Hatred is a memory that we are unwilling to let go, to dismiss, to forgive. If we could forgive the person who offended us, we would no longer be so angry and stressed. For many of us, however, forgiveness is especially hard because we confuse it with other reactions. Making these distinctions may help you become forgiving:
1) Forgiveness is not forgetting nor is it a promise to forget. You can never forget being hurt. In fact, if you had forgotten, you couldn’t forgive.
2) Forgiveness is not promising to believe the other person was not guilty or not responsible for the wrong things he/she did. If he/she were blameless, there would be nothing to forgive.
3) Forgiveness is not praise or a reward; no reward was earned, none is given.
4) Forgiveness is not approval of what was done. You are not conceding that the wrong he/she committed is viewed as any less serious than it has been heretofore.
5) Forgiveness is not permission to repeat the offense. It does not mean that your values or society’s rules have changed. It is not based on an assumption that the hurt will never be repeated on anyone but it implies such a hope.
6) Forgiveness is not a weakness but a window to get rid of hatred towards offenders.
Forgiveness, as defined here, is your decision to no longer hate the sinner; it is getting rid of your venom, your hatred; it is your attempt to heal yourself, to give yourself some peace. There is research evidence of a positive relationship between forgiveness and self-acceptance, i.e. the more you accept others, the more you like yourself, and the reverse.
What can you do when someone’s anger is out of control?
Even when we aren’t exactly sure why someone is angry with us or we don’t agree with their reasons, it is important that we offer a sincere apology. Our pride gets in the way a lot when it comes to this, but it is a much nobler feat to humble ourselves and say we’re sorry than to refuse to do so. Besides saying sorry, you can do following things:
1) Avoid responding anger, be calm and polite
2) Be thoughtful – address problem in private
3) Listen without reacting
4) Consider the cause
5) You be understanding and compassionate.
6) Assist with solution
7) Walk away from the situation if you see the person is getting out of control
8) If everything fails, get help.
What you should not do when someone’s anger is out of control:
1) Do not get angry at them.
2) Do not keep pushing and prodding.
3) Don’t tell the person to calm down. Have you ever seen that work? It just makes them angrier, because it’s clear you’re not listening.
4) Don’t try to shame or ridicule them. It will only fan the flames of their anger.
5) Don’t attempt to engage them in a debate. They’re not in the mood and you’ll waste your time.
Positive aspects of anger:
If you believe the Bible, the great philosophers and Chinese fortune cookies, anger rarely pays. Yet the red-hot emotion has a positive side, say psychologists who study anger. In studies and in clinical work, they find anger can help clarify relationship problems, clinch business deals, fuel political agendas and give people a sense of control during uncertain times. More globally, they note, it can spur an entire culture to change for the better, as witnessed by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the earlier women’s suffrage movement. Anger can serve very positive functions when expressed properly. In India, public anger has voted out political party harboring corrupt cabinet minister (2 G spectrum saga). On an individual level, scientists have shown angry episodes actually strengthen personal relationships more than half of the time. Oftentimes, simple expression helps to ease the situation, particularly if the anger is justified. Remember that this is not simply an opportunity for someone to “vent.” It must be approached with the attitude of solving a problem.
Not all anger is bad. After all earlier discussed warnings, suggestions, and methods for controlling anger, I must underscore that although anger is unpleasant and potentially dangerous, it is often a beneficial and commendable emotion. Anger (not violence) is often justified. When that is so, if properly controlled, anger is a reasonable and effective reaction to an unfair or offensive situation. Anger is often necessary to change things! Specifically, anger motivates us to do something. Anger discloses unpleasant truths to others. Anger communicates that we are upset, that we can and will express ourselves, and that we are determined to correct a bad situation. Anger can over-ride our fears that keep us withdrawn and compliant. Anger, properly utilized, gives us a sense of pride when we exert some control and improve a bad situation. Non-violent anger used to right wrongs is no vice, it is a virtue. Naturally, there is a book (Fein, 1993) about harnessing this powerful emotion.
Constructive and destructive anger:
Despite its mixed reputation, psychologists are finding that anger can play a constructive role at home, at work and in the national consciousness. Many important social changes were called into action through the energy of anger, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Civil Rights and women’s suffrage movement. While there is no one definition of constructive anger–experts say it varies according to situation and context–psychologists are examining how its use can aid intimate relationships, work interactions and political expressions, including the public’s response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Anger gets a bad rap partly because it is often erroneously associated with violence. In fact, anger seems to be followed by aggression only about 10 percent of the time, and lots of aggression occurs without any anger. A number of studies show that in the places where anger is usually played out–especially on the domestic front–it is often beneficial. When you look at everyday episodes of anger as opposed to more dramatic ones, the results are usually positive. Various studies of everyday anger found that angry episodes helped strengthen relationships about half the time. Echoing these findings, a 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology (Vol. 58, No. 12) found that 40 percent of a community sample of 93 people reported positive long-term effects of angry episodes, compared with 36 percent that reported neutral and 25 percent that reported negative long-term outcomes. Similarly, a 1997 study in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality (Vol. 12, No. 2) found that 55 percent of a comparative community sample of Russians and Americans said an angry episode produced a positive outcome. Almost a third of them noted the episode helped them see their own faults. Social scientists agree that anger can be beneficial when it is expressed constructively. One way to ensure this is through the use of feedback loops. Several factors can make the difference between constructive and destructive anger, say psychologists who study and treat everyday anger. For one, constructive anger expression usually involves both people, not just the angry party. In the best-case scenario, the angry person expresses his or her anger to the target, and the target hears the person and reacts appropriately. “If the anger is justified and the response is appropriate, usually the misunderstanding is corrected.” Relatedly, anger can be constructive when people frame it in terms of solving a mutual problem rather than as a chance to vent their feelings. The question is not, ‘Should I express anger or should I suppress it? It is, ‘What can we do to solve the problem?’ Likewise, it is helpful to understand that anger is contextual and social. When anger fails to fill a constructive framework, however, it can morph into undesirable expressions of the emotion, anger experts say. Anger externalized can turn into violence and aggression; anger internalized can cause depression, health problems and communication difficulties.
Anger: strength versus weakness
Virtually all angry sentiments reflect the viewpoint that what someone else said or did was wrong, unjust, or in some way abusive. Of all the emotions, anger is undoubtedly the most judgmental. It’s also the most moralistic, self-righteous, and repudiating. So, however aware you may be of it, resorting to anger enables you to comfortably disconfirm the validity, or legitimacy of another’s perspective. But more than anything else, anger is a defense. It’s expressly designed to safeguard you from distressful emotions, such as feeling anxious, weak, inferior, guilty, rejected, or–alas–unlovable. And it can immediately restore in you some semblance of power when (just a moment ago) you felt powerless. That lay-people routinely associate anger with strength (v/s weakness) is supported by research showing that people with angry facial expressions (i.e., people perceived as angry) are also assumed to be powerful, dominant, and having higher social status. All of which is to say that for most people it’s not at all apparent that a roaring “outer lion” might just be hiding a fearfully quivering “inner kitten.” Or–to invert a common metaphor–if you have chronic anger problems, you might actually be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. And not only can anger help you conceal feelings of fear, inadequacy, and self-doubt by turning them into external conflict; it can also keep at bay states of depression, and emotional pain generally. Embarrassment, humiliation, guilt, and shame–as well as feelings of refusal, dismissal, and abandonment–can all be buried (however temporarily) beneath the self-righteously moralistic (or “morally superior”) camouflage of anger. However weak you may feel deep inside, you can fool almost anyone–including yourself–into believing you’re strong if you can successfully obscure such vulnerability through the smoke screen of anger.
