MY THOUGHTS ON ANGER:
According to Charles Spielberger, Ph.D., “anger is an emotional state which varies in intensity from mild irritations to intense fury and rage. It, like other emotions, is accompanied by biological and physiological changes in the body. When a person gets angry their heart rate and blood pressure go up along with the level of energy hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline” (helping.apa.org/ daily.anger.html).
Wayne Forggatt in The Rational Management of Anger says that anger is an emotional response to a frustrated demand. People with anger problems do not accept responsibility for their anger but place the responsibility on others or external events (a key concept). Anger results from how people view what happens to them. He lists four types of thinking that typically create dysfunctional anger: 1) inferential distortions, guessing at what others might be thinking about them (emotional reasoning, hurt feelings), 2) perceived threats to well-being and self-image (fear), 3) expectations that are held as demands (unrealistic expectations), and 4) global rating of other people (“he’s an SOB”). Anger can be caused by both internal and external situations and the expression of anger can be directed inward and /or outward.
Anger is not an emotion but a result of emotions, where the above two authors believe it is an identified emotion. Actually, it does not make a significant difference to me if it is one or the other. When I became angry I developed tunnel thinking. The focus of my thinking when angry was only in one direction and it kept me from seeing anything but what had triggered my angry thoughts. In other words, my intense focus on the problem kept me from seeing other, more reasonable, solutions to the current problem.
My personal physiological reactions to anger can be a tightening of some of my muscles, flushing in the face, clenched teeth, narrowing of my brows and tense shoulders. Of course it depends on how much of a threat my brain is telling me it is. When I feel my body reacting, most of the time I just become quiet, but there are times I react and say something that does not and should not be said. The following list are some of the ways anger will manifest itself physically in humans: muscle tension (jaw, shoulders, neck, etc.), teeth grinding, scowling, chills and shudders, nausea, crying, trembling, sweaty palms, glaring, clenching fists, paling/flushing, changes in arm and body positions, prickling sensations, numbness (emotional and physical), choking, twitching, sweating, loss of self-control (yelling, cursing and hitting), fear of doing something regrettable, change in thought process (panic, can’t think), and a rapid heartbeat.
As I thought about the origins of how I displayed my angry thoughts, I realized I used several of my parent’s methods of reacting to their negative emotions. My mother tended to display her anger in a passive aggressive manner. She would pout and give my father the silent treatment for days, with me she would explode and say things about my character and tell me why others would not like me. On several occasions she hid the car keys from me until I agreed to wear a tie on a date. I usually refused to wear it and would laugh at her actions and go get an extra set of keys. What I didn’t realize was that she would then take her anger out on my father after I left and he returned from doing rounds at the community hospital. Once I learned (from Dad) what she was doing to him after I left, I would wear the tie out to the car then take it off as he suggested.
My father had been raised not to show his emotions, including anger. Displaying anger was not appropriate in his home environment. As a result of that, he eventually ended up in the hospital with bleeding ulcers during the time I was in high school. He told me some time after his second attack that during his last visit to the hospital he realized that it was “his reaction” to my mother’s anger that put him there. He decided just not to let her behavior bother him any longer (he just let go) and put in longer hours at his clinic doing charts and avoiding her tantrums. He said he realized it was “his reaction” to her behavior that was causing the internal tension that precipitated the ulcers. Once he made up his mind not to let it bother him, life was much more pleasant for him.
Reflecting on how I have expressed my anger in the past, I’ve exploded verbally with people and physically against inanimate objects (large metal signs and walls) while I was in high school and college. I used at least one method of passive aggressive behavior, and developed gastrointestinal problems. I have never sought out the help of a professional, but my life might have improved sooner if I had, and for those around me.
It became obvious to me that I “learned” to express my anger in my home environment while growing up. If I “learned” to express my anger as a child in certain ways that eventually became situational and habitual, I could choose to learn replacement behaviors that were better suited for inter and intra personal relationships. Like learning to fly the T-37 and T-38 aircraft while I was in pilot training in the late 1960s, it would take lots of practice. In this case I would have to replace my old, destructive anger habits with new, proactive solutions — behaviors that strengthen relationships, not tear them apart.
