Anger is an emotional response related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been threatened. Often it indicates when one’s basic boundaries are violated. Some have a learned tendency to react to anger through retaliation. Anger may be utilized effectively when utilized to set boundaries or escape from dangerous situations. Sheila Videbeck describes anger as a normal emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceived provocation. Raymond Novaco of UC Irvine, who since 1975 has published a plethora of literature on the subject, stratified anger into three modalities: cognitive (appraisals), somatic-affective (tension and agitations), and behavioral (withdrawal and antagonism). William DeFoore, an anger-management writer, described anger as a pressure cooker: we can only apply pressure against our anger for a certain amount of time until it explodes.
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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. While many philosophers and writers have warned against the spontaneous and uncontrolled fits of anger, there has been disagreement over the intrinsic value of anger. The issue of dealing with anger has been written about since the times of the earliest philosophers, but modern psychologists, in contrast to earlier writers, have also pointed out the possible harmful effects of suppressing anger. Displays of anger can be used as a manipulation strategy for social influence.
Effects of anger:
Anger occurs in an area of the brain called the amygdala. In a quarter of a second it releases the chemicals arginine-vasopressin, dopamine, noradrenalin, and corticotropin-releasing hormone and lowers serotonin levels. These chemicals make our bodies ready for a “fight or flight” reaction. The heart rate and blood pressure go up, pupils dilate and sweating occurs. Almost immediately, the blood supply to the frontal lobe of the brain increases. It reacts, releasing other chemicals like serotonin. As its levels rise, reason sets in and higher functions take over. Angry reactions are suppressed.
There are two types of anger : Passive anger and Aggressive anger. These two types of anger have some characteristic symptoms:
Passive anger: Passive anger can be expressed in the following ways:
*Dispassion, such as giving someone the cold shoulder or a fake smile, looking unconcerned or “sitting on the fence” while others sort things out, dampening feelings with substance abuse, overreacting, 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.
*Evasiveness, such as turning one’s back in a crisis, avoiding conflict, not arguing back, becoming phobic.
*Defeatism, 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.
*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.
*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.
*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.
*Self-blame, such as apologizing too often, being overly critical, inviting criticism.
Aggressive anger: The symptoms of aggressive anger are:
*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.
*Destructiveness, such as destroying objects as in vandalism, harming animals, destroying a relationship, reckless driving, substance abuse.
*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.
*Hurtfulness, such as physical violence, including sexual abuse and rape, verbal abuse, biased or vulgar jokes, breaking confidence, using foul language, ignoring people’s feelings, willfully discriminating, blaming, punishing people for unwarranted deeds, labeling others.
*Manic behavior, such as speaking too fast, walking too fast, working too much and expecting others to fit in, driving too fast, reckless spending.
*Selfishness, such as ignoring others’ needs, not responding to requests for help, queue jumping.
*Threats, such as frightening people by saying how one could harm them, their property or their prospects, finger pointing, fist shaking, wearing clothes or symbols associated with violent behaviour, tailgating, excessively blowing a car horn, slamming doors.
*Unjust blaming, such as accusing other people for one’s own mistakes, blaming people for your own feelings, making general accusations.
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.
*Vengeance, such as being over-punitive, refusing to forgive and forget, bringing up hurtful memories from the past.
People can “feel the heat” as anger builds up in the body. Three responses are possible at this point. The emotion can be vented out, suppressed or attempts can be made to calm down. Expressing anger to a superior or an authority figure may not be the wisest path.
Suppression of anger, especially if the aggravation is continuous and long term, can have negative effects. The blood pressure can go up, it can precipitate a stroke or heart attack and it can result in overeating and obesity with its attendant problems or depression.
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. For instance, if a person’s car is damaged, they will feel angry if someone else did it (e.g. another driver rear-ended it), but will feel sadness instead if it was caused by situational forces (e.g. a hailstorm) or guilt and shame if they were personally responsible (e.g. he crashed into a wall out of momentary carelessness).
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 the cause of their anger 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. Anger can be of multicausal origin, some of which may be remote events, but people rarely find more than one cause for their anger. According to Novaco, “Anger experiences are embedded or nested within an environmental-temporal context. Disturbances that may not have involved anger at the outset leave residues that are not readily recognized but that operate as a lingering backdrop for focal provocations (of anger).” According to Encyclopædia Britannica, an internal infection can cause pain which in turn can activate anger.
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 one study, test subjects primed to feel angry felt less likely to suffer heart disease, and more likely to receive a pay raise, compared to fearful people. This tendency can manifest in retrospective thinking as well: in a 2005 study, angry subjects said they thought the risks of terrorism in the year following 9/11 in retrospect were low, compared to what the fearful and neutral subjects thought.
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.
Unlike other negative emotions like sadness and fear, angry people are more likely to demonstrate correspondence bias – the tendency to blame a person’s behavior more on his nature than on his circumstances. They tend to rely more on stereotypes, and pay less attention to details and more attention to the superficial. In this regard, anger is unlike other “negative” emotions such as sadness and fear, which promote analytical thinking.
An angry person tends to anticipate other events that might cause him anger. She/he will tend to rate anger-causing events (e.g. being sold a faulty car) as more likely than sad events (e.g. a good friend moving away).
A person who is angry tends to place more blame on another person for his misery. This can create a feedback, as this extra blame can make the angry man angrier still, so he in turn places yet more blame on the other person.
When people are in a certain emotional state, they tend to pay more attention to, or remember, things that are charged with the same emotion; so it is with anger. For instance, if you are trying to persuade someone that a tax increase is necessary, if the person is currently feeling angry you would do better to use an argument that elicits anger (“more criminals will escape justice”) than, say, an argument that elicits sadness (“there will be fewer welfare benefits for disabled children”). Also, unlike other negative emotions, which focus attention on all negative events, anger only focuses attention on anger-causing events.
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.
To control anger:
Seneca addresses the question of mastering anger in three parts: 1. how to avoid becoming angry in the first place 2. how to cease being angry and 3. how to deal with anger in others.
Calming techniques have to be learnt, as they do not come naturally. As soon as you feel your heart pounding in anger, count mentally to 10 before retorting verbally or physically. This gives time for the frontal lobe to counter the amygdala. At the same time take a few deep breaths. Sometimes a word like peace or shanti repeated mentally several times can help with control. Yoga and meditation are time-tested ancient techniques.
When intense anger takes over, you can either leave the scene (probably an appropriate and safe response), or respond with physical or verbal aggression. If serotonin levels are low, unreasonable anger and aggression take over.
Standing before a mirror and looking at yourselves, may reduce the anger and sometimes taking a shower also reduces anger.
Logic defeats anger. Considering and analysing occurrences can often defuse anger. Listening to the other person, thinking things through, walking in the other man’s shoes, are all practical ways to tackle the problem of anger.
Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, running, cycling or swimming for 40 minutes or more a day has profound effects on physical and psychological make up. Chemicals are released from the muscles and these elevate serotonin levels. Anger does occur in people who exercise regularly, but the chemicals released by the body tend to put a “brake” on violent, irrational anger.
Cognitive behavioral affective therapy for anger:
A new integrative approach to anger treatment has been formulated by Ephrem Fernandez (2010) Termed CBAT, for cognitive behavioral affective therapy, this treatment goes beyond conventional relaxation and reappraisal by adding cognitive and behavioral techniques and supplementing them with affective techniques to deal with the feeling of anger. The techniques are sequenced contingently in three phases of treatment: prevention, intervention, and postvention. In this way, people can be trained to deal with the onset of anger, its progression, and the residual features of anger.