Anger is considered as one of the seven deadly sins in the Catholic faith. But is anger really a sin? If we think about it, anger is a natural feeling. It is not such a bad thing. It is our body's way of reacting to threat and impending danger. It is even necessary in our body's defense against such threat and danger.
Everyone experiences anger, no one can deny it. However, we usually think of anger as something destructive. While it is true that we must mind what we do and say when we are angry, we must not think of anger as something evil or unnatural. Anger is a healthy way of releasing negative thoughts and feelings. If it is managed properly, then everything will go well. But if it is suppressed and handled negatively; it may lead to aggression or addiction to rage.
If you feel that you cannot control your anger and it has caused you and your family a lot of damage, then you must seek professional help. Uncontrolled anger requires management.
How Does Anger Works Inside the Body?
Do you feel hot and does your heartbeat race when you’re angry? Well, these are some of the physiological changes that you will experience when you’re in the heat of your anger. The purpose of understanding where anger is coming from is one of the concepts that experts use in their anger management programs. Let us understand what causes anger and how it affects our body.
When a person feels threatened or gets frustrated, a part of the brain – called the amygdala – signals the other parts of the body to prepare for defense. The amygdala signals the adrenal gland to release hormones that would increase the heart rate, elevate blood pressure, allow the lungs to expand for increased oxygen supply to the muscles and keep the brain focused on the target (the cause of anger). Moreover, the body continues to produce catecholamine (norepinephrine and epinephrine) that help maintain the body's energy levels. Once these are done, you are ready to defend yourself!
Many people would say that when you’re in the heat of anger, you cannot really control it. This is not true, however. There is one part of the brain which is in charge of the person's judgment. This is the prefrontal cortex of the brain, particularly the left prefrontal cortex.
The left prefrontal cortex has the capacity to switch off a person's emotions. He is the ‘director’ that keeps things in balance. To make the prefrontal cortex work, a person needs to learn techniques that will let the prefrontal cortex develop superiority over the amygdala. As a case in point, a person can learn relaxation techniques and cognitive control techniques that will decrease the activity of the amygdala and thus allow the left prefrontal cortex to reign over his emotions.
After the physiologic preparation of the body for defense, the body undergoes a cooling-down phase. This happens when the target or the source of anger is no longer accessible. At this phase, the anger threshold becomes so low that it is easier for a person to get angry again – and the sad part of it is that the intensity of anger can easily rise. This is the reason why a person who has just been recently angry gets easily mad with the least amount of provocation. Furthermore, the arousal caused by the adrenal hormones can meddle with the ability of the person to think through the reasons for the outburst. This is also the reason why it is difficult to communicate with an angry person.
Psychosocial Theory Related to Anger
Sad experiences like the loss of a loved one, frustrations, failures, and the loss of the love and support of others, create a mark on a person's life particularly on the way a person perceives life. If a person grew up in a family where love and support were not freely given, he will feel that his life is not worth living. The notion of neglect will make the person angry at his family and the life he has. If his issues are not resolved during his childhood years, the child's anger usually will stay hidden until his adult years. Suppressed anger will then lead to deeper problems like aggression and violence.
Concepts Used in Anger Management
Many experts have developed research on how to explain the cause of anger and the basis of managing it. The following are some of the concepts used by professionals to create a more effective anger management program.
Freud, the person who developed the psychosexual theory, related anger to the “hydraulic theory.” In hydraulic theory, the pressure is released and distributed in all parts of the body/system. We can fully understand hydraulic theory by using a pressure cooker as an example. When the pressure cooker is placed on a stove, the heat from the flame causes pressure to build in the cooker. Think of the steam coming out of the pressure cooker as anger. In that case, the only way to release the steam (or anger) is by taking the lid off the cooker. We therefore have to let the pressure cooker cool down before we open the lid so that we can prevent accidents. Applying this metaphor to anger management, we have to learn cooling-down techniques if we want to prevent our anger from causing undesirable results.
However, anger management professionals do not recommend suppression. The main cause of anger addiction or aggression is suppression. It is believed that a person suppresses his negative thoughts and emotions so he can move on and forget about getting hurt. By suppressing these negative emotions, a person will develop uncontrolled rage and may even cause physical harm.
In anger management programs, it is advised that we express our anger and let it all out. Using the above metaphor, the proper way of cooling down also necessitates taking the lid off and letting all the anger out.
Experts use expressive therapy to help patients express their anger. This therapy is commonly used in group sessions and psychodramas. How does this work? In expressive therapy, the person will express his anger through beating objects like pillows, shouting, yelling, or using models which will represent the past events in one's life. The purpose of expressive therapy is to let a person feel that it's alright to get angry. Expressive therapy will let you feel the pain all over again but, in the end, you will feel that it's ok to cry and it's ok to feel hurt as long as you learn how to overcome it and come back to reality as a stronger person.
Learn what anger management is all about and how it can help you. Anger management is the only way to escape from the imprisonment of a life filled with rage.
By TTS Holistic Counselor Mehdi Jaffari