Anger and creativity:
Psychologists have studied creative artists, and one of the things that they have found in looking at their lives, in almost every case – prominent artist Jackson Pollack, Beethoven, novelist Richard Wright, Picasso – in almost every case, these are angry individuals. “They have a great deal of anger and rage for various reasons based on the kinds of things that have happened to them in life, or didn’t happen to them in life. And yet, they were able to utilize their rage, and to some extent – and some more successfully than others – really channel it into their creative work.” A person’s degree of engagement and desire to understand a situation is a trait called epistemic motivation. A study found that in individuals with high epistemic motivation, expressions of anger also increased relative originality — that is, the number of unique ideas relative to the total number of ideas generated. This indicates that expressions of anger do not just lead individuals to generate more ideas, but also to generate more original ideas. Another study showed that some people perform better after receiving angry feedback on an assignment. An angry boss may be a just stimulation to incite innovation among employees especially those with high epistemic motivation. Directed at the wrong person (with low epistemic motivation), however, anger can stifle creativity. People with a high degree of epistemic motivation are more likely to think about other’s emotions in a rational way as they are more likely to interpret anger as a reflection of a below-par performance that needs improvement, rather than as an attack. Apart from being one of the most powerful emotions, anger can also be a complex, creative and stimulating aid to survival. It provides us with boosts of both physical and emotional energy when we are in need of protection and healing. It can help us to find the courage to recognize and assert our rights, make changes in our lives and be creative. There is a strong co-relation between anger and creativity, which most people are not aware of. Artist like painters, designers, and sculptors release their anger by designing a new masterpiece. Sometimes the project they create doesn’t anything to do with what they are mad about; the anger just inspires them to work. Anger changes your mood totally and makes you feel different about many things. Once a certain anger spot gets pushed, the creativity is ready to jump out. Some people don’t like to express their anger verbally or physically, but by doing what they are most talented at, is how they like to express themselves. So in a way, being angry for some people is a positive especially those with high epistemic motivation.
Science of anger:
Neurophysiology of anger:
The picture below shows how human brain is developed through millions of years of evolution.
We slowly ascended from lower life forms to what we are today, by a process of natural selection from randomly occurring changes. Each change had to prove its worth by surviving the continual battle for existence, being against being, species against species and this process has gone on for many millions of years. As far as we know, the human brain evolved in three main stages which exist as three separate but interconnected parts. The human brain is composed of a lower/reptile/fight or flight brain, a middle/mammalian/emotional brain, and an upper/human/rational brain. The oldest part is the brain stem or reptilian brain, so-called because it processes our most basic survival instincts. A common neurologists’ joke defines these as the “four F’s” of reptile brain behavior – feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproduction [everybody knows the obscene word stating with f— but to maintain dignity of my website, I am not mentioning it]. The reptile brain is entirely “me” centered. A lizard brain (brainstem) is about survival — it controls heart rate & breathing, and processes information from the eyes, ears and mouth. Next on the evolutionary scale is the limbic system or mammal brain which contains organs for the automatic control of body functions such as digestion, the fluid balance, body temperature and blood pressure (autonomic nervous system, hypothalamus); and for filing new experiences as they happen and so creating a store of experience-based memories (hippocampus). More advanced on the evolutionary scale than the brain stem, the limbic system is capable of emotions (amygdala) and enables us to function within social hierarchies. Unlike the reptile brain, the mammal brain is capable of considering the needs of others. To this extent the mammal is more consciously aware of itself in relation to the environment. Millions of neural pathways connect the hippocampal & amygdala structures to the reptilian brain and behavior is less rigidly controlled by instincts. It seems that feelings such as attachment, anger and fear have emerged with associated behavioral response patterns of care, fight or flight. The largest portion of the brain, the human (primate) brain, encases both the reptile and mammalian brains and enables us to perform sophisticated mental tasks like speech and mathematics. The whole front portion of the primate brain is the frontal lobes. The frontal lobes house the neocortex, the highly specialized part of the brain that separates humans from other creatures, giving us the ability to rationalize and make decisions. You can choose how to respond to a situation, even if you feel angry, because you have these innate abilities. The mammalian brain became the human brain by adding the massive grey matter (neocortex) which envelopes most of the earlier brain and amounts to about 85 per cent of the human brain mass. Self-control separates us from our ancient ancestors and the rest of the animal kingdom, thanks to our large prefrontal cortexes (neocortex). Rather than responding to immediate impulses; we can plan, we can evaluate alternative actions, and we can refrain from doing things we’ll regret. We can also take advantage of these innately human abilities by developing wisdom and willpower.
Anger comes from the amygdala, the mammal part of our brain. Resilient people are able to make rapid recoveries from stress, with their prefrontal cortex working to calm the amygdala, which cannot negotiate itself out of an emotional rut; instead it floods the body with a cascade of stress hormones. In a study published in the February 25, 2008 issue of “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” researchers at the University of Melbourne concluded that teen anger is connected to brain structure. Teens with an above average size amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotion and memory, demonstrate a greater ability to sustain anger and aggression than do teens with a normal size amygdala. Another study from the University of Bonn found that those who display more anger have less grey matter in the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps keep our emotions balanced. So larger amygdala having lesser grey matter is associated with greater anger.
Angry feelings arising in the amygdala are normally cooled by activity in the pre-frontal cortex, part of the thinking region of the brain. We are humans because we are supposed to control our animal instincts. Human-ness exists in pre-frontal cortex and animal instincts exist in amygdala. During rage, we behave like animals because amygdala is out of control of pre-frontal cortex. During anger, amygdala activates hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis & sympathetic nervous system resulting in secretion of stress hormones–adrenaline (epinephrine), noradrenaline (norepinephrine) & cortisol from adrenal glands.
Physiology of anger:
Physiological responses to anger include an increase in the heart rate & increased blood pressure (preparing the person to move) and increase of the blood flow to the hands (preparing them to strike), all due to increased levels of epinephrine & norepinephrine. Perspiration increases (particularly when the anger is intense). Autonomic arousal is primarily engaged through adrenomedullary and adrenocortical hormonal activity. The secretion by the adrenal medulla of the catecholamines epinephrine & norepinephrine, and by the adrenal cortex of cortisol provides a sympathetic system effect that mobilizes the body for immediate action (e.g. the release of glucose, stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen). Men have an increased supply of testosterone. Much of this is caused by activating the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system as a primal survival strategy. The sympathetic nervous system diverts blood from the liver, stomach and intestines to the heart, central nervous system and the muscles. All these leads to internal feelings of energy and warmth and an urge to shout, move quickly and forcefully. Anger can raise your heart rate to 180 beats a minute. It can raise your blood pressure from 120 over 80, to 220 over 130, perhaps even higher. Your breathing becomes rapid as you try to get more oxygen into your body. Your body tenses and your muscles become tight. So when you are angry, you are in survival mode and all other biologic systems in body have to offer some sacrifice for a larger goal of your survival. When you become very angry & your mind is in survival mode, your body releases chemicals to clot the blood (to prevent excessive blood loss during potential fight for survival), creating a potentially dangerous situation: a clot so formed can travel through the blood vessels of the brain or heart, resulting in a stroke or heart attack. Anger also impedes circulation. Lack of oxygen can cause severe chest pains. Uncontrollable anger can trigger the bursting of a brain artery resulting in a stroke. Tight neck and head muscles can cause tension headaches, migraines or lead to insomnia. Even your metabolism is at risk. Anger is blocked energy that can slow down your body’s metabolism. Stress and anger can trigger eating binges and weight gain. Anger stimulates the release of acids in the stomach causing acid reflux and gastric ulcers. Anger can also compromise lung function. Emotional stress and anger trigger the release of stress hormone cortisol in the body. Small releases of cortisol can give the body a quick burst of energy. However, higher and more prolonged increases can bring into the body a host of negative effects. It can create a blood sugar imbalance; it can decrease bone density, suppress the body’s immune response and make it susceptible to chronic inflammation; it can suppress thyroid function, slowing down the body’s metabolism; it can impair the brain’s thinking ability and increase blood pressure.