The authors of Psychological Self-help, Sustaining Long-term Relationships write that controllers and manipulators use anger as a way to coerce others so they get what they want. Authors Kipnis & Schmidt suggest that children learn to use anger as a method to obtain their wants and needs and if, it is continually, positively reinforced, they will keep using those or similar methods into adulthood. As long as they keep being rewarded for the inappropriate behavior they will continue using it. Their findings about using anger to control others behavior’s struck a sensitive nerve with me. It is generally easier to see inappropriate behavior in others, and criticize them for it, than it is to see it in ourselves. I had to ask myself if I was using my anger to control my children under certain situations and the answer came up “yes.”
When Larry Liberty talked about the destructive ways people usually display their anger he divided them into two main categories, anger expressed outwardly and anger expressed inwardly. These two major categories were again further divided into two sub categories. The following summaries are, how Dr. Liberty described the four main ways people express their anger destructively.
Anger Expressed Outward:
The Exploder – When we think of an angry person this is the one which typically comes to mind. We have all experienced the person who seems to almost blow up and begins yelling (verbal) and even screaming when things don’t go the way they wanted. Add to this a physical element and you have the potential for one dangerous person. I remember reading in the local newspaper where a young woman had been arguing with her husband off and on for most of a day. She eventually became so enraged she ran out of the house, jumped in her car and drove off at a high rate of speed. If her husband had not eventually driven after her she probably would have drowned in the road ditch her car had turned over in after she skidded off the country lane.
The Guilt Thrower was Larry’s second type of person expressing anger outwardly. I think of the guilt thrower as a passive aggressive type of person. This individual can show their anger towards others by refusing to talk to them (pouting) or saying and doing things “behind their back.” They might be afraid of a direct confrontation with the other party so they give them the silent treatment for days at a time. They can respond by withholding favors from them or making them do things for themselves, which the person normally did for them. Others respond to things said to them with very inappropriate, sarcastic remarks. Depending on whom this person is angry with, you might see them explode at one person and throw guilt at another. Sure sounds like mom.
It is my belief that guilt throwers use their particular manipulative maneuvers to get others do what they want them to and/or to get even because they believe they have been wronged in some way. No matter what their reason might be, they strike back in ways, which create resentment in others. They might succeed in the short term by getting others to do as they wish but in the long term they lose. It can cost them love, caring and respect of those they need it from the most. This can apply to all four methods people use in displaying their anger destructively.
Anger Expressed Inward:
The Self-Punishner or “guilt catchers” blame themselves for the angry situation. These individuals beat themselves up emotionally because of their angry thoughts toward others. They feel guilty about their thoughts and actions, which in turn produces low self-esteem. Typically these people end up in a psychologist’s office seeking help to cope with their problem.
The Somatizer is the person who denies that they get angry or have angry thoughts. My father and I have both fallen into this category at different times in our lives. Dad had his bleeding ulcers and I had gastrointestinal problems and sore jaws from grinding my teeth while sleeping. Once each of us realized (became aware) that we were causing our own physical problems by denying our anger we were able to accept our feelings, admit we were angry and develop a strategy to prevent further occurrences. Some of the more obvious anger soma symptoms are headaches, stomach pains and ulcers, allergies, colitis and hypertension. None of these symptoms are enjoyable and require a change in ones thinking to get rid of them if their origins are in a person’s anger.
If a person doesn’t accept their anger and “stuffs” it, frequently it is stored away in their subconscious and dealt with at a later time. It appears to be gunny sacked and, over time, as more anger is stuffed (not dealt with), it all comes roaring out over some small incident, leaving the one attacked wondering what he/she said or did which caused the unexpected and inappropriate outburst. It also can be directed inward and cause the physiological problems mentioned earlier.
Dr. Liberty referred to these methods for handling ones anger as being habitual and used to help us survive in our different environments. I feel one of the most important facts to understand is how a person displays their anger is a “learned behavior” and generally acquired at an early age.
Once a person accepts the fact that their response to angry thoughts causes them or those around them distress (becoming aware), they can make the conscious choice to change. For some, the replacing of one habit for another might be an easy process, but for most of us, ridding ourselves of a very entrenched bad habit is not so easy. So the question becomes, “where does one start”?
Yourself to Blame
If things go bad for you
And make you a bit ashamed
Often you will find out that
You have yourself to blame
Swiftly we ran to mischief
And then the bad luck came
Why do we fault others?
We have ourselves to blame
Whatever happens to us,
Here is what we say
“Had it not been for so-and-so
Things wouldn’t have gone that way.”
And if you are short of friends,
I’ll tell you what to do
Make an examination,
You’ll find the faults in you…
You are the captain of your ship,
So agree with the same
If you travel downward
You have yourself to blame.
By Mayme White Miller