Anger is a natural human emotion. It’s what we do with it that makes all the difference.
Anger can come upon us almost instantly, like a surprise storm. And in a way, it is a storm of adrenaline cascading down from our brains inciting us into action. Have you ever been called “angry” or told you have “anger management issues”? Teaching anger management classes made me wonder: What is it like to be angry as a man?
Anger happens as a result. When? Usually one of the following is going on:
- It can happen when our boundaries have been crossed.
- When we feel pushed or stressed by an external force.
- We feel like our power or choice has been taken from us.
- If we feel disrespected.
- We get frustrated at an obstacle in our way toward achieving a goal, or feeling stopped by an external force.
- When we feel unheard, misunderstood, or unappreciated.
If another person is involved, motive may not be something we evaluate quickly. Like whether or not person meant to pressure us or cross our boundaries; our perceptions are what matters. Anger can even show up when we get afraid.
Teaching a Group Workshop recently I was struck by the enormity of this question: “As a guy, if I just raise my voice I’m automatically labeled as “too angry.” How are we supposed to show anger and not frighten the people we’re mad at? No one has ever shown me “how” and I’m a good guy. In fact I’m quiet when I’m mad most of the time. But sometimes I just can’t take it. I don’t want to scare people, but one raised voice and all of a sudden I’m A Bad Guy. What can I do?”
He’s right. It doesn’t seem fair. I can see it in my head, a nice guy has something completely understandable that makes him angry and he starts to explain it. Feeling unheard or frustrated, he gets more angry, more frustrated. Adrenaline surges through his body and his voice gets louder. He appears visibly mad because he is mad. He was never taught how to be angry appropriately. Now what?
We’re more likely to get angry when we are triggered. That can be by our own perceptions or something as simple physical as symptoms. You’ve seen the Snickers candy bar commercial? Where people turn into someone else? Watch this: Snickers commercial
Hunger is a trigger. As well as tired, dehydrated, stressed, late, and under pressure. From my work as an educator in anger management through Dr. Tony Fiore, I’ve seen a variety of triggers. I tend to get angry when I haven’t rested enough, and now if I feel misunderstood or unheard.
Another biggie is a belief that we are being disrespected in a situation. Think about what happens internally if someone were to “dis” you with an eyeroll, a dismissive sound, or even when another driver shouts at your or gives you “the finger”. It’s like an autonomic response, right into Joe Pesci (see clip above).
Do you know your triggers? It’s a great place to start. Take a look at the last few times you were angry to see if there were commonalities. Were you tired? Hungry? Feeling stressed out? Under pressure? Or was something you wanted blocked … Even if it was something seemingly small like feeling heard or understood.
After the car accident that changed my brain’s neurochemistry last year, I learned firsthand that the FIRST responder emotions available to me if I felt blocked were (in no particular order): impatience, frustration, lack of tolerance, and yes, anger. Even anger or frustration at my own brain’s inability to stop the cavalcade of chemicals has swept me up, as I was deep breathing and doing self EMDR through an episode. I was required to be very conscious of my reactions because my former ability to respond wasn’t automatically available. And my new reaction to feeling unheard was anger.
- Reaction is a responding action from an initiating event. You react TO something as almost knee-jerk, automatic act. It’s difficult to regard the other party in a reaction.
- Responding is a conscious evaluated choice based on the circumstances and my goals in the situation; it involves the neo-cortex’s ability to create choices, options, ideas and relax the adrenaline system. In responding, you take the other party into consideration as it allows for empathy. Reactions are fast. Responses take more time.
When I think of all those people dealing with head injuries as veterans and in sports, and I see the amount of violence linked with them, I get it. Our usual anger responses are not only heightened due to the chemical changes, but our reactions and responses have to be worked to be changed because they can become hair-trigger after brain changes. And yes, we are still responsible for what we do. I’m pretty sure I snapped at a few people before I realized I was doing it. I apologize.
A question I ask all my students and clients: Do you get angry or does anger get you?
I ask them to reflect on how they “do” angry without judgment for a moment. Quiet and withdrawn? Arms crossed? Waving hands around? Raised voice throwing objects? Calming discussing with clipped tones? By allowing ourselves the freedom to feel anger and learn how to handle both our triggers and responses, we can make changes. It’s always your choice.
We are either managing and controlling our anger or it’s taking over.
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Photo credit: Flikr: Jonahthan Powell