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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 13-Jul-07


Friday 13-July-2007

Anger management

Have you ever got cross? Was somebody saying something that wound you up like a drum until you snapped? Was it like you turned into somebody else?

When we get angry, we flip into an aggressive state as our brain chemistry changes. The 'fight' instinct takes over and we become more like an animal and less like a thinking human. In extreme we go berserk and woe betide anyone in out path.

You might have noticed that when you are angry it is almost impossible to argue logically. You struggle for words to say what you mean, but all that come out are crass and hurtful statements that you may well regret later. This is because rational thinking takes time and in a physical fight a tenth of a second can mean the difference between victory and defeat. In evolutionary terms we are not long out of the jungle and still have many strong animal instincts. Our thinking cortex gets literally shut down as the more primitive mid- and lower-brain takes over.

Anger is useful when you are cornered, as many aggressors have learned to their cost. It makes you faster, stronger and braver. It also creates a dangerous euphoria of power and omnipotence that can become addictive and is the fuel of many bullying behaviors.

It can also have a high social cost, for the aggressor and for others. As well as the immediate victim, wider society suffers as others are affected by fear of the aggressor. Anger also begets anger as it feeds on itself and spreads afield. Who knows how far the effects of one outburst can reach?

The modern trend of 'anger management' is a curate's egg. Where it genuinely helps people control their anger and reduce their aggression it is good. Where it is a crutch and a legitimizing excuse it is bad. However, if your anger or that of a friend is managing you rather than you managing it, then getting genuine help must be worthwhile.

Your comments

Two sides to anger management, maybe?

I've recently become aware of the fact that I have a lot of repressed anger inside me and it - plus its knock-ons - have come dangerously close to destroying a 36-year-old marriage (the jury's still out, but as I write I'd estimate the probability of survival at about 70%)

In other words, while releasing the anger needs control, its retention also needs control - or when it does go the collateral damage will be enormous.

-- Laury

Dave replies:
Absoloutely, Laury. Managing anger is an important skill for many of us, including knowing when to hold it in and where to leach it out. A good approach is to sublimate the energy into a more positive cause. Many great things have been fuelled by powerful emotions.


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