Emotionally charged people do stupid things – that’s a simple fact of life. We've all done it, haven't we – said or done something really daft because we were scared, passionate or angry. That’s OK in itself, as anger is an ancient survival mechanism that nature has given us to use in appropriate ways. As we mature, most of us are lucky enough to have learnt the appropriate and proportional reactions to events which would previously have made us angry, but if our guidance systems are damaged in some way our expressions of anger can develop into violent outbursts, which often leave us feeling confused, powerless and out of control. If that way of dealing with stress continues then we are in danger of being ‘stuck’ in an addictive and harmful cycle of anger.
Oddly, our disproportionate reaction to anger is addictive in the same way that any strong expression of emotion can be addictive, but the consequences of an addiction to anger can result in unhappiness, more stress and even death. That addiction can be very strong indeed, as it provides real satisfaction for the perpetrator, and a short-term fix, much like a dose of heroin to a junkie.
When anger kicks in there are several important physiological changes which are worth looking into more deeply. Increased adrenalin, an increase in oxygen supply, a surge in testosterone in males, as well as our bodies being flushed full of cortisol resulting in massive lowering of our immune defences. There are other factors to consider which can lower our anger threshold such as tiredness, ill health, hunger cravings, hormonal changes and dementia. All of these factors can increase stress and increase our readiness to be triggered into an unreasonable outburst of anger.
There are many myths about anger, perhaps the most damaging of which is that it’s best to ‘let it out’ and express it. Well meaning therapists used to encourage angry and frustrated people to punch pillows and express their anger in a very physical way, but we now know that this simply provides a very temporary relief from symptoms of anger whilst really fuelling the next outburst.
We can only suffer from anger rages if our innate guidance system is damaged and we are misusing the tools we have been given to meet our emotional needs, so to be successful in treating the cause any anger management programme must include practical help in designing and planning a life that works and which offers healthy balanced ways of meeting the emotional needs of each individual.
Remember, anger seems to come from nowhere, almost as an automatic response so it is unlikely we can be released from anger using logic and rational thought, but what we can do is to give our bodies and minds a fighting chance by learning and reprogramming ourselves to act in more appropriate ways.
Nature provides us with a wonderful tool to discharge unexpressed anger through our dreams, where we dream in metaphors to unload that anger, painlessly in the night. Of the many tools we have to help us avoid explosive and dangerous outbursts of anger perhaps the best is to find a way of relaxing which suits us. From breathing in a certain way to progressive relaxation there are many methods of lowering the body’s baseline arousal. Finding ways to practice mindfulness, either through meditation or simply being absorbed in an activity, can greatly help relaxation.
We often hear people talking about anger which they've carried with them for many years, but we now know that anger is not a commodity, and it does not build up over a period of time. In fact, what they are doing is constantly recharging the anger by rehearsing the events in their mind, and replaying their frustrated imaginary response to the initial event which caused the anger. Anybody can improve their performance at anything by constantly repeating and rehearsing it, and the same applies to anger.
We also now fully understand why that anger is so often aimed at those we love and to whom we are closest, and steps must be taken to stop that cycle of repetition before it is passed on to our children and it becomes their ‘normal.’
With the Better app, gain a deep understanding of your own real emotional needs, find out where your needs are being met, but importantly discover the ways in which you can better your wellbeing, your health and your peace.