How many times have you heard people say, “Oh I’m not an angry person but I hate it when people mess up with me,” or “I hate getting angry for no reason, especially when it is not my fault.” A lot, right? I mean I say it almost whenever I am angry. That is the thing about anger, it is something we just do not want to feel. It makes us feel uneasy, decomposed, and the balance is disturbed but I think to channelize this feeling and to make the most of it, we need to acknowledge and accept these emotions. Not just that, we need to understand where the anger is coming from, what happens in your head, your physiological responses, and why it is something that we can still pass on to our future generation.
Anger is one of the very basic emotions we feel. It could be due to a lot of reasons, sometimes due to minor reasons such as the example that my friend gave me, “I hate it when people do not close the door after they leave,” and I could relate to that, (giggles). Sometimes it can be due to very general things - problems we encounter every day, such as getting into a tiff with our friends or getting into a tussle with our family. Sometimes it could be against very specific issues such as, “I hate it when I get a wet line against my shirt when I lean in against the counter of a public restroom,” or when in the TV show “Friends” Monica gets angry when people did not put the caps at the back of their pens, (giggles). Sometimes problems can be against significant issues, which are big, global problems such as anger against racism, unfair treatment against minorities, climate change, etc. In the words of Ryan Martin, a researcher who studies anger, he says that “Just as fear alerts the brain against danger, anger alerts us towards injustice.”
Moving on, let us get to the question of - why do we get mad? Why do some things never stop striking a nerve?
This is a story of a young lady who would always be jittery, would be venting out, getting vexed at little issues and came in to vent out her anger over her family. She would often throw tantrums (in and outside the session, i.e., in front of her family) and had a fit of raging anger in her. Anything and everything seemed to make her angry, frustrated, unheard and misunderstood. The therapy session at EduPsych felt like the only safe space where she could truly be herself. So, she took to opening up to our EduPsych Expert and narrated about incidents that felt uncalled for and unfair to her. It seemed to her family that she was either anti-social, anxious or plain disobedient. To her, she was a victim - and all she was left with was to look back in anger. Her sessions sounded like a lot of screaming, heart pouring, crying, rantings, and an appeal to get vindicated.
This clearly could have been written off as a case of anger management. But, at EduPsych, our Experts are client-centric and their eclectic approach helps in better diagnosis and treatment. Hence, listening and understanding, not only what was been spoken, but also what was projected came in handy in identifying the root cause of this client's problem. After a few sessions, she was diagnosed with depression. It was her mental illness that was causing her to use anger as her voice.
So, what do we understand here? I would encourage you to develop an understanding for your understanding before you draw conclusions. This might help you understand the real reason behind anger.
In reference to a Ted-Talk given by the aforementioned researcher, Ryan Martin explains the mechanism of anger and I’d like to share what I learned after watching the video. Why we get mad -- and why it's healthy | Ryan Martin
You get angry due to two reasons:
Provocations: The reasons that provoke anger. These things can be unpleasant in nature, they do not feel valid when our targets are barricaded, things which could have been kept away but we still indulged in them, and overthinking makes us feel weak and vulnerable.
Pre-Anger State: Provocations alone do not make us angry. I mean, think about it, what makes you angry, probably might not make me angry, right? So it is not “what” provokes anger, but the feelings and the things you do which incite the anger. You could be hungry, tired, and anxious. In addition to these feelings, if these provocations occur at the same time, they can have a devastating impact. That is what really makes you angry.
After this stage, we interpret our provocation, we try to make sense of that provocation. We decide if it is good or bad, if the provocation is fair or unfair? For example, if you are late for an interview and there is a lot of traffic ahead, you would probably think that what is happening to you at that moment is clearly unfair and you can miss the interview and someone else might get your job. These are called appraisals. Now what you thought about the provocation is called “primary appraisal” and how you’re going to act on it is known as “secondary appraisal.”
Given below are some cognitive distortions one experiences while feeling angry:
Catastrophizing: Often when we’re angry we say things like “Oh, this is the worst thing that can happen to me,” or when we try to make the worst of things, this is known as catastrophizing. It is one of the primary reactions to anger.
Misattributing causation: When we’re angry, we tend to misattribute the cause of the anger. Remember the times when you were angry, how often did you try to blame others?
Overgeneralizing: Thoughts like “Oh, this always happens to me,” or “I never get what I want,” are very common. We tend to evaluate situations wrongly and we use overly broad language to generalize things.
Demanding-ness: This refers to putting our own needs ahead of the needs of others. This happens because we feel betrayed and some kind of injustice has been done to us.
Inflammatory labeling: Ah, our favorite! Calling people out. We tend to call people out, blame and label them. We assign them with negative labels.
Most of the time these thoughts are irrational and CAN be avoided.
Under physiological responses, the amygdala is activated, and in turn, our sympathetic nervous system starts to function. Our heart rate increases, the digestive system slows down to conserve energy, and that is why our mouth gets dry. Our blood vessels dilate to get blood to the extremities and that is why your face is red when you’re mad.
We can either fight the provocation or avoid the situation. Anger as an emotion is completely valid. What we must work on, is what we do with that anger. We must regulate, channel, listen to, and work upon that anger.