Updated: Jun 20
Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy - Aristotle
Anger is an emotion that can create great energy within us. It results in an increase in heart rate, arterial tension and testosterone production, and a decrease in cortisol production. The left hemisphere of the brain is also reported to become more stimulated. This is a physiologically different response from that of fight/flight that we have discussed in previous articles.
Anger has the tendency to cloud our thoughts and make us impulsive. In some cases, the consequences of that impulsive behaviour can be catastrophic. We are sure that no ‘crime of passion’ ever took place without the presence of anger in the perpetrator.
According to a study by Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental health, Drivers who experience anger at the wheel are much more likely to be involved in a collision.
Anger is an automatic, unconscious response to an external or internal trigger. We can become angry for a wide number of reasons, be it a bout of negative or self-deprecating or thinking, or an external event that has resulted in our becoming savagely or unjustly wounded. It can present as mild irritation which, when prolonged can culminate in explosive results. It can also present as explosive right away.
Let us explore some origins of anger.
In her audio book ‘The Theatre of the Imagination,’ Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes suggests that, behind anger, there are usually tears. That when we are upset by something or someone, it feels safer to become angry than to cry. When someone has upset us, the effect of anger is to create behaviour which protects or shields us, and which will either drive away or put a stop to the cause. When we cry, we present as vulnerable, but when we are angry, we are defended.
It is clear that anger can mask other emotions too, such as guilt, embarrassment, lack of self-worth and jealousy. As we have discussed before, all of these emotions have their roots in fear. Fear arises when we perceive that we may lose something. This might be possessions, status, relationships, time, respect, identity, or purpose.
Such a perception often also provokes Ego, who’s purpose is to keep us safe. Read more about this here:
Follow the link below to read more about your relationship with fear:
When anger, provoked by an injustice, presents itself within us, we often experience a profound rush of energy and a desire to express ourselves straight away in response to what has happened. This type of response can be difficult to suppress. The energy that we feel in this case can be extremely useful if we are in a situation where we need to defend ourselves, however the response is unconscious and often uncontrolled, and as such can also miss the mark in terms of consequences. We might ‘shoot the messenger,’ say something hurtful or, worse still, physically hurt somebody. We may harm our relationships or career.
Anger may also be present when we see those parts of ourselves that we least like reflected in others’ behaviour. When we are young, we are helpless. Right from birth we seek approval and acceptance from the adults around us. Our survival depends on it. This means that some behaviours or parts of the Self that have been shown disapproval in childhood can be put away. We divorce ourselves from them and, whilst they still exist, they become our Shadow. When we are upset by the behaviour of someone else, they are reflecting our Shadow back at us. This can trigger anger and its resultant behaviour. This too, has its roots in fear, as the Shadow is formed to ensure our survival and its exposure can be seen as risking rejection and abandonment which is synonymous with death in childhood. Just as the Shadow accompanies us into adulthood, so does the fear of it being exposed.
When someone irritates us, they are most likely reflecting aspects of our Shadow. If we spend time in that person’s company, we suppress the irritation because we know that the person does not intend to provoke us. This then builds up until we experience a ‘last straw’ scenario, and we unexpectedly ‘blow up’ at them which feels like an indulgence and for which we may later feel guilt. We often experience this with our own children as they are experts at showing us where we need to work on the Self! The consequences here can be harmful. Just as we have created our own model of the world and core beliefs as a result of our parenting and childhood experiences, so are our children and by allowing their reflections of our own shadow to trigger us, we can negatively influence them.
Read more about how to connect with your Shadow here:
As we have discussed before, it is widely accepted that we all have our own unique model of the world which is formed in childhood using information from our parenting, our life experiences, and our genetics. This is the lens through which we see life. It colours everything. Along with this we develop a set of core beliefs about the world and the Self. These colour our thoughts and perceptions.
Like every emotion, anger is an unconscious product of our own perception. It arises not in response to the event itself but in response to how we perceive that that event affects us.
It is a product of thinking and perception both of which are affected by our core beliefs.
Each model of the world will be vastly different dependant on experience and genetics and although it will ring absolutely true for its creator, is not in fact, the whole truth and can therefore be challenged.
Our model of the world is a product of processing and can therefore be changed.
We can choose what to believe and we can choose what to think.
Read more here about how to reframe core beliefs:
Whatever has triggered the anger response within us, we are wise when we see it as an opportunity for improving self-awareness and in turn, personal resilience.
During ‘talking therapy’ we encourage our patients to take time to ‘sit with’ their emotions as soon as they become manifest. This does not mean that we must do the ‘inner work’ immediately, but it allows the emotions to be witnessed then and there and discourages the person from putting them on hold until a later time when recalling the situation may can fall prey to distorted thinking.
Read more about this here:
When we cultivate the ability to acknowledge our anger responses and allow them to show us where we can nurture the Self, we truly do walk the path of enlightenment.
For more see ‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’ from Sheldon Press. It takes you on a journey of self-discovery; it shares over 60 tools and techniques, including meditations with purpose, visualisation exercises and practical tools to help improve your mental wellbeing, reduce anxiety and allow you to take control of your life.
 C. M. Wickens et al.Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 2016;