“So, why were you angry?” Usually, the angered person will refer to something someone said or did in provocation. While, angry outbursts can feel justified when they are responses to volatile situations or threats, whatever the reason, angry outbursts often build walls to relationships that are very difficult to overcome later in life. We will discuss this complex topic in several posts.
Evaluating anger from two points of view
It is quite helpful to define and evaluate the topic of anger from a reactive and a neurological point of view. We have gleaned this data from accepted scientific research published over the last few decades.
Though there are many definitions of anger, Bernard Gold, author of Healthy Anger, describes it as “an emotional and subjective experience. It is separate and distinct from the physical reactions that might result from it.”
In other words, anger is often a reaction to other emotions and thoughts. So, when we think of the cause (or causes) of anger, we really need to recognize what specific set of connections exist between emotions and the physiological responses to those emotions.
It is also true that our reactive emotions often have a social context; meaning, they reflect beliefs and behaviors that are accepted and expected by a culture.
To summarize, we are angry largely because of emotion, and that anger is both emotional and physiological. Further, we know that certain outside influences cause us either to erupt or internalize these angry emotions, and it is critical to understand what triggers this process.
Many episodes of anger result from anger-triggering thoughts. These types of perceptions or beliefs can also activate or exacerbate the intensity of someone’s anger. These are thoughts that we have around someone’s behavior that include:
- the perception that he or she has been deliberately harmed or victimized by someone
- the perception the person intended to do harm
- the belief the person was wrong to attempt to intentionally do harm and he or she should have behaved better
To complicate matters, we tend to distort another person’s intentions, and these distortions can throw us into intense anger.
Why do we distort what someone says or means and interpret them as a threat to us? We have set up expections distortedly so that we can be blamed, or we personalize, exaggerate, overgeneralize or misunderstand the event.
Many times, when I have spoken with individuals who have struggled with anger, they have attributed their anger to these perceptions or distortions not realizing the process of how these perceptions, true or not, can be the source of anger.
Becoming aware of these triggers
The more we understand the nature of these triggers, the clearer we can be about the process that leads to the level of anger and the ensuing reactions that cause problems in our relationships and families.
Stay tuned. In my next post, we will talk more about the cause of anger from a neurological perspective. Anger is a complex topic with much to talk about and being informed will help us deal with this prominent problem of our society.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Some information taken from Understanding Anger, 2004, Diane Wagenhals.