Anger is a basic human emotion that arises in response to perceived threats, challenges, or frustrating situations. It is a natural and adaptive response that serves to protect us and signal that something is wrong or needs attention. Anger can vary in intensity, from mild irritation to intense rage, and can be expressed both internally (through thoughts and feelings) and externally (through behaviors).
Anger is considered a secondary emotion, which means it often masks or covers up other underlying emotions. When people experience certain primary emotions or vulnerabilities, they may respond with anger as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from feeling more vulnerable or exposed.
It's important to recognize that anger can serve as a coping mechanism to protect individuals from experiencing more distressing emotions. However, addressing anger effectively often involves understanding and acknowledging the underlying primary emotions. By doing so, individuals can work through these emotions in healthier ways, leading to more constructive and positive responses to challenging situations. Self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals can be valuable in understanding and managing anger and its underlying emotions effectively. Learning healthy coping strategies and communication skills can help individuals express their emotions in more constructive ways, leading to better relationships and overall well-being.
Anger can have various sources, and it may be influenced by both internal and external factors. Some of the primary emotions that can be hidden underneath anger include:
- Injustice and Unfairness: The underlying primary emotion may be a profound sense of hurt or a desire for fairness and justice. Witnessing or experiencing situations that are perceived as unjust or unfair can trigger anger. Feeling anger in response to perceived injustice often stems from a sense of unfairness or being wronged. The underlying primary emotion may be a profound sense of hurt or a desire for fairness and justice.
- Rejection: When someone feels rejected, the primary emotion underneath their anger might be sadness, loneliness, or a fear of abandonment.
- Embarrassment: Anger can sometimes be a response to feeling embarrassed or humiliated. The primary emotion might be shame or vulnerability.
- Hurt: Anger can be a protective response to feeling hurt or emotionally wounded. The primary emotion may be a deep sense of sadness or emotional pain.
- Betrayal: Feeling betrayed can trigger anger as a way to defend oneself against further harm. The primary emotion might be hurt, disappointment, or a sense of broken trust.
- Frustration: When individuals encounter obstacles, challenges, or setbacks in achieving their goals, they may feel frustrated, leading to anger.
- Provocation: Feeling threatened, attacked, or provoked by others can elicit an angry response.
- Past Trauma: Individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives may carry unresolved anger related to their past experiences.
- Fear: In some cases, anger can be a defense mechanism in response to underlying feelings of fear or vulnerability.
- Feeling Disrespected: Being treated disrespectfully or having one's boundaries violated can lead to anger.
- Helplessness: Feeling powerless or unable to control a situation may result in anger.
Neurophysiology of Anger: The brain plays a crucial role in the experience of anger. Anger is associated with the activation of certain brain regions and the release of specific neurotransmitters. Some key aspects of the neurophysiology of anger include:
- Amygdala: The amygdala, located deep within the brain, plays a significant role in processing emotions, including anger. It helps evaluate potential threats and initiates the body's stress response.
- Prefrontal Cortex: The prefrontal cortex is involved in decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation. When anger is triggered, this area may become less active, leading to a reduced ability to control impulsive reactions.
- Neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine are associated with anger. Dopamine can increase aggression and impulsivity, while norepinephrine activates the body's "fight or flight" response.
Parts of the Body and Disease: Prolonged and unmanaged anger can have various effects on the body and may contribute to the development or exacerbation of certain health conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular Issues: Chronic anger can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Weakened Immune System: Prolonged anger can suppress the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections, and autoimmune disorders.
- Digestive Problems: Stress and anger can impact the digestive system, leading to issues such as indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's, and Ulcerative Colitis (IBD).
Quality of Life, Wellness, and Isolation: Uncontrolled anger and the presence of chronic anger-related conditions can significantly impact an individual's quality of life and overall wellness. Frequent angry outbursts, unresolved anger, and social isolation due to anger issues can lead to:
- Strained Relationships: Frequent anger outbursts can damage relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
- Psychological Distress: Chronic anger may contribute to anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
- Reduced Job Performance: Anger-related problems can affect job performance and career opportunities.