Some physical conditions lower the threshold for triggering anger:
3) Sexual frustration
4) Hormonal changes due to puberty, pre-menstruation, menopause and child birth
5) Physical craving for addictive substances such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or other drugs
7) Physical illness
8) Living with chronic or acute pain
10) Hot weather and heat waves raising ambient temperature; intense heat may increase people’s irritability and lead to aggression.
11) Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
12) High testosterone levels in men
13) Traumatic brain injury
14) Certain drugs such as caffeine, steroids for bodybuilding or asthma, and other medications for asthma, antidepressants, and diet drugs can make a person more irritable and prone to getting angry.
Although people may blame their inability to manage their anger on the above factors, it should be noted that many people with these conditions still succeed in controlling their anger. Every person who is capable of mental concentration and who is motivated to learn can be taught to manage angry and aggressive feelings.
Scientific studies on anger:
Various scientific studies on anger were conducted by various researchers using various techniques like fMRI & PET scans to measure blood flow to specific brain regions during anger.
In this study, scientists measured blood flowing between the thinking and emotional parts of the brains of subjects who were seething angriest moments of their lives. A look into the brains of normal subjects revealed that anger increases blood flow to a reasoning part of their brains, an area over the left eye just behind the forehead, technically called the orbitofrontal (prefrontal) cortex. This flow inhibits thoughts of rage. At the same time, blood flow increased activity in the amygdala, an almond-shaped knot of tissue deep in the brain that deals with emotion and vigilance. The feelings of wrath in the primitive parts of our brains seem to be balanced by inhibitions of our will to act on those feelings. “The reason controls the feeling”. During rage, blood flow to these areas is reduced; which reduces both their ability to control impulsive acts and their feelings about the consequences of those acts, e.g. punching someone in the mouth. There is thus both a lack of emotion and a lack of control. A double hit that adds up to inappropriate, even violent rage.
Humans share with animals a primitive neural system for processing emotions such as fear and anger. Unlike other animals, humans have the unique ability to control and modulate instinctive emotional reactions through intellectual processes such as reasoning, rationalizing, and labeling our experiences. This study used functional MRI to identify the neural networks underlying this ability. Subjects either matched the affect of one of two faces to that of a simultaneously presented target face (a perceptual task) or identified the affect of a target face by choosing one of two simultaneously presented linguistic labels (an intellectual task). Matching angry or frightened expressions was associated with increased regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the left and right amygdala, the brain’s primary fear centers. Labeling these same expressions was associated with a diminished rCBF response in the amygdalae. This decrease correlated with a simultaneous increase in rCBF in the right prefrontal cortex, a neocortical region implicated in regulating emotional responses. These results provide evidence for a network in which higher regions attenuate emotional responses at the most fundamental levels in the brain and suggest a neural basis for modulating emotional experience through interpretation and labeling.
A look into the brains of normal subjects revealed that anger increases blood flow to a reasoning part of their brains, an area over the left eye just behind the forehead, technically called the orbitofrontal cortex. This flow inhibits thoughts of rage. At the same time, blood flow increased activity in the amygdala, an almond-shaped knot of tissue deep in the brain that deals with emotion and vigilance. Angry feelings arising in the amygdala are normally cooled by activity in the frontal cortex, part of the thinking region of the brain. However, in some severely depressed people, a lack of both recognition and control of anger, can lead to violent rage.
A study demonstrating regional blood flow using positron emission tomography in normal persons found an inverse relationship between regional cerebral blood flow changes during anger induction in the left ventromedial prefrontal cortex and left amygdala proving the fact that when amygdala is overriding cortex, anger is expressed and when cortex is overriding amygdala, anger is controlled.
The researchers carried out brain imaging (MRI) scans on the adolescents to look at the size of three key regions of the brain involved with mood regulation: the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). They used statistical analyses to look at the relationships between brain size, the duration of aggressive behavior and the response to parental mood change. They also looked at the differences between boys and girls, as previous research has demonstrated gender differences in brain development and mood behaviors. The researchers found that gender had no effect on the duration of aggressive behavior. They found a positive relationship between the duration of aggression and the size of the left and right amygdala, but this was only significant on the left-hand side.
The researchers evaluated carotid artery reactivity and brain blood flow in response to mental stress (anger) in 10 healthy young volunteers (aged between 19 and 27 years), 20 older healthy volunteers (aged 38 to 60 years) and in 28 patients with essential hypertension (aged 38 to 64 years). It was found that in healthy subjects, mental stress caused vasodilation, which was accompanied by a net increase in brain blood flow. However, in hypertensive subjects, mental stress produced no vasodilation and no significant change in brain blood flow.
In a nutshell, I conclude that anger arise in amygdala region of brain which is a feeling, an emotion inherited as a primitive instinct of survival through the evolution of millions of years. This emotion is not action. The pre-frontal area (orbitofrontal area) of cerebral cortex controls action based on inputs from amygdala. Normally, pre-frontal area tries to cool down amygdala. Blood flow to these brain areas are increased during anger. During controlled anger, blood flow to pre-frontal area is further increased and blood flow to amygdala is decreased suggesting cooling down of amygdala. During anger expression (aggression), blood flow to pre-frontal area will decrease and blood flow to amygdala will increase suggesting amygdala hijack when a person will lose control and behave in aggressive or violent way.
|Subject||rCBF Amygdala||rCBF pre-frontal cortex|
|Angry normal person||increased||increased|
|Anger suppressed||normal||Further increased|
|Anger expressed||Further increased||normal|
The above table shows synopsis of various studies of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) measured through fMRI or PET scans of brains of a normal person during anger. However, similar study in a ‘depressed person’ or a ‘normal person in rage’ shows reduced blood supply to these areas suggesting total lack of emotions & control. That is why depressed persons are more prone to anger expression than normal persons.
Neuroscience has shown that emotions are generated within the two almond-shaped structures in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for identifying threats and reacting accordingly to initiate action within the body. The amygdala is efficient enough that reactions are initiated before the cortex (the section of the brain responsible for thought and judgment) is able to ascertain the logic and reasonability of the reaction. Inside the brain & blood, neurotransmitter chemicals known as catecholamines are released, causing an increase in energy that generally lasts several minutes. Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, the rate of breathing increases. The face may flush as increased blood flow enters face, limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. The emotional progression to rage is usually mitigated by reason and the logical response of the cerebral cortex. The left prefrontal cortex can switch off the emotions, thus serving to keep the situation under control. Gaining control anger essentially relates to the ability to learn ways to help the prefrontal cortex dominate the amygdala. In accordance with the physiological progression of anger, there needs to be a wind-down phase as well. The body will start to relax back towards its resting state when the target of the anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. It is difficult to relax from an angry state within a short time; this is on account of the adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger. This invariably lasts a substantial time (many hours, potentially days), during which time the anger threshold is lowered, making it easier for the person become angered.
