Emotions: Anger

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

As I've mentioned in my Introduction to Emotions post, emotion is a reaction to a certain stimulus. The purpose of emotions is to inform us about our status, in comparison with our needs, goals, wants, and values. In other words, emotions help us to get in touch with our needs and take care of our well-being. Also, ALL emotions are good, useful and necessary, even if some of them feel unpleasant.

One of the most common unpleasant emotions is anger (or its counterparts: annoyance and rage).

What is anger?

Anger is a hostile emotional reaction to a violation of one's boundaries (physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual) or to a denial and prohibition to pursue and/or gratify one's needs and goals. In such situations one psychologically feels that they had been abused, wronged, offended, or denied.
 
Anger can be triggered by real or supposed danger, thread, violence, hurt, fraud, conflict, injustice, humiliation, betrayal, etc.

How anger feels like?

When we feel angry, our heart rate and blood pressure may increase, more blood may flow into our limbs, we may feel more energy, and our body may produce more adrenaline and noradrenaline.

How anger looks like?

When one experiences anger, it can be noticeable in their facial expression, tone of voice (often it's louder than usual), tense stance, energetic movement (sudden movements, large gestures), and so on.

What's the purpose of anger?

Anger informs us that we are experiencing / have experienced something harmful to us, or that there is a potential harm to us. Therefore anger is often related to fear (or its counterparts: anxiety and phobia), to hurt, and to sadness.

Authentic and non-authentic anger

Anger is a healthy emotional reaction to a situation where we genuinely are harmed or in danger of harm (for example, when we are stolen from, raped, beaten, manipulated, deceived or cheated, exploited, and so on).

However, very often people feel projected or misplaced anger. For example we all probably have seen people (or been in this position ourselves) who get mad and throw things when their favorite basketball team loses, or get angry at inanimate objects, or scream when while driving somebody in front of them are not moving for – literally – 2 seconds. Such behaviors we acknowledge as acting out, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or overreaction.

Although it's worth mentioning that adults much more often feel non-authentic, misplaced anger than genuine, authentic anger. Why is that? I'll talk about that in another blog post...
 
What to do when we feel angry?

As with all emotions, it's useful to identify what we are feeling. Then to evaluate if our anger is authentic or not. Is it appropriate to this situation? If not, where is it coming from? Is it too strong/soft? Is it directed to the right person? Am I really helpless right now or am I an adult and I can change things?..

Also, we often experience anger when we feel that there are no other options except to fight and defend ourselves. As you probably can tell, biologically and physically anger is preparing us to fight, intimidate, or dominate the perceived threat. It's a pretty primitive, however, sometimes not the most productive and not even necessary behavior – although it's very common. Also, anger in people is often repressed and directed to oneself (i. e. self-harm, low self-esteem) or comes out in various forms of passive aggression.

Of course, if the threat is real and very serious, then it's wise to act accordingly and protect ourselves as best as we can. But often that's not the case and we often have way more options than just FIGHT. For example, we can try to negotiate with people, seek our goals by using different methods, just leave the situation in which we feel dissatisfaction, etc.

Addendum

There's this false belief – especially in various religions, mental (self-)help and child rearing circles, and even in the field of psychology – that anger is an unhealthy emotion and that basically we have to repress it ("don't be angry", "forgive and forget", "anger is toxic", and so on). The opposite is true: [autentic!] anger, like all emotions, is a very healthy, helpful and necessary emotion; and repressing or ignoring it leads to – or already is a cause of – some serious mental health problems. However, like with all emotions, sometimes it's hard to understand its true meaning and origins – but it's well worth doing it.

In our adult lives, very often we feel unprocessed anger that is really directed to our abusers from our past and has little to do with our current environment. Therefore it's always useful to look back at our life and analyze our past, to feel angry at those who have truly harmed us, to grieve our hurt and injustice – so that we could live more consciously, calmly and effectively in the present.


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1 comments

  1. Very wise words, Darius - anger is healthy (as long as it's not misdirected and/or destructive). Keeping it inside can finally lead some to violent breakouts...

    I'll keep reading, your writing is very interesting and insightful although it makes me feel uneasy sometimes... Next stop during my jouney to self-discovery, I guess ;-)

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