Many people think that anger is caused by hormonal changes or brain
activity. This is only partly true. Researchers have found that while
hormones play a role in an angry response, there is always a cognitive
(thinking) component. Some people think that humans are innately aggressive
or warlike. While our behavior is sometimes hostile toward others, anger is
not part of our basic nature.
Frustration may lead to aggression, but it is not inevitable. Some people
respond to frustrating events with anger, while others don’t. Anger is only
one response to frustration. In many cultures, people are taught to respond
to frustration in other ways. Since Freud’s day, psychologists have
disagreed about the value of venting feelings. It may surprise you to know
that today’s research shows that expressing anger often results in more
irritation and tension rather than feeling more calm.
Heart. Researchers at Stanford University have found that of all the
personality traits found in Type A patients, the potential for hostility is
the key predictor for coronary disease. The combination of anger and
hostility is the most deadly. Stomach and intestines. Anger has a very
negative effect on the stomach and has even been associated with the
development of ulcerative colitis.
Nervous system. Anger is bad for you because it exaggerates the associated
hormonal changes. Chronic suppressed anger is damaging because it activates
the sympathetic nervous system responses without providing any release of
the tension. It is a bit like stepping down on a car’s accelerator while
slamming on the brakes.
Anger is our response to stress. Many times we feel anger to avoid feeling
some other emotion, such as anxiety or hurt. Or we may feel angry when we
are frustrated because we want something and can’t have it. Sometimes,
feeling angry is a way of mobilizing ourselves in the face of a threat.
Anger may be useful because it stops (blocks) stress. Here are two examples:
1. You are rushing all day in your home office to meet an impossible
deadline. Your daughter bounces in after school and gives you a big hug as
you furiously type on your computer. You snap, “Not now! Can’t you see I’m
2. You have just finished taking an important exam. You have studied for
weeks and the result is very important to your career. You fantasize all the
way home about dinner at your favorite Italian restaurant. When you get
home, your husband has prepared a steak dinner for you. You yell, “Why don’t
you ask me before you just assume you know what I want?”
This explains why people often respond with anger when they experience the
following kinds of stress:
Being in a hurry
Feeling abandoned or attacked
Feeling forced to do something you don’t want to do
Feeling out of control
Guilt, shame, or hurt
An angry response often results when we are unhappy with someone else’s
behavior. Here are some other responses you can choose instead of flying off
1. Set limits. Let’s say a friend hasn’t returned a book you loaned to her.
Now she wants to borrow another one. You could say, “I’m not going to be
able to lend you this book until you return the first one.”
2. Don’t wait. When you realize that you’re feeling annoyed by a situation,
speak up. Don’t wait until your annoyance escalates to anger.
3. Be assertive. Say in a positive way what you want from the other person.
For example, say, “Please call me when you get home,” rather than, “Would
you mind giving me a call when you get there?”
1. Call a time-out. This is a very effective technique for breaking the
sequence of behavior that leads to a blowup. It works best if it is
discussed ahead of time and both people agree to use it. Here’s how it
works: Either person in an interaction can initiate time-out. One person
makes the time-out gesture like a referee in a football game. The other
person is obligated to return the gesture and stop talking.
2. Check it out. If anger is a response to personal pain, it makes sense to
ask the other person, “What’s hurting?”
3. Make positive statements. It may be helpful to memorize a few positive
statements to say to yourself when your anger is being triggered. These
statements can remind you that you can choose your behavior instead of
reacting in a knee-jerk manner-for example, “I can take care of my own
needs,” “His needs are just as important as mine,” and “I am able to make
4. Be prepared with a memorized response. Here are a few statements and
questions which will help deescalate anger:
What’s bothering me is…
If it continues like this, I’ll have to _______ to take care of myself.
What do you need now?
So what you want is…
Michael MacMunn is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor in Westfield. Call 562-8045 for a consultation.
I can help. Let’s talk…
Pick up the phone right now and give me a call at (413) 562-8045.