Anger is a natural, primary emotion experienced by us all at times. When controlled and correctly focused it can be used positively, channelling the energy to take control, to fight back or stand our ground. It can arise from frustrations, obstacles and threats, our bodies kicking in the ‘fight or flight’ response that was so important to survival in the past.
Anger can also follow a bereavement – with ourselves and others for not saving them or even with the person who died (perhaps leading to guilt, not wishing ‘speaking ill of the dead.)’ Perhaps anger and violence were modelled by parents or care givers in inappropriate ways and we naturally followed their example.
Just as it is natural to experience sadness over past events and fear for the future, the place for anger is in the here and now. When these emotions are experienced in different ways (such as anger for past events, sadness for the future and fear for the present) it can be a signal that something is out of kilter with our lives
Although some are able to release their anger harmlessly then quickly return to normal, we can be socialised in childhood to act differently. Perhaps it was even dangerous to show anger when a child, with grave consequences for doing so. There can be a cultural expectation regarding anger, especially gender based with women expected to be passive and selfless. Rather than give vent to anger at the time we may have been taught to just bottle it up or even attempt to deny its existence. Anger directed inwards however can have a caustic effect, ‘better out than in,’ as the saying goes!
Some have a long fuse, building up a savings account of slights and annoyances until they cannot hold out any longer and let rip, giving some person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time both barrels. Long running issues such as parking problems in a busy street can lead to the last person to park outside a house become the scapegoat for everyone who had been there before. If you experienced oppression yourself and were unable to respond at the time, later events may trigger a sense of injustice if similar behaviour is shown to you, or to others later. Pent up anger may be released and directed against this current oppressor – putting the ‘face’ of the old person on to the new.
Others find they have not so much as a short fuse but a hair trigger and respond to problems or challenges with a knee-jerk, automatic reflex. When the frequency and /or intensity of anger gets in the way regarding health, aims and relationship with others or when poor impulse control leads to violence and crime, then we cannot avoid our responsibility for our actions.
Just as with all therapy, the first step is to acknowledge the issue and decide to take action. There is no one fixed method of treatment, I can quote nine different approaches from Freud on but any solution(s) will depend on an individual’s history and personality as well as (as always) their determination, commitment and willingness to recognise the location of their anger (we make ourselves angry by how we react to others and to situations, no one or thing makes us angry.) Taking ownership can be the first step, realising that the solution resides in ourselves rather than others.
Follow on from this it is possible then to get to know and understand our anger – when and why do we get angry, can we avoid tensions building up, spot, understand and avoid triggers and find ways to vent and burn off our emotions without harm to self or others.
Rather than identifying anger itself as the problem, as well as learning to control it we can also seek the underlying cause. If our anger is coming from a frustration or block in our life, the solution may come from greater understanding, improved communications and relationships, stress relief or even medical intervention for a physical complaint. Therapy can be a great help when seeking to understand ourselves.
Talking to someone impartial can also help a lot.