What is anger:
Anger is an emotion, a feeling; it is nothing more. Feelings can be described in one word. Other feelings include happiness, sadness, joy, jealousy, resentment, excitement.
Emotions and feelings are influenced by thoughts. Those thoughts are inputs from your senses; those of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste.
Other emotions include fear, love, desire and several others. As such, anger should be understood for what it is - a natural function. Anger normally happens as a result of a stimulus, although sometimes that stimulus is not recognised.
How individuals respond to a stimulus is a decision, or a reaction. As a decision, it can be learnt, changed and improved; as a reaction it can be understood. Counselling can help bring awareness and reality to the decision of what occurances will stimulate anger, then what actions will happen as a result.
Anger has natural uses. It is part of the "fight, flight or freeze" syndrome, assisting the body to have quicker and more effective responses to danger, therefore increases chances of survival.
The physical symptoms of anger and stress are similar. Breathing and heartbeat increase, to provide more oxygen to the muscles. The nervous system adapts to reduce the reactions to pain. Tunnel vision is increased, as is tunnel thinking - doing mental arithmatic is difficult when angry.
Unfortunately, modern life can generate the same unconcious feelings of reacting to survival risk when there is no real danger - it does not differentiate easily.
Each feeling, or emotion, prepares the body for a different course of action. The physical, psychological and behaviour aspects of emotions cannot be separated.
Anger emotion prepares the body for a “fight, flight or freeze” situation. The body prepares for that by increasing heart rate, breathing heavier, narrowing the peripheral vision to focus on the danger and other bodily functions to prepare for the fight or flight.
A simple example, of when a person may wake up late and its repercussions:
- Missing a habitual breakfast, or morning cup of coffee.
- Setting out for work later than normal, with consequent additional transport delays.
- Arriving late to work, boss being annoyed which you reciprocate to.
Owning your anger:
Some people do not accept that they own, or should own, their anger. They may use an expression, such as " this happened - it made me angry". Does an event really have the ability to "make" anybody do something; as if they suddenly become a robot.
How would it be to feel that you do have control of your own emotions? To have that responsibility, as well as the ownership, of your emotions.
A person may say "I know if I love somebody", "I like chocolate", "I don't like cold". However, some people may say "that makes me angry". So they are being selective in the emotions which they accept as their responsibility.
Counselling works towards helping people accept that they can have control, as well as responsibility, for all their emotions - including anger.
Types of Anger:
“If I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t be angry”.
“My working hard is not noticed”. This means I’m not important to others. I’m upset about that.
Expressions of anger cover other feelings such as sadness, resentment, fear, shame.
“Things should be different, better. That upsets me, I’m angry at that”.
Avoiding anger, by using other behaviour or substance. “A drink calms me”, “I need to walk it off”.
Why anger happens:
Anger occurs because a person feels that their values, core beliefs or goals are being threatened, discounted or invalidated in some way.
- Values: E.g. Honesty; caring; integrity; reliability.
- Core beliefs: E.g. The family is important; I am the provider; I know best in most circumstances; honesty is the best policy.
- Goals: E.g. Objectives of a person’s life; health and fitness; wealth;providing for one’s family.
Causes of anger:
- Failure to achieve personal goals. E.g. Turning up late, not having a desired job.
- Invasion of personal boundaries. “I don’t want you to speak to that person”.
- Self defence anger. “It makes me mad when I feel I cannot do my job well”.
- Shadow protection. E.g. Being ashamed of one’s accent, then meeting somebody who talks in the same way who is successful.
Is anger wrong or harmful?
Not necessarily. Anger is a natural emotion of animals, it serves a good purpose in many situations.
Anger demonstrated in an inappropriate way or in an inappropriate situation often has a negative result.
Negative Thinking Errors:
Realising and understanding “thinking errors” can lead to an awareness of what can be improved in a person’s life.
Examples of negative thinking errors may include:
All black or white thinking – no grey. E.g. It’s ok when I make no mistakes; I’m bad when I make any mistakes.
- Personalising and self-blame for events:
A person blames themselves for an event, even if they cannot actually be to blame.
The future is predicted in a negative way, all future events are seen as being disastrous.
Any positive aspect of a message is ignored, whilst any negative aspect is emphasised.
- Should / must / ought statements:
Moral imperative, such as should / must/ ought to are being used as overall demands.
E.g. Spilling a cup of coffee, then concluding “everything is going wrong today”.
- Concluding the negative result:
E.g. You end up by yourself on a bus, then concluding that nobody wants to be with you.
Exaggeration of negative aspects. E.g. Forgetting a name, then concluding “I’m useless at relationships”.
Assuming that negative emotions are an accurate guide to reality: “I feel that all dislike me, therefore everybody hates me”.
Attaching a label to an event. E.g. Failing an exam means “I’m a failure”.
Taking an event personally, when not appropriate. E.g. “My wife would be happy if I were a better husband”.
Believing that one can know another’s thought. E.g. “you’re just saying that to be nice”.
Predicting the future. E.g. “It’s bad now, so it will always be awful”.
(Adapted from A. Crowe 2009.)
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