What is anger?
Anger is an emotion that we all feel at times. It can become a problem if it is too extreme, occurs at inappropriate times, or lasts too long. Anger can be just a simple irritation with something. At the other extreme, it can result in hysterical shouting, screaming and lashing out. Anger can often have a negative impact on our relationships and our work. It can also change the way that we feel about ourselves. We might tend to blame other people or a particular situation for our anger. Often we feel angry when we feel let down in some way or denied of something that we feel entitled to.
Physical feelings are experienced when your body reacts to stress, fear or anxiety. These symptoms are often referred to as the 'fight or flight' response. This reaction quickly and helpfully prepares the body for action. It prepares us to either protect against or escape danger.
· Making our heart beat faster - to supply more blood to our muscles.
· Producing more sweat - to cool us down.
· Tensing our muscles - getting them ready for action.
· Taking deeper and quicker breaths - to supply oxygen to our muscles.
· Shutting down body functions that aren't needed at the time e.g. digestion.
· Racing thoughts - quickly narrowing the available options to make a quick response.
In the past such a reaction would have offered us some protection. Preparing us to react quickly in case of predators, and aiding survival as we hunted and gathered food. These days we do not depend so much upon running or fighting as we negotiate difficult circumstances. The symptoms described above are therefore less helpful. They may even end up being quite confusing. Threats like money problems, difficulties at work, unhelpful staff or rude drivers do not require such an extreme physical reaction. These symptoms are not dangerous in themselves. In many ways it is a useful response, but at the wrong time. We need not fear the fight or flight reaction. It is our body's healthy protection system. Understanding this can help you to manage the physical symptoms. You need not worry about them or feel that you need to respond or react. You can allow them to pass, as they will do quite quickly.
What causes anger problems?
There may be certain situations which are more likely to trigger an angry reaction from you. Being exposed to a particular scenario or environment might put you on high alert. For example, some people find that they are much more likely to become angry whilst driving.
Our interpretation and thoughts about a situation can result in an angry outburst. Especially how we perceive the intentions of other people and the potential consequences to ourselves. Situations in which we feel wronged in some way can be particularly difficult. Also where an injustice has been done that we feel is unacceptable. Our understanding of anger may also influence our reaction. Our beliefs about anger can change the way that we express or control our anger. For example, if we consider that anger must be expressed and not 'bottled up'. We may not have considered making attempts to manage emotions in a more appropriate and sensitive way.
You might find it difficult to sit with and tolerate frustration. This may be due to your social experiences. Also, what you have come to consider as being normal and acceptable behaviour. You may not have had opportunities to learn effective ways of managing and expressing emotions. A pattern of angry behaviour can build up. This can become more and more difficult to overcome.
In reality it is likely that a combination of all these factors influence someone's anger. However, in some ways it is less important to know what causes anger, and more important to know what stops us moving past it.
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.
There may be consequences to angry behaviour; both costs and benefits. Many people recognise that angry behaviour can achieve short-term gain. For example, getting your own way, or having others respect your status. It can also be associated with significant long-term costs, such as damaged relationships. Considering these for yourself might encourage a change or convince you that you need to take action.
When looking more closely at what prevents us from overcoming anger problems, it becomes clear that our behaviour, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations all interact and combine to keep our problems with anger going.