Posted on Feb 28, 2012 by Joyce Dallimore
Road rage, plane rage, even art-gallery rage (when an exhibition is too crowded) are all too familiar terms and are just some of the forms that over-the top anger can take on modern life. Excessive anger an have an obvious trigger or else seem to occur out of the blue; and it can ruin lives, as work and relationships suffer. Excessive anger always results from stress and essential emotional needs not being met. That's why my approach, which focuses on helping people in distress find healthy ways to meet their emotional needs, is so successful. The ability to get angry is natural. It is part of the ancient 'flight or fight' survival mechanism, which evolved to help our long-distant ancestors survive when faced with attack from wild animals or invading tribes, they either had to stand up for themselves or flee. The pulse races, adrenaline surges, breath gets fast and shallow, blood surges into the muscles of the legs and arms and the body gets flooded with stress hormones, all so that we are ready to take action if we decide to act aggressively to ward off something or someone. Once action has been taken, the feelings subside.
But today there are far fewer occasions when threat is as real and physical as just described. If we get frustrated or feel angry with the boss, we may have to keep feelings to ourselves, which leaves them circulating with no obvious way of being discharged. Or we may become more and more wound up by little annoyances that build up over the day until we reach a point when, over something seemingly trifling, we snap. There are many other circumstances that can lead us to have lower tolerance for irritations - for instance overtiredness, feeling ill or hungry, hormonal changes, chronic pain or addictive cravings.
Sometimes people have a tendency towards anger because of chronic low self-esteem, which usually stems from abuse or neglect during childhood. As adults,they may never feel good or worthy enough and end to lash out if they perceive themselves as slighted in any way. Mild brain damage can cause a loss of impulse control and aggression. And people on the autistic spectrum are often more prone to angry outbursts because of their difficulties and frustrations in trying to relate to other people and make sense of the social world.
More often than is realised, it is a long forgotten fear. For instance, a man who, as a child, was locked in a tiny dark space under the stairs as a punishment, may lash out, seemingly inexplicably,at his wife, when she wants him to check the space under the stairs for damp. This is because an 'alarm system' in our brain called the amygdala accesses our emotional memories and, not the basis of previous experience, alert us to anything that may present a risk. Because the stair cupboard experience was so traumatic and frightening, it stays 'live' causing the man to experience terror all over again, usually without knowing why. Some-times too, repeated and seemingly inexplicable anger outbursts stem from 'pattern mathcing' to a shocking situation in childhood when anger was felt but, at the time, suppressed.
Fortunately people can be helped to deal with their anger, whatever its cause. I an show people how to calm themselves down quickly (this is essential, as high emotional arousal makes us stupid, stopping us from listening to reason); encourage them to take exercise (doing enjoyable physical activity is a great way to discharge accumulated stress); and help them to examine and change their self-talk - having hostile thoughts only harms us - and to look at situations from other people's perspectives as well as their own.
Simple effective techniques can be used to resolve anger outbursts arising from incidents in the past, so that these cease to occur in the future. Finally, I an help people to explore, what needs are no being met in their lives, which may be fuelling anger - for instance, a lack of sense of achievement, or status or control or connection with others may cause feelings of inferiority and hostility. Experiencing uncontrollable or excessive anger always means that something is not working well in a person's life. No one is naturally an 'angry' person; they are just temporarily overcome by anger and an learn how to cease to be its victim.