Angry at anger: Poking holes in Volcanoes
In 1815, the volcano of Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia. It killed approximately 80,000 people and it was known as the year without a summer. It then had the knock on effect of causing several famines and contamination of water in Europe and America, killing thousands more. It was devastating.
When I picture anger, I always imagine a volcano. Everyone has their own volcano. It differs in how it looks, in the way it activates, and in how often it activates. But when any are activated, they explode and nobody wants to be in the vicinity. And neither do the people who are getting angry. They don’t want to blow their top. But they do. And this is why anger is one of the most disabling emotions. It isolates people. Anger causes fear and fear causes avoidance. So not only is someone struggling to control their anger, which often results in disappointment, shame and guilt. They often have to do it alone. The knock on effect.
Anger is incredibly important to take care of because of its direct associations with physical health issues and further mental health problems. Those who have a lack of control over their anger are susceptible to increased risk of weak immune systems and heart attacks as well as depression and anxiety. On top of this, people who are able to keep their calm are more likely to live more successful life, so anger management is not only important to prevent future problems. It also promotes true potential. It is essential to control the volcano.
From my experience of working with anger clients, the first thing I would like to clarify is the importance of not being influenced by the media. When you think of people with anger issues, you expect huge aggressive alpha males who will attack you at any moment. You often get timid young mothers, who had one moment of impulsiveness. The reason behind this is because we all get angry. Anger is a natural emotion that is experienced by Mary down the street just as much as it is experienced by convicts. However, we differ in how we understand and think about our anger, and this impacts how we express our anger.
What is anger? Before we start speaking about how to manage anger, we need to understand why we have it. From an evolutionary perspective, our anger developed because our brains needed to develop a way to prepare our bodies to fight. When a wild animal appeared in front of our ancestors, the emotional area of our brain released the emotion of anger to make us ready to fight, rather than run/flight.
We need fire to have energy, so anger is essential. It motivates us to act and it allows us to solve problems to create an environment that we see best. However, the problem today is that the brain does not know that we live in a world where we don’t only need to survive. We also want to regulate our emotions. So when someone insults us, our brain might think that we are getting ready to fight a wild animal, but if we react incorrectly, this will make us feel worse afterwards. So we need to manage our anger by firstly listening to it and understanding what is making us angry, and then regulate it using strategies. But these strategies can be detrimental.
Hate: The consequence of anger
Have you ever wondered where hate comes from? When we’re babies, we do not have the ability to hate. We might dislike vegetables, but this isn’t an intense hatred. Only a dislike. But as we grow older, we face challenges and when these challenges create a problem for us, we get angry. Anger is simply our brain telling us that there is a problem that we need to deal with and how we deal with the anger determines how it will affect us. Because there is no education on this, we learn how to deal with anger through society, which tells boys to embrace their anger and fight, while girls are told to hold in their anger because it isn’t ladylike. While these strategies might work short term, they are detrimental long term. This teaches boys to erupt their volcano over any little situation, which makes them dependent on aggression to solve a problem, and it teaches girls to wait until the volcano builds up and builds up, until it explodes, which can have a huge impact on their mental health. When anger isn’t dealt with properly, it turns to a constant state of anger, which then becomes hate. The strategies of managing anger through aggression or repression has spilled through society and it is now visible through the hate we see everyday. All over the news, we see racism, we see left vs right, and we see mental health problems. People are getting angry at others because they do not see the world the same way as they do and when the problem isn’t solved, this anger turns to hatred. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a correct way to teach children how to correctly manage their anger.
How to deal with anger?
Before we can manage our anger, we need to be able to detect it. Using cognitive behavioural therapy as a skill, we should understand our anger through our physical sensations, thoughts and behaviours. Common physical sensations are your heart beating faster, sweating, your body stiffening, changes in your facial expression, your jaw tightening and feeling hot, as demonstrated through the redness of the emoji. While these factors might differ for certain people, it is important to remember that these physical sensations are not under our control and they happen to everyone. These physical sensations are your mind and body telling you that you are feeling angry. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t identify it.
