Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
The Problem of
Anger seems to be a pervasive emotion. Doctors
meet up with angry patients regularly. Pastors and counsellors encounter angry
people trying to deal with personal problems or problems in the family and at
work. Parents and teachers see children who seem angry at their siblings, angry
at the system, angry at their parents, or angry for no particular reason. Yet,
the problem of anger often goes unaddressed, and it seldom just goes
The answer: Not all the time. In fact, anger has
its positive aspects. Consider the following three points: (1) The capacity to
feel anger is natural; it is built into our bodies and is important for
moderating our physical and emotional levels or for us to "fight" with an
elevated level of energy; (2) Anger is a signal that something is wrong. Like
pain, anger signals a need for correction. Long-term suppression of these
signals may be emotionally and socially harmful. Anger may be the last emotion
to resist numbness and despair, and is thus a survival mechanism, a last ditch
attempt to make good; (3) Anger warns others to be careful. Anger serves as the
"relationship cue" that helps to indicate tension and even danger. Getting angry
when expressing grief is a typical example of such "relationship cue" anger.
Being Angry All The
Yet there is a serious down side to anger.
First, anger can open a gateway to a spiral of despair. Getting angry on a
frequent basis increases our sensitivity to things that make us angry (Step 1).
Accompanying increased sensitivity is a reduced ability to manage anger (Step
2), followed by an increase in the intensity of vented anger (Step 3). The usual
relief that follows anger is reduced with each incident of anger (Step 4),
leading to a greater sensitivity to situations of anger (Step 1).
Second, chronic anger chokes out other feelings
and becomes a solution for most problems. If there is an awareness of chronic
anger, then the person goes into a guilt-binge cycle, that is, unsuccessfully
suppressing anger because of guilt feelings, then getting intensely angry
without reserve, and then returning to anger suppression. This cycle prevents
the person from learning other ways to express feelings.
And third, the chronically angry person nurtures
a social and emotional environment that promotes anger. Blame, vengeance,
unkindness, sarcasm, cynicism, and a critical spirit pervade the most meaningful
social exchanges, while withdrawal, depression and loneliness characterizes
non-social periods. Physical aggression against self or others then becomes a
Why Are You
It is often difficult to explain a feeling as
intense as anger. However, there are some specific antecedents of anger that are
(1) Substance Abuse. Alcohol intoxication
and withdrawal, withdrawal from tranquilizers and barbiturates, and use of
cocaine, marijuana, anabolic steroids, PCP (Phencyclidine), and amphetamines all
produce degrees of irritability, anger, hostility and sometimes
(2) Depression. A characteristic sign of
depression (and burnout) is a general mood of irritability, and frustration that
sometimes expresses itself as self-blame, joylessness and
(3) Anxiety. Like depression, anxiety
also accompanies irritability and anger responses. The high levels of activity
may translate into violent, aggressive expression and lowered tolerance of
(4) A history of abuse. Abusive
backgrounds often produce angry people. Even children who come from physically
or emotionally abusive families tend to exhibit a great deal of anger, often
accompanied by aggression.
(5) Grief. Anger is a common response
when dealing with an intense loss. Such losses may come in numerous forms:
death, divorce, marital separation, breakdown of the family, financial failure,
failure to achieve a significant goal, embarrassment (loss of "face"), and loss
of health (especially terminal illness).
An Anger Kept
The 19th century poet William Blake wrote with
great insight: "I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did
end. I was angry with my foe; I told it not, my wrath did grow." We
examined earlier that anger that is vented may not entirely constitute the
answer to anger resolution, since it may merely increase our sensitivity to the
situations that make us angry. Yet, keeping anger in may not be the answer
either. In fact, angering inwards merely increases emotional strain to a
Consider the following expressions of angering
(1) Bitterness. Bitterness is often
defined as "anger that is retained", and has two general effects. First, it
spreads anger around to those in close association with the angry person; and
second, it increases the number of issues over which the person becomes angry.
(2) Hatred. Hatred may be defined as
"anger that is hardened". The anger may express itself through seeming coolness,
and even activity that appears very directed. Yet, both the apathy and activity
generated by hatred often constitute some destructive intent.
Angering No More
With the stack seemingly loaded against the one
who angers, it would not be inappropriate to ask, "Can I really cease angering?"
Fortunately, there is a hopeful answer to the problem.
First, figure out the source of your
anger. You may require a psychologist or a qualified counsellor to help you
identify the sources, since some of these sources may not be immediately
evident. They may range from a physiological root to an emotional one; some
problems may reside in the past, and others are factors that are current and
Second, stop anger where it begins. Learn
to express anger by describing your feelings and the situation or behaviour that
made you angry when or shortly after the situation occurs. Do not lapse into
making statements about attitude, character or intent. For example, your spouse
forgets to pay the VISA bill for the third consecutive month. Express your anger
appropriately: "This is the third time you forgot to pay the VISA bill (the
behaviour). I get really frustrated when you do this (your feelings)." Here is
an inappropriate expression of anger: "I knew it! I feel you're irresponsible
and careless (character assumption). You just don't listen to what I say, do you
(attitude assumption)? You're just doing this to hurt me (intent assumption)."
Notice that the words "I feel" in the second example do not really serve the
function of expressing feelings.
Third, be willing to release your anger.
Hanging on to anger can only exacerbate its effects on you and those you love.
Often, anger destroys the angry person and affects a good number of innocent
victims before it injures its intended target. Hence, letting go of anger does
not mean that you are letting the offender go free; it simply means that you are
granting yourself liberty from anger's clutches.
Chronic anger is often an indicator that help is
required. Since the antecedents of anger are often multifaceted, a network of
mental and medical health professionals would usually be needed in order for all
the possible factors leading to chronic anger to be treated. Allow a counsellor
or your family physician to help you set up that network for you through their
systems of referral. Anger management programs must be selected carefully on the
recommendation of a psychologist, a qualified counsellor or a physician
knowledgeable in the field of anger treatment. While many anger management
programs have numerous worthwhile qualities, some programs may not serve to
address the issues at the core of an individual's chronic anger. Above all, be
aware that chronic anger is not a problem simply to be ignored. Seek help.
"Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the
sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity." (Ephesians