Within the limbic system is a small structure called the amygdala which is responsible for our “fight or flight” reactions, our natural survival instincts. The data coming in from the world around us passes through the amygdala where the decision is made whether to send the data to the limbic or cortex area of the brain. When sensory input comes in to amygdala, it goes to another part of the brain called the thalamus which routes the neurostimulation to the upper brain for thinking (that uniquely human thing we do) which then re-routes it to the amygdala to trigger an emotional reaction and then an action which the amygdala does through peptides and hormones. However, when a potential threat comes in, the amygdala can hijack the stimulus away from the upper brain and cause irrational (or more accurately non-rational) and destructive fight or flight reactions. Anger is probably the result of an amygdala hijack taking place that literally causes you to shoot from the hip instead of from your head. If the incoming data triggers enough of an emotional charge, the amygdala can override the cortex, which means the data will be sent to the limbic system causing the person to react using the lower part of the brain. During an overriding event, the amygdala goes into action without much regard for the consequences (since this area of the brain is not involved in judging, thinking, or evaluating). This reactive incident has come to be known as an amygdala hijacking. I will give example. God forbid, if you see someone attempting to rape your wife, what would you do? You do not have time to think. Your amygdala will process information in a fraction of a second, bypass your pre-frontal cortex, you will immediately attack the offender and may even kill him. This is angry aggression of amygdala hijack. You could have resolved the situation without killing the offender but during intense anger, your brain is in survival mode, to save the chastity of your wife, you acted without thinking & reasoning as amygdala has superseded the thinking part of your brain. This is amygdala hijack.
During amygdala hijack, a flood of hormones are released that cause physical and emotional alarm. A surge of energy follows, preparing the person for the fight or flight response. The impact of this hormonal flush last for several minutes during which time the person is usually out of control and may say or do things he/ she will later regret, when the thinking part of the brain re-engages. Further, an additional longer-lasting hormone is released, and its impact can last for several hours to several days. On average, it can take 20 minutes for a person who has experienced an angry state of arousal to calm, to move from functioning emotional area to functioning thinking area of the brain and therefore counting to 10 will not work. What is important to know is: 1) anger involves a trigger to the emotions that so easily charges us up that we “lose it” and 2) it will often take about 20 minutes before we can once again become more logical. Just knowing this much could really help us as we deal with our anger or someone else’s. When we know that someone is “amygdala hijacked”, then we should give him or her some time (over 20 minutes) before we attempt to resolve or discuss what happened because it takes about that long for hormonal releases to decrease in intensity.
Research has shown that stimulation of certain parts of animals’ brains leads to aggression. Stimulation of other parts stops aggression. We don’t know how this works. In 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother because “I do not consider this world worth living in…”, then climbed a tower on the University of Texas campus and fired his rifle at 38 people. He killed 14 before being killed. An autopsy revealed a large tumor in the limbic system of his brain (where the aggression “centers” are in animal brains). In epileptic patients with implanted electrodes, rare cases of violence follow stimulation of certain parts. Abnormal EEG’s have been found among repeat offenders and aggressive people. So, aggression may sometimes have a physical basis. Aggression may also have a chemical, hormonal, or genetic basis too. Steroid users sometimes have intense anger while taking the drug and for a long time afterwards, called “steroid rage.”
Chemical basis of anger:
Anger is associated with decreased activities of dopaminergic & serotonergic neurons and increased activities of adrenalinergic neurons in brain. What comes first? Chicken or the egg? What comes first in anger, a low level of functional dopamine & serotonin or an adrenaline surge? By “functional” I mean dopamine and serotonin that actually is functioning as neurotransmitters (how neurons transfer an impulse between them over a synapse). Sometimes you have enough of either, but the reuptake of each by initial (pre-synaptic) neuron sucks the dopamine and/or serotonin back too quickly for it to work. That is why most anti-depressants work by selectively suppressing either serotonin or dopamine re-uptake. When you have a high level of functional dopamine, you feel energized, positive and happy. When you have a low level you feel sluggish (as if everything is an effort), negative and irritable. When you have high level of functional serotonin, you are able to let things go, upset rolls off your back and you’re more resilient. When you have a low level of serotonin, you ruminate, dwell and have trouble letting go of negative thoughts and moods. Adrenaline is triggered by excitement and threat. In the case of excitement, it triggers a near (but not true) manic level of intense activity. In the case of threat, it triggers a “fight or flight” response. When someone or something suddenly surprises and upsets you, it triggers adrenaline, but how angry you will become is often determined by how much functional dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters you have. The higher the levels of these two neurotransmitters the more you’re able to feel the upset momentarily and let it go, before you become angry. The lower the levels of these two, the less you are able to let the surprise & upset go without becoming upset and striking back. On the other hand, it may be that adrenaline is triggered more easily when you have lower levels of dopamine and serotonin, and so it takes much less for it cause such an adrenaline surge. Dopamine and serotonin mitigate this which results in more tenacity and resilience (again two things that depressed people are not able to do). This is further complicated in men by the presence of testosterone which can piggy back on top of the adrenaline surge and give them a burst of feeling aggressive and powerful which is very seductive to the male ego and may explain why their anger and aggressiveness can escalate and go on and on.
The evidence from various types of neurochemical studies have supported deficient serotonin as the neurotransmitter most involved in angry aggression and to a lesser extent in the experience of anger itself. Experimental findings also demonstrate that a well-functioning 5-HT system is involved in anger regulation. Serotonergic antidepressants have been shown not only to have positive effects on reducing anger-related emotions but also to increase affiliative or cooperative behaviour. Mood stabilisers and antipsychotics with effects on 5-HT reduce anger and irritability in various patient groups. Selective noradrenergic antidepressants improve negative mood and can also exert pro-social effects but effects on anger per se have not been demonstrated. To over-simplify a bit, we seem to be motivated by two basic emotions, happy or angry. And serotonin seems to be the switch that turns off anger. When enough serotonin is secreted we feel happy. Our brain is equipped with scanning devices that are always looking for anything that is threatening. Even in our sleep when the internal alarm goes off we can be aroused very quickly and be ready for flight or fight.
Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme expressions of anger, often to the point of uncontrollable rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand. A national sample in the United States estimated that 16 million Americans may fit the criteria for IED. The disorder is considerably more prevalent than previously thought with the prevalence to be 6.3% (SE, +/- 0.7%) for lifetime. Impulsive behavior, and especially impulsive violence predisposition has been correlated to a low brain serotonin turnover rate, indicated by a low concentration of 5-Hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). That is why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, and sertraline appear to alleviate some pathopsychological symptoms.
The billion dollar question is how to control amygdala during anger?
When we watch a scary movie, we get scared, and when we watch porn we get turned on. We cry when someone dies in a movie. Our brain cannot tell the difference between what’s simulated and what’s real. In the same way, we get angry even on virtual hurt rather than real hurt because brain cannot instantly differentiate between virtual hurt and real hurt. Yes, when we think rationally and cool headed, we can make that distinction but it requires learning by our Neo-cortex.