- Social Isolation: Persistent anger issues may lead individuals to isolate themselves, leading to feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
Feeling Stuck and Displaced Anger: Sometimes, individuals may experience feelings of being stuck or unable to move past certain anger-related experiences. Displaced anger is when an individual redirects their anger onto a target that may not be the actual source of their frustration. This can happen when the real source of anger feels threatening or is not immediately accessible for expression. Addressing and processing displaced anger often involves identifying and understanding the root causes of the anger and finding healthy ways to express and cope with these emotions.
Treating anger and learning effective anger management tools and techniques are essential for improving emotional well-being and overall quality of life. Here are some strategies to help with anger management:
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being present in the moment without judgment. By becoming more aware of your emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations, you can develop a better understanding of your anger triggers and reactions.
- Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques: When you feel anger escalating, take slow, deep breaths to activate your body's relaxation response. Progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can also help reduce stress and anger.
- Identify Triggers and Underlying Emotions: Pay attention to situations or events that trigger your anger. Try to uncover the primary emotions underlying your anger, such as hurt, fear, or frustration.
- Cognitive Restructuring: Challenge negative thought patterns that fuel anger and replace them with more rational and balanced perspectives.
- Communication Skills: Improve your communication skills to express yourself assertively and effectively. Use "I" statements to share your feelings without blaming or attacking others.
- Physical Activity: Engage in regular exercise to release tension and improve mood. Physical activity can be an excellent outlet for managing anger.
- Seek Support: Talk to friends, family, or a mental health professional about your anger and its underlying causes. Supportive relationships can provide validation and understanding.
- Compassionate Self-Talk: Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Avoid self-criticism when dealing with anger-related challenges.
- Anger Journaling: Write down your thoughts and feelings when you experience anger. This can help you gain insights into your triggers and patterns of anger.
- Seek Professional Help: If anger issues persist or significantly impact your life, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in anger management.
Regarding the concept of anger being held in the mesenteric bowel and subconscious, it's essential to recognize that emotions, including anger, can have physical and psychological impacts on the body (mind-body connection). However, the idea of specific emotions being stored in certain organs or body parts is not supported by scientific evidence, The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk. Emotions are complex, involving the brain, nervous system, and hormonal responses. Instead of focusing on the notion of emotions being stored in specific body parts, it's more helpful to consider the interplay between the mind and body when dealing with anger (states of being and neural networks).
Chronic anger and stress can affect physical health, including the cardiovascular system, digestive system, and overall immune function. Addressing and managing anger in healthy ways can have positive effects on both emotional well-being and physical health. Treating anger involves a multifaceted approach, including understanding the function of anger, exploring its triggers and underlying emotions, and using various anger management tools and techniques. Practicing self-compassion, bibliotherapy (self-paced workbooks, reading, podcasts, video articles etc), and seeking support from others can also contribute to a more balanced and emotionally healthy life.
Addressing anger and shifting towards core self-preservation and safety involves recognizing the interplay of core beliefs, epigenetics, ADHD, PTSD, compounding losses, and experiences of hurt and injustice. Here's how each element can impact anger and strategies to disentangle and promote emotional well-being:
- Core Beliefs: Core beliefs are deeply ingrained beliefs individuals hold about themselves, others, and the world. If someone has negative core beliefs, such as feeling unworthy or unlovable, it can lead to emotional triggers and unhealthy coping mechanisms like anger.
Disentangling Core Beliefs: Work with a therapist or counselor to identify and challenge negative core beliefs. Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and other evidence-based therapeutic approaches Eye Movement Desensitization Reconsolidation (EMDR), Exposure Therapy, Brainspotting, Narrative Therapy, Memory Reconsolidation, Neurofeedback can help with reframing these beliefs and promote healthier thought patterns.
