Understanding anger and why we use it Written by Brendan Mooney Psychologist
We can all relate to feeling angry at some point in time. For some of us, anger is a frequent experience whereas for others it is an occasional bout.
Whilst we could say anger is a part of the human experience, what exactly is anger and what are some of the reasons why we use it?
The classic example of a person who appears angry is red-faced, yelling and pointing their finger. Not a pleasant sight, but we have no doubt either done this ourselves or know someone who has.
Anger hardens our bodies and brings a jarring quality to our movements, for example we might clench our fists and tighten our muscles (even subtly). Anger is unpleasant and uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of, and it can take some time for someone who is very angry to calm down.
Often when we become angry we can say things that we regret later and our ability to think clearly or even apply common sense can be disrupted. We typically become impulsive and may engage in activities that we may also regret later on.
However, what if anger is not always so obvious? In other words, can a person be experiencing anger without showing any external symptoms? How many of us have felt angry internally but have not shown it on the outside?
What if not showing our anger on the outside is a learned behaviour? It is generally not socially accepted to go around yelling angrily at others or being outwardly rude. Many children are taught not to yell or raise their voice. As we grow many start to control displays of anger or hide them from others, for example by acting nice, polite, courteous etc. but this does not mean we may not be harbouring a lot of internal anger.
Hence have we learned a way to cover up our symptoms but not actually address the underlying anger we are experiencing?
Given this, who is more honest – the person who yells and screams in the office, or the one who is equally angry but plays nice and polite? The answer is neither are being honest because both are reacting with anger, however the person who yells and screams is at least a little more transparent in the sense that they are showing they have a problem while the person who puts on a facade is pretending that everything is well.
The facades we put on ourselves do not assist us to address our woes, but instead actually support us to bury them deep inside because we are choosing to live a lie, that is, a life that is not true.
Anger is an emotion that occurs whether we exhibit external symptoms or not. It is not necessarily related to how a person presents themselves on the outside, but whether they are experiencing anger on the inside.
One of the reasons we use anger is because we perceive it to be a form of protection, in other words a method of keeping people away or at arm’s length believing that in doing so we will not get hurt. Hence it is also a form of control and manipulation, as it asks if not demands another to walk around on egg shells, so to speak. And a person only needs to explode a couple of times and then the rest of the time people are in the anxiousness that they may do it again at anytime so we better not upset them.
What we need to understand about anger is that it is a secondary condition. In other words, whenever we react with anger there is always an underlying hurt that has already been triggered that we do not want to deal with. In this way anger is used as a form of distraction away from the underlying hurt we are trying to avoid feeling, and blaming someone takes the focus further away from ourselves. Hence we could say anger is a game we play with ourselves to avoid dealing with what we need to deal with.
Because anger is a very consuming emotion and we could say is very loud, it essentially acts to numb us from feeling the underlying hurt.
Even if we are able to completely justify that the other person has done some form of wrongdoing, we are still being irresponsible by choosing to stay in anger about the situation as it is a pure choice to avoid dealing with our part, that is, our own reaction to the situation.
Anger basically gives another two options: to back down or take them on (submit or dominate), and hence it is imposing and disrespectful because it never allows another to simply be themselves and make choices as they feel to.
When we react to a situation with anger we actually do not address the problem or situation at all, at best we might feel a sense of relief that we have ‘blown off steam’. Unfortunately though, we bypass our focus from the underlying hurt that was initially triggered, and hence the hurt remains unresolved. It is only when we drop into being honest or truthful with ourselves that we are able to truly resolve the hurt we are feeling.
But what if the feeling of underlying anger has become so familiar for some people that they seem to no longer even recognise that they are angry? Is it possible that a person can be angry for many years, in some cases 30-40 years, due to an incident that occurred a long time ago? What if they have falsely attributed their experience of anger as being part of who they are? For example, is it possible that many who claim they are ‘passionate’ are actually just angry, but no longer appear to realise it because it has become a far too familiar way to live that it appears normal to them?
So how do you tell a person who no longer realises (or is willing to admit) that they have anger issues that they are angry? You cannot, unless they have a degree of openness to become aware of it, and unfortunately many need to first experience the ill effects this way of living brings before they become willing to change.
Anger is a very stimulating emotion, and hence it can make us feel aroused and even ‘alive’. So what if we use anger as a form of stimulation to make us feel more energised, rather than perhaps feeling the lack of vitality or exhaustion in our bodies?
And what if the real reason why we use anger is to simply avoid expressing how we truly feel? What if we actually find it more comfortable to react to someone rather than tell them the truth of what is going on? Whilst we may not enjoy the ill consequences of being in anger, what if we perceive anger as easier than truly expressing?
Hence anger, whilst very common, is not a natural quality of ours. In fact we could say that anger is a quality that disturbs our otherwise naturally harmonious disposition. Whilst it is impossible not to feel anger at times living as a human being, if we do begin to react with anger we ought to pull ourselves out of it as soon as possible. It is the choice to stay in anger that is irresponsible. This is because once we are reacting with anger, we are no longer clearly feeling what is going on in a situation but instead tainted by our own reaction. Whilst another may be imposing on us, it remains always our responsibility to respond lovingly to situations rather than react with anger back.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.