Mirror neuron, emotional contagion and anger:
Anger and resentment are the most contagious of emotions. If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage. Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary motivations of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. Mirror neurons are a distinct class of neurons that transform specific sensory information into a motor format. Mirror neurons are a class of neurons that become active both when individuals perform a specific motor act and when they observe a similar act done by others. According to its anatomical locations, mirror mechanism plays a role in action and intention understanding, imitation, speech, and emotion feeling. The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions including anger. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other (copying), as though the observer were itself acting. In humans, mirror neuron activity has been found in numerous parts of the brain, including the premotor cortex (pre-frontal cortex), the inferior parietal areas, the posterior parietal lobe, the superior temporal sulcus, and the insula — the last three dealing with language, empathy and intention. The pre-frontal cortex cools down the amygdala. The mirror neurons of pre-frontal cortex which have been copying other’s behavior since childhood take part in cooling effect depending on learning since childhood. We mimic all kinds of behavior we observe as we grow up, thus explaining how our parent’s habits of communication and, in particular, anger management are carried forward in time by us. So our anger management depends upon how our mirror neurons of pre-frontal cortex have been trained by parents, teachers, religion, culture, neighborhood etc. This explains how we learn and manage anger. However, the same mirror neurons also inadvertently copy angry outbursts of people around us in mob fury or road rage or religious extremism or reality TV shows or movies; and thus anger becomes not infrequently contagious. So you may become angry as a part of mob fury by copying anger of others. Depending upon learning of your mirror neurons since childhood, the opposing forces of ignoring the amygdala or cooling the amygdala balance each other in pre-frontal cortex. The variance between past experiences and present experience balance eachother if they are opposing eachother, or consolidate if they complement eachother. One example is sufficient. If I see a pickpocket beaten by mob fury, I will not join them as I am a doctor and my mirror neurons are trained not to attack physiclly. Also, my childhood experiences did not include violence in home or neighborhood. So I will try to save pickpocket and hand him over to police instead of beating him. My mirror neurons will not copy anger of others. However, if the same mob fury is seen by a manual laborer, whose father is alcoholic and beating his mother daily in house, he will take part in mob fury beating the pickpocket as his mirror neurons have had copied anger-agression since childhood. So his mirror neurons will immediately copy anger of others. So mirror neurons of pre-frontal cortex take part in anger expression & management depending on their experiences of past and present.
Learning to control anger:
Learning to control anger is a developmental skill. The frontal cortex which is the part of the brain that controls the ability to inhibit impulses takes twenty three years to develop fully. This is the time for full maturity of mirror neurons. From a developmental perspective, younger children display no ability to control their anger and aggression. The typical two years old will act out all their anger. They have no ability to control their impulses – “I want it and I want it now and if I can’t have it I will fight for it”. Children at this stage will hit out, kick and bite. Gradually by the time they reach school age most children can control their impulses. By the end of primary school, children can delay their angry impulses and fight at times when there is no adults to prevent them, for example – pick a fight outside the gate of the school. The form of aggression is different, usually limited to punches confined to the upper body and ribs. As we move into adolescence, we need to remember the pressures and the behavioral imperatives of this transitional stage. At secondary level, adolescents channel most of their aggressive impulses into games or competition, they either diffuse this destructive energy in sport themselves or by watching others compete. Peer pressure, the need to conform, and the search for identity may result in risk-taking and challenging behaviors. Fighting in this age group is usually gang related. However, there are exceptions where you will see a twelve year old behaving like the two year old – acting out all their aggressive impulses and having a temper tantrum. This is a child who has never learned how to control this impulse. His mirror neurons have not been trained to control anger. This student has “lost it” when you observe the tantrum. He/she is unable to hear anything you are saying and is unable to stop themselves.
Angry adults may have angry children. A child’s mirror neurons were copying anger of parents. The effect of too much anger on family life is well documented. It can lead to a tension-filled family with frequent fights. It can lead to aggressive cycles of bullying and being bullied. It can lead to violence. The effects of violence on children are considerable, affecting both psychological and physical health. Children who witness violence may have emotional and behavioral difficulties as a result. Psychologists have noted a number of possible emotional and behavioral outcomes for such children, including withdrawal, nightmares, aggressive behavior and self blame. Capacity for learning may also be affected. Furthermore, children will imitate the behavior of adults and may, in turn, become angry and aggressive. Children who become angry can feel out of control (their own and others’). Children need to know that the adult can exert control and not be dominated by their anger. Anger is often regarded as negative; we’re taught that it’s all right to express anxiety, depression, or other emotions but not to express anger. As a result, we don’t learn how to handle it or channel it constructively. Research has also found that family background plays a role. Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications. It is often the case that a family whose interactions are characterized by outbursts of anger is one that is prone to abuse.
Being bully as a function of mirror neurons:
First, let’s define what bulling actually is, according to the US center of Mental Health Services it is, “repeated acts of physical, emotional, or social behavior that are intentional, controlling, and hurtful.” A bully will conduct their actions in school corridors, on schoolyards, in bathrooms, school buses, and during lunch and break periods at school. A bully likes to make fun of a person in a group, or to a person who shows fear of them or one who comes on as being weak, shy and not outspoken. A bully will hit, push, name-call, kick, and exclude their victims all together. It is my belief that a bully not only suffers from severe anger but also has insecurity fears because they do not have any self-esteem, self-confidence, or the ability to feel secure around other people, and they take their feelings out on someone they “know” they can control to make them feel they are strong and as secure as the next person. Bullies normally copy how they’ve been treated as a child. A classical example of copying mirror neurons. The majority of bullies have been copying how they were treated as a child or the actions of a father or a mother toward them. These children have feelings of insecurity, are anxious, miss a lot of school and they become angry because of their inability to be able to speak how they feel as they’re being mistreated by their parents. A child that is bullied as a child will more than likely bully at school and also as an adult too. They also will follow their parent’s traits and many of these children will be abusers, treat their children the same way they were treated, abuse their spouses, and they’re more likely to display tendencies of criminal behaviors and drug abuses. Bullies are lashing out with anger and fear to gain strength because this eases their feelings of weakness and not having any control.
Beyond learning and mirror neurons?
Moms who were depressed or who had troubled youth have angry babies.
Why does a baby strike out in anger? What makes some infants aggressive? Does something adverse happen in the womb? Is it life with Mom and Dad that ramps up their anti-social behavior? Or both? A study looks at the family risks. There is a large-scale, nationally representative longitudinal study of 271 British infants and their parents. The study found that those few infants who often tugged on other babies’ toys had mothers who were depressed in pregnancy. Those who used their bodies against others had moms with troubled youths. The study did not answer the question whether genetics or environment affected infant’s behavior. However, the study does prove that there is something beyond mirror neurons and learning. The family can be given extra support in learning to deal with anger and frustration of infant, and in patiently nurturing an infant whose moods, for whatever reason, may be volatile.
So can the amygdala be controlled by mere learning since childhood? What about genes?
