What is anger?
Anger is a natural human emotion, just like happiness, sadness and grief. Emotions are simply the feelings you get when something happens to you. Anger is the emotion you get when you think you have been treated unfairly for example.
When you get angry, your body releases a whole load of chemicals into your brain and they change the way your body is working. These changes can be:
- making your heart pump faster
- short ‘panting’ breathing
- higher body temperature and ‘sweating’
- shaking or trembling.
These changes are your body’s way of preparing you for ‘fight or flight’. They give you extra strength and alertness so you can protect yourself by either running away, or standing up to fight for your rights or personal safety, which is what people had to do in the past. Now, when something goes wrong for you, you still have those body changes but most times it isn’t a situation where you can either physically fight or run away so you have all those changes and no easy way to get rid of the feelings.
Anger is closely related to other emotions like fear and hurt or disappointment or frustration, but is sometimes the only emotion you choose to show (sometimes you don’t even realize you have the others). For example, imagine an iceberg. Above the water there is one small part of the iceberg that shows, this could be seen as anger. Most of the iceberg is actually under the water and these are the other emotions linked to anger like fear, hurt, embarrassment, sadness etc. Next time you are angry, stop and ask yourself some things like: Why you are really angry? Is it because you fear something? Do you feel you have been treated unfairly? Did someone say or do something that embarrassed you? Did something hurt your feelings? Did you feel a lack of respect for you and your needs? Does it remind you of another experience where you were hurt? Does that scare you?
Expressing anger – helpful
In spite of the way anger is often viewed it can be a helpful emotion in our lives. Anger can help you by:
- driving you to reach your goals, handle emergencies and solve problems
- helping you express stress and tension
- communicating to others what you are feeling
- motivating change towards social justice.
For some of us just staying alive is a full time job, anger has had an important part to play in survival. When people see their safety being threatened by enemies, anger releases a flood of chemicals into the brain. These chemicals provide extra strength to:
- run away
- to stand and fight off attackers
- help focus during battle
- reduce the ability to feel pain.
These reactions are part of the way your body reacts to protect itself and help to react to dangerous or threatening situations.
Anger is also useful to:
- notice you have been treated unfairly or been emotionally attacked by others
- help you protect your emotional well being
- allow you to stand up for yourself and your rights
- show disapproval when someone breaks social rules or ‘norms’. Anger communicates a message that some behavior is not OK, eg, you might get angry at when Joe “beats up his girlfriend” because you see violence in this manner as not OK
- lead to changes in the way our society runs. When a group of people get angry over the same things, they will often join together to change the situation, eg, marches against racism or protests against war.
Note: Your anger can be useful but only if you express it in a useful way. It is important that you don’t hurt yourself or other people or damage property.
Expressing anger – hurtful
Some people believe anger always leads to an explosion. This can result in frequent rages of violence or even child abuse. Other people believe they “should” cover up their anger because it is an “unacceptable” emotion to show. Anger used in these ways can become negative, destructive and can harm yourself, other important people or important things in your life.
If you frequently lose your temper you may find it can:
- be hard to keep friends, partners, family or employment
- end up making both yourself and other people miserable
- hurt yourself or others (often loved ones)
- lead to loneliness and unhappiness.
- lead to violence – this is illegal, you may be charged with assault, or other crimes.
Anger can take over your life!
If you feel low or have little control in your life, you sometimes use anger to manipulate or make others afraid of you. This can give you a sense of strength, power and control over the people around you. Using anger this way can hurt other people and yourself. It makes it difficult to keep friends or other relationships and can lead to feelings of guilt or shame. These feelings can lead to low self-esteem, and increased anger and loneliness. It becomes a vicious circle! It is never OK to use anger to hurt people in any way!
On the other hand, when people ignore their anger, it has nowhere else to go, and can often turn upon its owner.
When you bottle up your anger you may:
- find this method only works for a short period of time
- have depression, low self-esteem or anxiety
- use drugs and alcohol to “cover it up”
- feel ugly, horrible and hate yourself
- hurt or punish yourself
- explode – often over little things that wouldn’t normally worry you
- aim it at people who had nothing to do with the original cause of the anger
- let anger take over your life!
These strategies don’t allow anger to be dealt with in a healthy or useful way. This means anger continues to lurk like an emotional monster, waiting for opportunities to hurt you or someone else.