- Epigenetics: Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression influenced by environmental factors and life experiences. Traumatic experiences, such as repeated exposure to anger or injustice, can impact gene expression and contribute to emotional challenges. Intergenerational trauma, modeling, conditioning, and experiencing personally are all ways anger can manifest and affect gene expression in individuals.
Disentangling Epigenetic Influences: While we can't change our genetics, we can work on improving our emotional resilience and coping skills. Engaging in therapy, mindfulness practices, and stress-reduction techniques can help buffer the impact of epigenetic factors on anger.
- ADHD: ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) can influence emotional regulation and impulse control, making individuals more susceptible to anger outbursts, underlying irritability, and frustration. Sounds, sensory and repetition, or annoying behaviors of others and the meaning behind things can have a great impact on individuals with ADHD. Additionally, the commutation of disappointments, frustration, and inability to navigate the world as a non-neurodiverse person can also create increases in anger.
Disentangling ADHD-Related Anger: Managing ADHD involves seeking proper diagnosis and treatment, which may include behavioral therapies, medication, and support groups. Learning coping strategies tailored to ADHD can help individuals better regulate their emotions. Bringing subconscious awareness to conscience and separating past and present experiences can be pivotal in managing anger, stressors, and underlying irritations/wounds.
- Compounding Losses: Compounding losses, such as experiencing multiple traumas, life, and daily challenges are more for a neurodiverse person than a neurotypical person. Additionally, adverse life events, parenting, siblings, religion, enculturation in early life, deaths, and moving frequently, can build emotional distress over time and contribute to anger.
Disentangling Compounding Losses: Seeking professional help, such as trauma-focused therapy, can assist in processing and healing from past losses. Developing a support network and engaging in self-care practices can promote resilience and emotional healing. Adding multiple perspectives, inside/outside window, pendultion, using observer mind, etc.
- Hurt and Injustice: Feelings of hurt and injustice can fuel anger, especially when individuals perceive themselves or others as victims of unfair treatment. not fitting in, not belonging, bullying, etc. Teachers, coaches, parents, siblings, and peers respond negatively to a person over a life span.
Disentangling Anger from Hurt and Injustice: Practicing empathy and compassion can help individuals process feelings of hurt and injustice more constructively. Separating the experience from who you are as a person. "I am not what happened to me but what I chose to become," -Carl Jung. Engaging in dialogue and seeking resolution or advocacy can also address underlying causes of anger related to injustice. Inquiry- what was going on with the other person that has nothing to do with me? What is the other person saying or doing? Is it a projection? Shifting to Healthy Core Preservation and Safety: Creating a safe and nurturing environment for oneself is crucial in managing anger and promoting emotional well-being. Some strategies include:
- Establishing healthy boundaries in relationships and setting realistic expectations for oneself and others.
- Developing self-compassion and self-care routines to foster a sense of safety and emotional stability.
- Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction, such as mindfulness, meditation, existential, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual coping skills and/or hobbies.
- Seeking professional help from therapists or support groups to address specific challenges and develop coping skills.
Reducing anger through exploring core beliefs and meaning-making involves a therapeutic process aimed at disentangling and reconstructing the narratives that trigger angry emotions. By gaining a new understanding of these core beliefs and the events or experiences that shaped them, individuals can work towards reducing the intensity of chemically charged emotions associated with anger. Here's a breakdown of the process:
- Identify Core Beliefs: The first step is to identify the core beliefs that underlie the individual's anger. These beliefs are often deeply ingrained and may be related to feelings of injustice, powerlessness, or a perceived threat to one's values or identity.
- Reflect on Meaning Making: Understanding how these core beliefs were formed and the meaning attached to past experiences can shed light on why certain situations trigger anger. Exploring past events and their impact can help uncover the root causes of the anger response.