Anger and genes:
Central nervous system (CNS) serotonin function is involved in the regulation behavioral characteristics such as anxiety, depression, hostility and social isolation. CNS serotonin function can be indexed by levels of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5HIAA) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and research has shown that low CNS serotonin function is associated with impulsive and aggressive behaviors. It is known that the serotonin transporter plays a crucial role in regulating the duration of central nervous system & peripheral actions of serotonin. A deletion/insertion polymorphism of the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5HTTLPR) is associated with differential transcriptional efficiencies. The human serotonin transporter gene is located at the SLC6A4 locus on chromosome 17 (17q11.1-17q12), spans 31kbp and contains 14 exons.
The above picture shows location of the serotonin transporter gene on human chromosome 17 as indicated by the red marking.
While several research groups have found evidence indicating that the polymorphic transcriptional control region of the serotonin transporter gene may contribute to anger-related behavioral characteristics, the story is much more complex. For instance, this particular polymorphism has not only been implicated as a gene likely to predict those more prone to anger, but other researchers have found countless other correlations between one’s 5-HTTLPR genotype and the tendency to be depressed, develop schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa, and become suicidal among others.
Several other studies have shown that genes other than the serotonin transporter gene may influence anger-related phenotypes. For example, one study determined that a functional polymorphism in Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme involved in catecholamine inactivation, may influence aggression-related traits via a bi-directional alteration of catecholamine turnover. Another study reported that the A218C and the A779C small nucleotide polymorphisms in the typtophan hydroxylase gene (TPH gene), the rate limiting biosynthetic enzyme in the serotonin pathway, may be associated with anger-related characteristics.
A study found the relationship between variations in the serotonin receptor 2C gene and anger & hostility. Researchers found that those who had one or both of two alterations in the promoter region of the serotonin receptor 2C gene were more likely to score lower on two common tests for anger, hostility and aggression. These findings may aid in establishing a potential marker for certain conditions associated with aggression and anger.
Isolation of a gene called DARPP-32 helps explain why some people fly into a rage at the slightest provocation, while others can remain calm. More than 800 people were asked to fill in a questionnaire designed to study how they handle anger. The German researchers administered a DNA test to determine which of three versions of the DARPP-32 gene people were carrying.The gene affects levels of dopamine, a brain chemical linked to anger and aggression. Those who had the “TT” or “TC” versions of the gene portrayed significantly more anger than those with the “CC” version.
Alcohol affects gene mutations in the brain causing impulsive behavior. Researchers unravel DNA from a number of impulsive respondents and compare them with those of non-impulsive. From there they found a single DNA gene known as HTR2B causing very impulsive behavior by affecting the production of serotonin in the brain. Researchers found that genetic variants alone are not enough to cause people to act impulsively. It is found that alcohol-induced mutations of HTR2B gene are responsible for impulsiveness behind the crime. Researchers also found that men are carriers of the gene HTR2B. And studies on rats to prove when the gene was blocked, the mice will become more aggressive and impulsive.
Genetics may affect women’s anger, hostility, and physical aggression; a study by University of Pittsburgh scientists says so. The study analyzed variations in the women’s HTR2C gene. That gene is one of many genes linked to a brain chemical called serotonin. Past studies have linked high serotonin levels to lower aggression levels. The new study shows that women with one alteration in the HTR2C gene were less aggressive, while women with a different alteration in the gene were more physically aggressive. A third alteration in the gene didn’t seem to affect aggression or hostility.
Based on above studies and some statistical analysis, many scholars have suggested that the tendency for anger may be genetic. Distinguishing between genetic and environmental factors however requires further research and actual measurement of specific genes and environments. Some people really are more “hotheaded” than others are; they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person does. There are also those who don’t show their anger in loud spectacular ways but are chronically irritable and grumpy. Easily angered people don’t always curse and throw things; sometimes they withdraw socially, sulk, or get physically ill. People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride, and they’re particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake. What makes these people this way? There is evidence that some children are born irritable, touchy, and easily angered, and that these signs are present from a very early age. So genetic factors may indeed exist for origin of anger.
Of course, emotions and behaviors are to some extent learned but genes play a role in this complex matrix of causes. A large survey of adopted children has found that living with an adoptive parent who committed crimes is less risky than merely having the genes from a person who committed crimes.
We have to control our amygdala having emotions with our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) having reason. This control is genetic and environmental. It can not be overemphasized that both amygdala neurons and PFC neurons are under genetic control. Genetic means DNA inherited from parents and environmental means learning since childhood vis-à-vis culture, religion, family, friends, teachers, neighbors etc. Persons who have damaged PFC due to traffic accidents have very limited self-control. They lash out, yell at people. You can improve the performance of the brain itself by increasing activity in the area that regulates self-control (PFC), for example, by thinking twice before you buy something, which enhances the functionality of this area permanently, and these changes are visible using neuroimaging. In other words, the performance of mirror neurons of neo-cortex can be improved by thinking twice before taking any action/decision. This improved performance & functionality of PFC may cool down amygdala rapidly before amygdala hijacks you. However, these mirror neurons & amygdala themselves are guided by their DNA. If there is a very strong genetic influence to get angry by manipulating chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline in brain, no matter what ever mirror neurons do to mellow down anger, it may not work. Nonetheless, there is a general consensus among psychologists that a combination of nature and nurture is involved in the manifestation of anger, and therefore that neither should be ignored.
Anger as a manifestation of imbalance between two sides of brain:
The difference between men and women is that men have a thinner corpus callosum than women. The corpus callosum is the fiber network that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. The thicker the connect (as in women) the more in contact the hemispheres. What that means is that a woman’s logical brain (left brain) and emotional brain (right brain) are more in contact with each other and although women will become more emotional than men, they will often stop short of going to war or killing someone else. When distressed, men on the other hand have their two brains functioning independently which explain why men can often be either coldly & flatly logical (when their left brain is in control) or go ballistic (when their right brain overrides their logic). The more disconnected the two hemispheres, the less it takes for an amygdala to hijack an impulse away from the prefrontal cortex & reason from intervening.
Imbalance of activity between the left and right sides of the brain is related to anger and hostility. As part of a larger study, the researchers investigated the possibility that emotional state may be related to the activity of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. They found that regardless of which side of the brain was more active, the more “out of balance” the two hemispheres were; the greater the anger and hostility people reported feeling. Researchers have suggested that ear temperature may be a useful indicator of emotional state. Because the brain uses the same blood that is supplied to the ear, tympanic membrane temperature (TMT) may be used as an indicator of brain activity, with decreased ear temperature being associated with increased brain activity on the same side. In other words, if the left ear was colder than the right ear, the left side of the brain was more active than the right. Increased difference between left and right TMT, regardless of which ear was warmer, correlated with increased anger and hostility.
More than 15 studies using electroencephalographic (EEG) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) methods have suggested that the left prefrontal cortex (PFC) is more activated than the right prefrontal cortex during the experience of anger, particularly anger associated with approach motivational inclinations. The left PFC is logic (reason). The right PFC is emotion (feeling). Right-handed individual have dominant left brain and left-handed individuals have dominant right brain. Does that mean that right handed individual will control anger better than left handed?
Evolution may be in the process of delivering a new age of genius and creativity, with left-handers leading the way. Various studies have found that left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers. Researchers say that left-handers’ brains are structured differently in a way that widens their range of abilities, and the genes that determine left-handedness are also involved in development of advances skills including development of the language centers of the brain It is this development of language that differentiates us from the animals. No wonder, left handed individuals are more creative than right handed. It’s been known for some time that lefties and the ambidextrous are more prone to negative emotions including anger. A new study shows that they also have a greater imbalance in activity between the left and right brains when they process emotions. Of course, you can’t be sure which comes first: maybe angry people are more out of balance, or maybe the inability to find equilibrium makes you angry. As for the left-handed: maybe they’re more angry because the world is designed for the right-handed majority.
