The Grades of Wrath
Oct 28 2013
Ranging from mild annoyance to random rage to fathomless fury, anger is flush with physiological undertones and psychological upheavals
We all know what anger is. We have all felt it, more or less, on a regular basis, whether as a definitive, or fleeting, embodiment of annoyance, or as full-fledged rage. Anger is, in précis, a normal phenomenon. It is also a healthy human emotion. It becomes a dilemma, a difficult-to-handle emotion, or ‘deliciously evil,’ when it gets out of control, or turns vicious. Anger not only leads to problems at work, home and personal relationships, but it also affects one’s quality of life. When you are besieged with anger, it becomes the skin of your thought process too. You now represent the emotional allegory of a cat on a hot tin roof — in other words, a symbol of its erratic and dominant emotional canvas.
Anger varies in intensity — it can range from mild annoyance to rigorous vehemence and fury. Like other emotions, anger is not only flush with physiological and biological undertones and other changes, but also psychological upheavals. You know them, don’t you — elevated heart rate and blood pressure, not to speak of raised levels of power hormones or chemicals, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.
Anger speeds up your heart rate and breathing; it also gives you a whole, new burst of energy. Your blood pressure rises as your blood vessels constrict. The burst of energy also plays an instantaneous protective role. Your body's muscles tense up. Your face may ‘go red’ as increased blood flow enters your limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. Your attention tapers; it also becomes locked onto the object of your anger. You now don’t pay attention to anything else. As your brain’s neurotransmitters trigger an enduring state of arousal, you are now ready to fight.
Anger is also a result of external and internal events. What triggers anger may be a specific person, or situation, for instance, a colleague, or boss, or traffic jam, or cancelled flight. It may also be prompted by worrying, or brooding, spells — this may often relate to one’s personal or career problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events, likewise, can also provoke angry feelings.
We all have an instinctive, natural mode to emote anger — a response that denotes aggression. Anger, juxtaposed by aggression, is, again, a natural, adaptive response to external or internal threats. It is a ‘sortie’ that connotes powerful, aggressive feelings and behaviours. You’d connect it to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response — a biological reaction that allow us to ‘fight’ and ‘defend’ ourselves when we are ‘under the weather,’ or facing danger.
Anger is a basic human instinct — a certain amount of anger is essential to our survival. This does not mean that we can physically ‘put the boot in’ at every object, or lash out at every person that annoys us. Else, there would be no law, social norm, or common sense, because anger would rule the roost. This is also one paramount reason why a multiplicity of conscious and unconscious processes plays a role and helps us to manage our angry feelings. They include expressing, suppressing, and calming actions. Expressing your angry feelings is assertion, not aggression. It is the best, also the most powerful, mode to express anger. The only caveat is one should learn how to make it apparent vis-à-vis what one’s needs are, or how to get them organised, without hurting others. Being assertive does not also imply being pushy, or demanding; it relates to being respectful of yourself and also others. The goal of anger control is aimed to reduce your emotional feelings and physiological arousal that anger provokes.
You can't get rid of, or avoid, things or people that make you fly off the handle, nor can you change them, but you can always learn to control your anger response before it goes out of your hands, or bounds. Anger can be suppressed, converted, or redirected. When anger is suppressed, it can lead to emotional upheavals with psychosomatic overtones. More so, with childhood memories, that emote the Freudian underpinning. This may limit us in some way at the emotional level. The outcome is often a deeply depressed disposition, or resentment, with self-destructive tendencies — the trigger being emotional distress, or bullying, or shame experienced, perhaps, in school, or at home, thanks to a stern teacher, a ‘hounding’ peer, or parent.
When you hold-in your anger, or stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive, your intent inhibits, or curbs, your anger. You convert it into constructive behaviour. The big downside of this proviso and also response, however, is — when you stifle your outward expression, your anger can recoil on yourself. Not a pleasant state. Research evidences that such protracted emotional phases could be the likely trigger for high blood pressure (hypertension), or depression. A study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology quantifies the link between our emotions and heart disease. It underscores the credo that anger and hostility are significantly associated with “more heart problems” in primarily healthy people as well as “a worse outcome for patients already diagnosed with heart disease.”