- Challenge and Reconstruct Narratives: With the help of a therapist or through self-reflection, individuals can challenge the accuracy and helpfulness of their existing narratives. By questioning the validity of these beliefs, individuals can begin to construct more adaptive and constructive interpretations of events.
- Embrace Multiple Perspectives: Encouraging individuals to consider multiple perspectives on a given situation can help them gain a broader understanding of the events that trigger their anger. This practice promotes empathy and reduces the tendency to jump to conclusions, which can escalate anger.
- Externalization and Self-Distancing: By externalizing anger and viewing it as a separate entity rather than an inherent part of oneself, individuals can gain a sense of detachment. This self-distancing technique allows for better emotional regulation and decision-making.
- Cultivate a Deeper Sense of Self: Exploring the underlying emotions and needs beneath anger can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself. This self-awareness can help individuals recognize triggers and develop healthier ways of coping with challenging situations.
- Calm Alertness: The goal is not to suppress emotions but to manage them effectively. Calm alertness refers to being aware of one's emotions without being overwhelmed by them. This state allows individuals to respond to situations in a balanced and thoughtful manner.
- Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques can complement the process by promoting emotional regulation and reducing stress. These practices can help individuals stay present in the moment and prevent anger from escalating.
- Build Coping Strategies: Constructive coping strategies, such as assertive communication, problem-solving, and seeking support from others, can be developed to manage anger more effectively.
Remember, addressing anger and promoting emotional well-being is a process that may require patience and persistence. By disentangling the various elements contributing to anger and implementing constructive strategies, individuals can move towards core preservation and safety, improving their overall quality of life. Let's explore the differences between four types of anger: regular anger, PTSD-related anger, rage, and anger related to injustice or moral injury.
- Regular Anger: Regular anger is a common emotional response to perceived threats, frustrations, or unmet needs. It is a natural part of the human experience and can vary in intensity and duration. This type of anger typically dissipates relatively quickly once the triggering event has passed, and the individual may regain control over their emotions.
- PTSD-Related Anger: PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health condition that can result from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Anger is one of the common symptoms of PTSD. The anger experienced in PTSD can be intense, unpredictable, and disproportionate to the present situation. It may be triggered by reminders of the traumatic event, leading the individual to relive the emotional and physical distress associated with the trauma.
The key difference between PTSD-related anger and regular anger is the underlying trauma. In PTSD, the anger is often connected to past experiences, and it can be more challenging to manage or control.
- Rage: Rage is an extreme and intense form of anger. It is characterized by an overwhelming sense of fury and a loss of emotional control. During a rage episode, individuals may act impulsively, express violent behavior, or have difficulty recognizing the consequences of their actions, "amygdala hijack." Rage can be triggered by various factors, such as personal frustration, feeling attacked or provoked, or a perceived threat to one's safety or well-being interpreted through the amygdala and limbic system.
The difference between rage and regular anger lies in the intensity and loss of control. Rage often results in aggressive or violent outbursts that can be harmful to oneself or others, whereas regular anger may not escalate to such extremes.
- Anger Related to Injustice or Moral Injury: This type of anger arises from witnessing or experiencing actions that are perceived as morally wrong, unjust, or violating one's deeply held values and beliefs. It can result from personal experiences or empathizing with the suffering of others, such as witnessing systemic oppression, discrimination, acts of violence, traumatic death, etc.
The key difference between anger related to injustice or moral injury and other types of anger is the underlying moral dimension. This type of anger is often intertwined with a sense of moral responsibility or ethical outrage, which can lead individuals to advocate for change, engage in activism, or seek justice. Anger can take different forms depending on its causes and the context in which it arises. Regular anger is a natural response to various situations, while PTSD-related anger is connected to past trauma. Rage is an extreme and uncontrollable form of anger, and anger related to injustice or moral injury stems from witnessing or experiencing actions that go against one's values and ethics. Understanding these distinctions can help individuals and professionals address anger-related issues effectively and compassionately.
By: Nichole Oliver LPC, NCC, DAAETS