Anger can be considered one of the most toxic emotions a person can experience.  It can also be one of the most motivating.  In order to understand how to best manage anger for one’s own life, it helps to understand anger from several different angles.

Michael Potegal and Raymond W. Novaco wrote an essay called A Brief History of Anger.  Some of their key points around anger involved insanity, sin, and manhood.   All of these reasons for anger still exist to some extent in the ways we live even now.

When we say someone is ‘mad with rage’ we know that they are capable of losing control to the point of becoming unpredictable.  It is almost as if they have lost their ability to think about the long-term consequences outside the realm of immediate gratification and impulsive behavior.  Examples of such behavior in popular culture today include: Many characters from Roald Dahl’s books. (Think Matilda’s parents or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) Perry Wright, from Big Little Lies.  Even our president shows signs of impulsive rage.  

In addition to insanity, masculinity still plays a large part in anger.  In some areas of the world (the United States in particular) it is widely acknowledged that anger is one of the only socially acceptable emotions for men to express.  When love is deeply expressed through loyalty in the enormously popular mafia movies, it is usually done so with an undercurrent of violence.  Many women feel that it is not a coincidence that they are not supposed to be angry and therefore are seen as not as ‘funny’ when comedy centers around a masculine culture of anger.

Not all anger is toxic.  Depending on the type of anger, the treatments often vary.  The most extreme type of anger is felt when someone fails to receive what they think they need or must have.

Types of thinking that can lead to dysfunctional anger:

Low frustration intolerance.

We have all seen the child at the grocery store who whines in the check out line, holding up the next customer by nagging for a piece of candy.  We have also all seen the mother who over-reacts, grabbing the child forcefully and perhaps saying nasty things in order to control the child’s behavior.  Generally a low frustration intolerance results from anxiety.  Was the mother going to be seen as incompetent by allowing her child to hold up the entire rest of the line? Was she worried they were not going to have enough time to get the rest of her errands done?  While they may seem like small problems, for someone who is prone to anxiety, they may take on a life of its own.

Expectations that become demands.

This is the ‘should’ behavior that is often seen in perfectionist personalities.  People who ‘should’ be doing one thing or the other most of their lives, are prone to rigid and inflexible thinking.  Most of life does not go according to the exact plan that is proposed.  Instead of placing unreasonable expectations on the world, it is best focus on small attainable goals that are within reach and reasonable.

Rating other people.

This also goes along with expectations and demands.  By labeling others that do not comply with one’s own expectations, they can become bitter and resentful.  “Brat.”  “Spoiled.”  “Moron.”  All of these labels do nothing to move life forward in a direction that is helpful for anyone.

Anger does not have to be a negative thing.  Anger fuels energy and can be a great motivator in life.  The common saying goes: Anger is just the flip side of anxiety.   If someone is incredibly anxious, it can be helpful and even healthy to act out anger.  It is empowering and sometimes necessary when speaking up  does not work.  Without a certain degree of anger, hopelessness can seep through, creating a depression far more dangerous than healthy anger.

If you are struggling with anger, here are some suggestions to help guide you through the uncomfortable experience:

  • Learn how to become self aware of when you are feeling angry.  By understanding the physical feelings in your body, you may understand cognitively before you understand emotionally.
  • Meditation is a widely known tool for controlling anger.  Counting to 10 before responding.  Exhaling for longer than inhaling.  Being able to lie down.  These are all good coping strategies.
  • Documenting your anger on a scale of 1-10 every day is very useful.  This can show you just how big or little of a problem anger is for you.

As with most emotions, if there is no awareness, there is no recovery.