Effect of PUFA on anger:
This study showed that the daily administration of 3 grams of n-3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) for a period of 3 months significantly decreased feelings of anger in a population of substance abusers by comparison with the administration of a placebo. Since fish contain lot of PUFA, people who eat fish daily are less likely to get angry.
Fear vis-à-vis Anger:
One of the primitive functions of an animal’s response to fear is to frighten away the attacker by expressing anger. But in modern human life, we often frighten away those who we need and care about most.
Neurochemistry of fear vis-à-vis anger:
Stress initiates several biological adaptations, including activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis. When released into the system, cortisol increases available glucose, boosting the metabolic fuel expended in energy-consuming activities. In addition to such neuroendocrine responses, acute stress also activates immune system responses resulting in release of proinflammatory cytokines giving signal to brain to induce ‘‘sickness behaviors”, which can include reduced eating and drinking, reduced exploratory behavior, and general social withdrawal to promote recovery from stress. Stress may lead to anger and fear, two important emotions. A study was conducted to determine differential biological reaction to stress vis-à-vis anger & fear. The study found that baseline anger and fear were related to greater cortisol and proinflammatory cytokines. However, anger reactions to the stressor were associated with greater stress related increases in cortisol over time but not proinflammatory cytokines. In contrast, fear reactions to the stressor were associated with increases in stress-related proinflammatory cytokines over time and a decrease in cortisol. Although energy is required for both the fight response linked to anger and the flight response linked to fear, based on the current findings, the motivation to withdraw from a fear-inducing threat may be more important and adaptive for people feeling afraid than the availability of additional energy through the release of cortisol. Because increased cortisol would inhibit ‘increases’ in withdrawal linked proinflammatory cytokine production, it may be that a fearful individual sacrifices the additional energy that would be made available by cortisol in exchange for increases in the motivation to withdraw from fear-inducing situations. Anger, a confrontative (combative) emotion, demonstrated an association with increased HPA axis activity in response to the stressors, consistent with the idea that energy resources are needed following confrontative responses to stress. Fear, by contrast, was associated with enhanced proinflammatory cytokine activity, especially IL-6, effects that are consistent with promoting withdrawal which can often follow states of heightened fear.
Forty-three subjects were stimulated in the laboratory to “fear” and “anger,” during which physiological reactions were recorded .This landmark study found that no difference in physiological reaction between anger and fear. The physiological response patterns of anger were suggested as being similar to those produced by injections of epinephrine and nor-epinephrine combined, and those of fear as being similar to injections of epinephrine. The patterns obtained for anger and fear argue against the hypothesis that anger is a strong reaction of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous systems, whereas fear is but a sympathetic reaction. In fact, in this study, both anger and fear released catecholamines (stress hormones) in blood.
Another landmark study found that fear and anger have opposite effects on risk perception. Whereas fearful people expressed pessimistic risk estimates and risk-averse choices, angry people expressed optimistic risk estimates and risk-seeking choices. These opposing patterns emerged for naturally occurring and experimentally induced fear and anger. Moreover, estimates of angry people more closely resembled those of happy people than those of fearful people. So anger & happiness are closely associated as far as optimism is concerned and fear & unhappiness are closely associated with pessimism.
At one pole of communication stands passivity: not speaking out for fear of adverse consequences. At the other end stands aggressiveness: voicing negative sentiments without restraint or regard for their effect on others. In between passivity and aggression lies the golden mean: asserting one’s thoughts and feelings, wants and needs, while at the same time showing appreciation and respect for the other’s viewpoint. Assertiveness, the ideal compromise between the extremes of passivity (being fearful) and aggression (being angry), is part of our natural endowment–our “universal personality,” as it were. When we first come into the world, and even before we become verbal and can articulate what’s going on inside us, we possess the rudimentary ability to communicate. Innately, we know how and when to smile, to yawn, to express surprise, anger or trepidation and indeed, to convey a broad variety of emotional distress through crying–even wailing (as many a parent can woefully testify). We’re not yet able to employ language to identify our particular frustrations, or consider the likely reactions of our caretakers, but we’re unconstrained in letting our feelings be known.
Cognitive effects of anger vis-à-vis fear:
Anger makes people think more optimistically. Dangers seem smaller, actions seem less risky, ventures seem more likely to succeed, and unfortunate events seem less likely. Angry people are more likely to make risky decisions, and make more optimistic risk assessments. In inter-group relationships, anger makes people think in more negative and prejudiced terms about outsiders. Anger makes people less trusting, and slower to attribute good qualities to outsiders. When a group is in conflict with a rival group, it will feel more anger if it is the politically stronger group and less anger when it is the weaker. Anger can make a person more desiring of an object to which his anger is tied. In a 2010 Dutch study, test subjects were primed to feel anger or fear by being shown an image of an angry or fearful face, and then were shown an image of a random object. When subjects were made to feel angry, they expressed more desire to possess that object than subjects who had been primed to feel fear.
Anger and lust (sexual desire):
Since anger is a primitive survival instinct (fighting the attacker) and since lust is also a primitive survival instinct (sexual desire to reproduce for the survival of the species); and both these instincts arise in amygdala of brain; and both these instincts are modulated by neocortex in humans; it is worthwhile to discuss how each affects another. Rape is a sexual act against the wish of a woman and therefore woman would be angry at the offender. Statistics show that the majority of sexual abuse victims will experience degrees of anger throughout their life. On the other hand, anger plays a role in consensual sex known as anger-sex. Anger-sex is basically a consensual rough sex where one partner wants to show total control over another by slapping her, pulling her hair, choking her etc. This sexualized anger yields a false sense of security and power, – an “aggressive grandiosity” that gives the illusion of personal power, and that destroys any chance for healthy intimacy. The everyday embarrassment of wanting someone who rejects you can trigger low levels of anger and resentment in most people. The shame and humiliation a person feels when a spouse or a girlfriend cheats often leads to rage and violence. Some people were raised to feel ashamed of their sexual feelings. Sometimes this causes hostility toward those who arouse them. Sometimes sexual frustration provokes hostile attacks. Both men and women express this anger in relationships. The hormone testosterone primes men to act aggressively when sexually aroused. When men are stripped of their status, testosterone levels play a role in anger arousal and behavioral aggression. Various studies have shown that men and women are equally violent in intimate relationships. Men tend to do more physical damage than women, but the amount of rage and violence appears to be about the same. Cultural factors can also contribute to sexual anger. Anger, fueled by sexual passion, can be cooled, contained, controlled and redirected. Well channeled sexual anger is the fuel for much creativity, innovation, athletic prowess and economic achievement.
Myth 1: I shouldn’t “hold in” my anger. It’s healthy to vent and let it out. For many years, there was a popular belief that the aggressive expression of anger, such as screaming or beating on pillows, was therapeutic and healthy.