Then, we have thoughts and it is these thoughts that influence how we express our anger. Thinking patterns towards anger differ across people who can express their anger correctly (healthy) and those who cannot (unhealthy). A young woman who has been conditioned to hold in her anger might think the world is against her and think ‘why do I always have to deal with this shit’, while a young man who has always been told to be aggressive might think ‘how dare she do that to me’ or ‘I want to hurt this person’. Alternatively, those with healthy thoughts towards anger rationally realise that there is a problem or disagreement on hand and they ask themselves how can they deal with it, how it will impact how they will feel in the future and how they can change their perspective on the situation. For example, they might say ‘that is quite frustrating but she does have a point’ or ‘that is annoying but it’s not really worth it to do that’.
And then there is finally the behaviour and this is the only process that other people experience as well so it matters. Again, behaviours as a result of anger can be healthy and unhealthy. Unhealthy behaviours make you feel negative as well as others around you. This might include getting in physical or verbal fights, slamming doors or breaking objects. Nobody wants to be around these behaviours. Healthy behaviours are then problem solving acts using proactive methods, such as having a discussion with someone, voicing how you feel, or choosing to keep your mind busy with something you like. This is poking holes in the volcano so that eruption is never necessary.
Training the correct thought patterns and behaviours is very difficult to grasp so it is essential that we teach our children this now. And this doesn’t mean that shouting the house down or kicking the shit out of someone isn’t always the right decision. But by rationally understanding your thoughts, at least you have the option. Those with unhealthy anger do not allow themselves the option. And also please note that there is absolutely no scientific evidence stating that catharsis, such as punching a wall or screaming into a pillow, has an impact on reducing anger. If anything, it increases it. To summarise, unhealthy anger is often anger that is maintained, which happens because of repression (pushing the anger away but it comes back again and again), or because your actions in response to your anger made you feel worse. When this anger remains, it develops into hatred and if there is no person to hate, then you begin hating yourself. This is why anger is so devastating.
Now let’s take the following example:
You are walking down a busy street in London and someone bumps into you. You look up and it was a well dressed business man, who continues walking. Your face immediately frowns and your heartbeat increases.
Note that the situation is the same for everyone and the physical sensations will also be similar for everyone. We have no control over these. However, we do have control over how we think and how we behave. The person with the unhealthy thoughts will think “That prick did that on purpose. He think’s he is better than me so he wanted to show it. I am going to kill him” and they will precede to follow him down the street. The problem has not yet been solved and if they do not get the right reaction off the man, it will continue to not be solved. They are allowing how they feel to be determined by someone else.
The person with the healthy thought patterns will think “That was quite rude. Maybe he is in a rush. It is a busy street in London after all. He wouldn’t have done that if it was only the two of us on the street. I could follow him and ask him for an apology but is it really worth it? Probably not” and the problem will quickly leave their mind as they get on with their day. Because they changed their thinking about the possible problem, the problem went away and so too does their anger. If we are aware of our thinking, we have complete control over our thoughts and we have the ability to change them. We can have healthy thoughts or unhealthy thoughts and those who have unhealthy thoughts are more likely to maintain their anger. So the key here is to show awareness of your thoughts. Then you can begin retraining your brain to think differently in situations where you experience the emotion of anger.
Some might say that the second person is wrong because they are being allowed to be pushed over. But if you remember the Bandersnatch blog, we make decisions based on our mental health. We ask ourselves if our decisions are going to make us feel positive emotions or negative emotions in the future. And going back to right someone else’s wrong might seem like a good decision short term. But after you look back on it, you will feel slightly embarrassed that you needed validation off a stranger to show that you shouldn’t be wronged. And if you live your life trying to make clear to every person that you are important, you will spend the rest of your life trying to do so. So next time you get angry, remember that we are no longer animals. We have the ability to control how we feel through our thoughts, which then influences our behaviours. Anger is normal. Everyone has it. And it is in fact important because it motivates us to act. It is better to be happy than to be right. Anger doesn't have to be negative. It just has to be managed. So firstly understand. Then control your thoughts. And finally express it. Poke holes in the volcano and take its advantages, without the need to explode.
Yours Sincerely, The Motus Movement.