- Mental Health
The Real Causes of Anger Revealed
The Nine Hole Memorial of My Anger
When I was growing up, anger was a member of my family. Being brought up in a household of 4 children with a German father and Irish-Scottish mother, well let's just say passions ran rather high most of the time. My father taught me, through his behavior, that extreme anger was an acceptable means to get what I wanted. Anger was power and the more anger I had, the more powerful I became - or so I thought.
On the occasion of my 16th birthday, my father prevented me from taking the driver's test to obtain a driver's license. I was enraged to say the least. I stormed off, headed upstairs and angrily punched nine holes in the stairwell wall. To this day, I can still see the remnants of that tirade in that stairwell wall every time I visit my childhood home. Those nine holes are a reminder that I was once a very different person.
Fast forward about 8 years and I have started my own family. Recently married and settling down in our first apartment, my spouse and I have our very first "spirited debate." I don't remember the cause of the disagreement but I do remember I went off like a fire bomb - ranting, yelling, waving my arms. I was determined to get my way on this (whatever "this" was). Later that night, I awoke and noticed I was in an empty bed. I searched the apartment and found my spouse crouched and weeping in a corner of the kitchen. As I reached out and comforted my spouse, I remembered that stairwell and knew then that anger was no longer going to be a part of my family.
I have been dealing with my anger and the anger issues of others for more than 45 years. Through relationships, counseling, teaching and life experience. I have gained a solid hold on my anger and I know a great deal about how to help others handle their own anger. I want to share some of the things I have learned in this article - maybe they will be a help to you.
Definition of Anger and the Cognitive Behavior Theory
Anger is an emotion that manifests itself in a wide range of intensities from slight irritation to full-blown, volcanic erupting rage. Over the years, I have seen almost all of the stages of anger and almost all have been a reaction to a perceived threat. This threat is perceived to be against an individual, a loved one, property or self-image. For the most part, anger is the thing that tells people something is wrong.
Typically, anger is made up of three parts: (1) Physical reactions which may include tightening of muscles, increased heart rate and a change in blood pressure, (2) Cognitive reactions, or how we think about the things that make us angry and (3) Our response to anger and how we let it affect our behavior.
Originally conceived and developed by American psychiatrist Aaron Beck, the Cognitive Behavior Theory states that if beliefs do not change there will be no improvement. In other words, your thoughts and beliefs affect your behavior and how you react to people and situations around you. According to the tenets of this theory, anger results from a combination of past experiences, learned behaviors, lack of social skills, irrational perceptions, problem solving abilities and maybe even some genetic predisposition.
Why do People Get Angry?
A person typically becomes angry when two things are present - a low threshold for frustration and an irrational perception of reality. In other words, people get angry when things are not done the way they think they should be done and their way of dealing with a situation is the only acceptable way.
While angry people typically blame other people or circumstances for their behavior, the real reason they are angry is usually due to an irrational perception of reality. For some reason they expect a certain outcome and when that does not occur they become angry. Anger is an internal reaction that is typically manifested externally.
Most Common Internal Causes of Anger
Expectations May be Unreasonable. When some people want something, they tend to see things how they should be and not how they really are. They expect things to be certain way or expect people to act a certain way. They want uncontrollable things to be controlled - which rarely happens. When things do not go as they expect, these folks may get frustrated and angry.
Reasoning with Emotion. Using emotion rather than logic when reasoning is perhaps the number one cause or anger. People may see their perceived needs or desires (not their actual needs or desires) being attacked or threatened and lash out as a defense. To them, perception is reality, they reason the danger or threat to be real and they become angry in order to protect themselves of their position.
A Low Tolerance for Frustration. This low tolerance or resistance to frustration is typically caused by anxiety or stress. In some people, lack of sleep may cause the tolerance for frustration to be low. In other folks, financial pressure may be lowering their tolerance for frustration. In any case, people typically have more than one source of stress or anxiety in their lives which may allow them to become easily frustrated and eventually angry.
Most Common External Causes of Anger
Perceived Threat to Needs. When a person feels their basic needs are being threatened by a person, entity or situation, they are likely to become angry. This anger is a response to the perceived threat of losing someone or something.
Personal Attacks - or at least attacks that are perceived as personal - are likely to be met with anger. Although physical attack is always a possibility, personal attacks are more likely. Most common are verbal attacks on a person. Sometimes, others will attack a problem and a person along with it. For example: A teenager may speak angrily to a parent when they are really angry at the situation, not the parent.
Attacks on Ideas. No one likes to have their beliefs, values, ideas or opinions opposed. After all, people have invested a great deal of time, energy and emotion into these. All you have to do to see examples of this source of anger is look around at all the negative things happening in the world. Things that are done on the name of a belief system, ideal or religion. To most people, this constitutes a very personal attack.
Top 10 Signs You May be Getting Angry:
- Grinding of teeth
- Tensing muscles in neck/face
- Red color or paleness in face
- Increased breathing rate
- Increased heart rate
- Hot or cold feeling
- Hands shaking
- Feeling sudden surge of power (adrenaline)
Not All Anger is Unhealthy
Anger can be useful and healthy in the right context. For example, as a primitive defense mechanism, anger can be used to keep us from being dominated by other people or provide support in certain circumstances.
Anger provide additional strength and courage necessary to fight or protect others from danger or injustice. Anger is typically a useful tool in these conditions, however, anger can be very destructive when not controlled.
Anger May Not Be Wrong All the Time
There is an old adage that I have taped onto my computer monitor that reads "Perception is Reality." The way a person perceives things to be is as they really are - to them. If my perceived reality is threatened, I get angry. I feel that I have the right to get angry when people or circumstances are not up to my expectations.
Expression of anger is healthy when it is kept in check.
I do have the right to be angry. I do not have the right to lash out and attack those around me. I have to be continually aware that others will most likely think differently than me and I cannot hope to change their thinking or conform it to my own through an outburst of anger. It's right to be angry. It's wrong to respond in a rash, hurtful or controlling manner. It is right to focus the anger on the problem or its solution - not on the people around me.
Why Anger Needs to Be Controlled
The biggest reason anger should always be controlled is the way it can affect people. When people become angry, their reality becomes distorted, they typically don't think clearly, can't make make rational decisions and can be controlled by emotion rather than logic.
In other words, anger can cause a person to lose control and do or say terrible things. The primitive and primary purpose for anger produces one of two states of being: attack or defend. Unless you're in danger, neither of these two states is very helpful in regard to human relationships.
The Bottom Line on Anger
Educate yourself on the real and underlying causes of anger. When dealing with angry people, remember they are people - they are likely frustrated and may not be reasonable or logical - they are simply responding to what they perceive as reality. Being constantly aware of this will help you remain centered and calm when dealing with them.
For your own anger, it's OK to be angry. The important thing to remember is to always keep anger under control. Once you lose control of your anger, control in a situation is typically lost and anything is possible. You might say or do things you would never do in a rational and reasonable state of mind. After 50 plus years, I have finally learned what really causes anger and to stop anger before it begins. After all, life is just too short, right?
Some Helpful Books on Handling Anger
You Can Get More Information on Anger From These Links...
- Understanding the Cause of Anger
Anger is a normal and healthy reaction in certain contexts and can in fact be a positive productive force under the right circumstances.
- The Cause of Anger - What is Anger?
The cause of anger can be understood and made smaller. Use these ideas to find freedom from these common causes of anger.
- The main causes of anger
One of the main causes of anger is represented by our irrational perceptions and evaluations of situations when our rights and goals are apparently broken.