Fact: While it’s true that suppressing and ignoring anger is unhealthy, venting is no better. Research studies have found, however, that people who vent their anger aggressively simply get better at being angry. In other words, venting anger in an aggressive manner reinforces aggressive behavior. Anger is not something you have to “let out” in an aggressive way in order to avoid blowing up. In fact, outbursts and tirades only fuel the fire and reinforce your anger problem. The healthiest way to deal with anger is to stay in control, analyze the message it is sending, and harness the energy it provides for positive change. There is no evidence that suppressed anger is harmful if we feel in control of the situation, and if we interpret the anger as a grievance to be corrected constructively. People say that venting feels good, but the good feeling doesn’t last, and it only reinforces aggressive impulses. Instead, positive reframing, humor and acceptance are coping strategies which have been found to help people cope with stress the most. Unless the source of your anger can be corrected by expressing anger, don’t.
Myth 2: Revenge can lead to positive change.
Fact: Revenge usually leads only to a cycle of destructive escalation. Expressing anger with violence breeds more anger. Although anger itself does not accumulate, the urge for revenge can. It can be harmful to accumulate and intensify the urge for revenge without reconciling your feelings of injustice. Choose a constructive path to resolve your quest for revenge. When expressing anger is necessary; do it by standing up for your rights clearly and assertively, not violently. Suppressing legitimate anger is unhealthy. Continually venting anger is also unhealthy.
Myth 3: The excuse “You made me do this, I had no choice” is always given to justify anger.
Fact: Self control is the difference between acting destructively in anger; and responding calmly, constructively, and rationally. You are always responsible for your actions.
Myth 4: The belief that if I don’t act out the anger, I have given in, lost face, become a coward, and disgraced myself.
Fact: It takes greater strength, self restraint, introspection, and analysis to constructively resolve anger.
Myth 5: Anger, aggression, and intimidation help me earn respect and get what I want. You must be aggressive to get what you want.
Fact: True power doesn’t come from bullying others. People may be afraid of you, but they won’t respect you if you can’t control yourself or handle opposing viewpoints. Others will be more willing to listen to you and accommodate your needs if you communicate in a respectful way. Many people confuse assertiveness with aggression. The goal of aggression is to dominate, intimidate, harm, or injure another person—to win at any cost. Conversely, the goal of assertiveness is to express feelings of anger in a way that is respectful of other people. Expressing yourself in an assertive manner does not blame or threaten other people and minimizes the chance of emotional harm.
Myth 6: I can’t help myself. Anger isn’t something you can control.
Fact: You can’t always control the situation you’re in or how it makes you feel, but you can control how you express your anger. And you can express your anger without being verbally or physically abusive. Even if someone is pushing your buttons, you always have a choice about how to respond.
Myth 7: Anger management is about learning to suppress your anger.
Fact: Never getting angry is not a good goal. Anger is normal, and it will come out regardless of how hard you try to suppress it. Anger management is all about becoming aware of your underlying feelings and needs and developing healthier ways to manage upset. Rather than trying to suppress your anger, the goal is to express it in constructive ways.
Myth 8: Some psychoanalytic theorists once saw anger at the core of depression.
Fact: Researchers have discovered that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between anger and depression. Sometimes there is just anger, and sometimes there is just depression.
Myth 9: Suppressed anger will have negative medical consequences to you.
Fact: This is not always true, particularly if we are in control of the situation that is causing the anger. Suppressed anger may cause difficulty in life but it is not a guaranteed cause of medical problems.
Myth 10: Aggression is necessarily the instinctive catharsis of anger. A related myth involves the misconception that the only effective way to express anger is through aggression.
Fact: Researchers have indicated that in a high percentage of anger cases, the anger does not lead to aggression. Aggression can also be perpetuated without event of emotion; it can be a cold, calculated and straight-forward attack with the intention of doing harm. There are other more constructive and assertive ways, however, to express anger. Effective anger management involves controlling the escalation of anger by learning assertiveness skills, changing negative and hostile “self-talk,” challenging irrational beliefs, and employing a variety of behavioral strategies.
Myth 11: Talking out anger gets rid of it, or at least makes the person feel less angry.
Fact: Talking out an emotion doesn’t reduce it, it rehearses it.
Myth 12: Tantrums and other childhood rages are healthy expressions of anger that forestall neurosis.
Fact: On the contrary, most of the time, the frequency and intensity of the temper tantrums lessen when a) children’s temper tantrums are ignored, or, b) are in no way reinforced, or c) when children are expected to talk about their anger and take responsibility for it.
Myth 13: Anger is inherited. One misconception or myth about anger is that the way people express anger is inherited and cannot be changed.
Fact: Evidence from research studies indicates that both genetic factors and environment are involved in the genesis of anger. Nonetheless, nobody can say that I am genetically angry and therefore I violated law or committed crime. The expression of anger is a learned behavior and the more appropriate ways of expressing anger can also be learned.
The moral of the story:
1) If anybody says that he/she never got angry, either they are lying or they are mentally incapacitated.
2) Anger is built into our DNA to help us survive. It can invigorate, motivate and set boundaries to protect. It defends space for our voice and point of view.
3) Anger becomes problem when it creates trouble for you vis-à-vis other people, your family, your work, your health, day-to-day living or the law.
4) Learning to control anger is by mirror neurons of pre-frontal cortex of human brain which cools down amygdala. Learning to control anger occurs from childhood vis-à-vis parents, siblings, teachers, friends, neighbors, culture, religion etc. Since neurons of both amygdala & pre-frontal cortex are living cells under control of their DNA, the genetic influence can not be ruled out even in the learning to control anger.
5) Anger agression in one human breeds anger agression in another human due to copying of anger emotion by mirror neurons of pre-frontal cortex in human brains. This explains mob fury beating up a pickpocket, road rage, copying violence from movies etc. However, it is not an “all or none phenomenon”. Anger copying and anger expression also depends on past experiences of mirror neurons. If the present situation is at variance with past learning, present situation may be ignored by mirror neurons and anger agression may not be copied.
6) Amygdala hijack means during intense anger, the amygdala overrides pre-frontal cortex because incoming data from environment is inducing intense emotional charge, provoking amygdala to send the data to the limbic system causing the person to react using the lower part of the brain. During an overriding event, the amygdala goes into action without much regard for the consequences (since this area of the brain is not involved in judging, thinking, or evaluating). So counting to 10 will not work and it will take at least 20 minutes for a person to cool down.
7) There are many positive aspects of anger right from initiation of social movements like women’s suffrage movement, to civil rights movement, to voting out corrupt politicians, to creativity. It would be unfair to associate anger with violence all the times. Experts note that anger seems to be followed by aggression only about 10 percent of the time, and lots of aggression occurs without any anger.
8) With due respect to various religions, I humbly state that anger is not a sin.
9) Anger and fear are the two sides of the same coin of primitive survival instinct. Anger is associated with fierceness, daring, possessiveness and taking risks. Fear is exactly opposite. The primitive survival instinct is in dual mode, fight or flight; depending on the assessment of circumstances by the organism. This fact substantiates my theory of “Duality of Existence” in living organisms.
10) If there is no anger in the world, most of the social & political reforms will never occur and creativity will be suppressed. If there is too much anger in the world, it would disrupt the social fabric of our society and violence will become a norm. Now it is up to you, how you want to channel anger energy. Even a Mafia can become Nobel Prize winner. Anger is going to exist as long as humans exist whether you like it or don’t.
Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.
July 17, 2011
I am thinking about reasons for my anger.
Is it because I am left-handed?
Is it because of my DNA?
Is it because of my environment? I mean frivolous litigations, destruction of creativity, lack of appreciation etc.
I do not know the answer.
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