Anger is a core emotion. It is an indication that our “toes have been stepped on” or we feel violated against in some way. The relational “heat” that accompanies anger (e.g., accusations, aggression, conflict) is jarring and can be difficult to manage. If you or a loved one are struggling to contain and manage your anger, please consider professional help. The following blog provides an attempt at understanding anger, with final thoughts of skills to turn down the volume when our heat index is raised.
Without anger we may fail to appraise that which needs corrective action. In its most benign form, anger can manifest as judgment or a “British upper lip.” In more pronounced forms, anger can manifest as heated exchanges, arguments, and fights. At a basic sense, anger can be described as a reaction to a threat to one’s sense of self-worth or a defensive reaction to attacks on a fragile self-image. Some psychologists posit that individuals with chronic angry personalities may have not moved through the developmental milestone of omnipotence afforded to infants/children during their period of crying, thrashing, demanding, and controlling the dynamics of family relationships (DiGiuseppe, 1999). As adults, these individuals may harbor a faultless and controlling self-image, and demand perfect mirroring and approval from admiring others whom seem hopelessly hell-bent on surfacing shameful or embarrassing traits of the angry person. When an idealized, admired self is not provided with doting others who circle his/her orbit, the anger may manifest as rage against others, or the self (Strozier et al., 2016). Adshead (2010) remarks on how anger, rage, and cruelty may manifest as self-harm reactions (e.g., cutting, hitting) angry persons use that communicate a sense of hostility, self-reproach, and frustration with themselves. Anger can also be directed outwards to others, and result in heinous relationships between angry persons and their close friends/family. Many different treatments of those with angry dispositions emphasize the vital tool of empathy. Herein, passersby can consider anger as a defense against the emotional anguish of fear, shame, and guilt that accompanies someone having a blemish or “faux pas” noticed or brought to attention by others (Bishop & Lane, 2002).
An effective way of beginning to tolerate and manage anger is to use prolonged contemplation and reflection on why one is becoming angry. Anger management difficulties lend themselves easily to those who are generally unreflective and impulsive, and thus externalize blame for their problems to others (Josephs & McLeod, 2014). One should ask themselves “Did I make my needs/wants explicit?” or “Was my reaction warranted in this particular circumstance?” Sequencing our emotional reactions and understanding why anger rises to the surface can result in an appreciation of the hidden aspects of embarrassment or shame that often accompany vitriolic responses, and unmet needs. An in-vivo exercise to use can be the “dive effect” wherein one goes into a bathroom and splashes cold water on their face for 30 seconds, or holds a cold cloth on their face for 30 seconds while bending over 45 degrees. This simulates an experience of diving wherein our body temperature lowers and our bodies preserve life energy for the vital survival tools, thus allowing anger to subside in the service of life preservation. Due to its abusive and dangerous implications, anger should be managed carefully, and with help as needed. If you or a loved one are routinely experiencing difficulties in managing anger, please consider consulting with the clinicians at Town Center Psychology. You are not alone!
Adshead, G. (2010). Written on the body: Deliberate self-harm as communication. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 24 (2), 69-80. http://dx.doi.org.portal.lib.fit.edu/10.1080/02668731003707501
Bishop, J. & Lane, R. C. (2002). The dynamics and dangers of entitlement. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 19 (4), 739-758. http://dx.doi.org.portal.lib.fit.edu/10.1037/0736-97188.8.131.529
DiGiuseppe, R. (1999). End piece: Reflections on the treatment of anger. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(3), 365–379. https://doi-org.portal.lib.fit.edu/10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(199903)55:3<365::AID-JCLP8>3.0.CO;2-3
Josephs, L. & McLeod, B. A. (2014). A theory of mind-focused approach to anger management. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 31 (1), 68.93. http://dx.doi.org.portal.lib.fit.edu/10.1037/a0034175
Strozier, C. B., Strug, D. L., Pinteris, K., & Kelley, K. (2017). Heinz Kohut’s theory of aggression and rage. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 34(3), 361-367. http://dx.doi.org.portal.lib.fit.edu/10.1037/pap0000111