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When anger is not expressed, it can create other problems, leading to ‘pathological’ expressions —passive aggressive behaviour, or being eternally contemptuous and intimidating. The former relates to getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on. When you see someone who is continually putting others down, finding fault with everything, and making disparaging comments, just think that they have not learned how to usefully express their annoyance. Needless to say, they are most likely to have but too few successful relationships.
Anger control does not mean that you can’t calm down; it actually means that you can calm down from the inside out. The whole idea relates to controlling your outward behaviour, your internal responses, lowering your heart rate, or calming yourself down, while letting go your feelings, or allowing them to subside. When you are unable to control anger, only one thing can ensue — you will be hurting someone or something, be it the paperweight or the tea cup.
One can measure and evaluate the intensity of angry feelings, how inclined you are to be angry at the drop of a thought, and how well you manage it. When you know you have a problem with anger, it is easy to help yourself out to beat the urge. When your anger goes out of control and becomes too hot to handle, you would need professional help — to finding better modes to dealing with the effervescent emotion.
All of us get angry in different ways — one may be like a volcano waiting to erupt too quickly than the average person. Others may not show their anger in a deafening, extravagant manner, but may be persistently petulant and snappy. Sometime ‘easily angered’ people do not always curse and fling things; they may actually be far too withdrawn socially, or brood endlessly. In the process, they may fall sick, or develop systemic illnesses, like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Most people who are easily angered have a low tolerance for frustration— the moment they are prone to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance, they lose the plot. They just can’t take things in their stride. They think that they are at the receiving end of the stick, for no fault. They also think that everything seems unfair — for example, being chastised for a minor gaffe.
Why we get angry has intrigued mankind for aeons. Research suggests that the cause for getting annoyed, or angry, may be genetic or physiological. While some of us are born irritable, touchy, and easily angered, others may derive their anger owing to socio-cultural factors. Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, or not skilled at emotional communication.
Anger is thought to be unconstructive, no less. This is also one reason why we often have the ‘right’ to express anxiety, depression, or other negative emotions, but not ‘voice’ our anger. The outcome is obvious — we just don't get the grip on, or channelise, our anger constructively. Not all mind researchers, psychologists and behavioural therapists are in agreement with the model; most of them dismiss the doctrine as being a licence to ‘rip apart’ others’ sentiments with impunity.
The angry among us may have a tendency to curse, swear, or speak in exceedingly vivid terms — the casing of their thought process reflects their inner deliberation. This often comes in the form of a package, encompassing exaggerated and overly dramatic quips like, “It's rubbish; it's awful; it’s terrible; you messed it up all.” When you are at the receiving end, it is difficult to tell yourself, that “it's frustratingly understandable that I’m upset about it. Yet, it is not the end of the world and getting angry in response is not going to ‘fix it’ anyway."
Anger is laden with emotions, not logic. When justified, anger can swiftly become absurd. While it is agreed that our anger and frustration are caused by valid and unavoidable problems in our lives, not all anger is misplaced. Anger can sometimes be a healthy, natural response to difficulties, as already cited — just like stress and eustress. We are all, paradoxically, born with a strong cultural belief that every problem has a solution, albeit this isn't always the case. We are also told to focus on finding solutions, rather on how to handle and face the problem, be it anger or angst.
You can’t purge anger — it wouldn't be a good idea even if you could. This is because, notwithstanding all our efforts, things will happen to cause you anger anyway, and some of it may be justifiable anger. Life is replete with disappointments, pain or loss, not to speak of the impulsive ‘acts’ of people around you. You can't change them, or situations. What you can do best is change the way you think, or let such events not affect you. This is where managing, or better still, controlling your angry responses can help you turn the tide and enable you to be happy, healthy and wise — in the long run. zz
(The writer is a wellness
physician and author)