“GET OUT you f***ing bastard!!! If you ever show your slimy shit face around here again, I’ll put a bullet through that Cromagnon skull of yours F***ing asshole!!” Large caliber shots ring out over angry, yelling voices. “Put the gun down, you stupid bitch, or you’re gonna shoot yourself. Get your fat ass back in the kitchen and make me another marguerita. Then put that school girl back on and I’ll teach you a thing or two about assholes. F***ing bitch!“
Anger is not an emotion. It is a secondary reaction to a primary emotion such as hurt, fear, or insecurity. When people become angry, they no longer wish to be susceptible to such feelings. Anger helps us feel more powerful in situations within which we would otherwise feel weak and vulnerable. For example, if our partner says something that hurts our feelings, and we no longer feel safe, because we are afraid of getting hurt again; we might become angry in an effort to take control of the situation and push them away. Remember, when negative emotions occur, the brain shifts into survival mode and operates on emotions and instincts alone until it believes the peril has passed. These instincts include fight, flight, or freeze. Anger parallels the fight response to real or perceived danger. So, the first step toward resolving anger; after confirming that we are safe; is to trace it back to the underlying emotion (e.g. hurt, fear, or insecurity). Once we have become aware of what we are really feeling, and why; we can effectively resolve what happened and our reactions to it. This may involve taking steps to protect ourselves from real threats like domestic violence; or it may mean taking responsibility for over-reacting to perceived peril generated by distorted perceptions deriving from unresolved issues such as victimization. Whatever the case, when we follow our anger back to its source, ferret out the feeling (e.g. hurt, fear, or insecurity), find its origin (e.g. real or perceived threat), determine the truth in the situation (e.g. threat was real or it was imagined), and take appropriate action (e.g. protection from danger or taking responsibility for over-reacting); we can let these feelings go, shift out of survival mode, and return to a higher, broader form of truth. In our opening example, it seems like the girl with the gun is afraid, and the guy with the glass is insecure. Both become angry to counterbalance the vulnerability of these emotions. YIKES!
Anger Turned Awareness
Now that we understand the root dynamics underlying anger, we can take another step into the truth. In a nutshell, when we experience negative emotions in response to another person, place, or thing; in the absence of a real threat; we are being prompted to take an honest look inside. The negative emotion we believe we are experiencing because of something else is, in truth, a mirror reflection of something within us that we feel this way about. So, if we feel anger toward a nosy neighbor who gossips about us, watches us for entertainment, and intrudes upon our privacy and peace; then we can reduce this anger down to a vulnerable emotion (e.g. hurt, fear, or insecurity), and then link it to its origin within. If the anger we feel really represents guilt and fear; such as guilt resulting from our own nosiness which generates a fear of rejection; then this may be why the neighbor’s telescopic schnozola gives birth to our anger. This does not mean that we want to ignore our rights, preferences, or priorities; it simply means that if a situation generates a strong negative emotion like this, then it points to something inside that we want to understand and overcome. Doing so will make it easier for us to deal effectively with such situations (having removed the anger or fears of rejection) (we can more easily set limits with the neighbor based on calmness, clarity, and truth).
From Anger to Motivation
There are numerous ways to deal with the prevention, interruption, or resolution of angry episodes. Understanding what anger is (and is not), an accurate awareness of its inner origins, and acceptance of the truth of our emotions; will help regardless of the point of our discovery (before, during, or after an angry episode). When realizing that our anger is intended to help us grow; if we are unable to prevent it with meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, empathic reflection, thought tracking, or time outs; then we can accept it as a wise and welcomed guest. If it has already happened, then we cannot stop it; but we can use its occurrence as motivation to grow and change. Here is a practical method for reducing anger based on the neuroscience of motivation.
Photo Credit: The Telegraph