Understanding Anger: How to Manage a Powerful Emotion

Last year you may have seen the disturbing video of ESPN reporter, Britt McHenry, belittling and berating a tow-truck company employee on that company’s surveillance camera. It was unsettling to see a successful, and very privileged, young broadcaster treating someone with so much less socioeconomic status with such disrespectful disdain. However, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we all have had moments in which we have behaved poorly with others, and maybe even demonstrated similarly ugly behavior.

You know the feeling. It's that rage you get when someone cuts you off on the highway; you just want to floor it and flip the bird. Anger is a corrosive emotion that can run off with your mental and physical health. So do you hold it in? Or do you let it all out? Anger doesn't dissipate just because you unleash it. Some insight into why we have it and how it works can help you better manage this raw emotion.

To respond effectively to anger, one needs to increase the comfort level around angry feelings. One can increase awareness of inaccurate ideas about anger and replace them with factual concepts about this powerful emotional response.

8 Misleading Ideas About Anger in Society Today

1. Anger is not an accusation.

Although anger is not an accusation, it is often accompanied by an accusation.  The accusation is the angry person's interpretation of the external event.  Anger can occur and be expressed without any accusations when all parties take responsibility for their own internal reactions.

2. Anger is not a sin, and a person who feels angry is not bad because of it.

Some people believe that experiencing anger means they are not living a Christian life. When you have the time, Google "Jesus and Anger" and you would be very surprised how often Jesus was angry.

3. Anger is not a behavior - often people confuse anger with aggression.

Aggression is a behavior and it is one way some may choose to express anger.  Anger is not violence.  Violence is a descriptive category of behaviors.  Your difficulty in responding to others has to do with the behaviors they may use to express their angry feelings.

4. Anger is not a weapon.

Many parents (without realizing it) may set their children up to fear anger in the same way they might fear a weapon, such as: 1) the child does something that the parent does not like, 2) the parent feels angry and expresses it by physically hurting or verbally berating the child, 3) this behavior is repeated and the child quickly learns to make the anger-pain connection, 4) from then on, the parent wields anger as a weapon of intimidation.  Another similar inaccurate impression of anger is the expectation that angry feelings result in punishment.

5. Anger is not an evaluation of your worth as a person.

Because another human being is angry about something you have done, does not mean you are worthless, stupid, unimportant, unlovable or lazy.  Anger is an internal reaction and another person's internal reaction has nothing to do with your rightness or wrongness as a human being.  It has to do with the chemicals being produced by the body because of the way one has interpreted events around them.

6. Anger is not a GIGANTIC mistake.

Nature did not err when it gave people a wide array of feelings - including anger.  Every basic emotion was built into the human species to survive and flourish (fight or flight).  Anger has helped humans since primitive times as the feeling state that directs us to fight when attacked by those bigger, stronger and faster animals.  Adrenaline produced by anger temporarily makes people stronger and faster, leveling the odds of combat.

7. Anger is not hot boiling water, and people are not teapots.

This alludes to the concept that anger is stored up and added to on a regular basis until it expands to such large proportions that it has to be vented or it will overflow. 1) Anger cannot be stored - anger is an internal reaction created by an overproduction of adrenaline and if a person stayed high on adrenalin he/she would be agitated, unable to sleep, and close to crazy within three days.  2) As a teapot, each outburst of anger would lower the anger level and with each outburst would be reduced until eventually almost gone.  According to the teapot theory, these are the people who ought to have spent all their anger, yet they are the ones who keep on aggressing.  3)  Anger needs to be vented to be reduced.  Anger was not given to humans so they could vent.  Venting fulfills no survival purpose.  As with every emotion, anger serves to sustain and enhance life.  Anger accomplishes this by providing the ability and strength to defend through physical altercation (fight off dinosaurs).  When the altercation is finished, the angry feelings recede, to be reproduced when necessitated by another danger.

8. Anger is not a chronic illness that needs to be managed.

Anger is an internal reaction whose main function is to defend the human being.  It does not need to be managed.  Instead, anger arousal needs to be identified when it occurs and used effectively, within the given social context, to fulfill its protective function.

Here Are the FACTS About ANGER:

  • Anger is a survival mechanism - anger prepares the body for battle.
  • Anger has many cultural and social functions. Anger acts as a social regulator because it is considered the appropriate feeling to have when the norms, mores, and laws of a culture are violated.
  • Anger functions as a social bond. When a group of people focus their anger collectively on an outside group, individual, or situation, the shared anger provides a connection for the members of the group.
  • Anger provides motivation when properly channeled. Anger is the body's energizer!
  • Anger is a method of communication. Anger always carries a message.
  • Anger furnishes psychological protection. Anger can be a means of physical protection and emotional protection.

So, who is responsible for what?  Well, anger expressed in a healthy manner usually requires the simplest of responses.  When two people have an angry encounter, neither, both, or either person may be responsible for the event that initiates the feeling process. From the moment the triggering event is over, who is responsible for what component of the feeling process is clear-cut.

The angry individual is responsible for the thought, emotion, and the behavior areas


The person responding to the anger is accountable for only one piece of the process - the reaction. 

No one makes anyone else feel angry.  Anger is an internal, chemical reaction that the person has learned to label.  It is their reaction and how they behave is their decision.  Emotionally healthy people intuitively know this and respond responsibly.

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