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What is Anger?

Generally, people tend to view anger as one of our strongest and most powerful emotions. Anger is a natural and "automatic" human response, and can in fact, serve to help protect us from harm. While angry behavior can be destructive, angry feelings themselves are merely a signal that we may need to do something. Anger is usually experienced as strong feelings of annoyance or displeasure and often occurs as a result of frustration and feelings of inadequacy when the attainment of a goal is blocked. Quite simply, when we are threatened we experience anxiety, and anger is a learned means of neutralizing our anxious feelings. Depending on the perceived severity of the threat, feelings of anger can range from mild irritation to full-blown rage.


Facts about Anger

Here is a list of some "common sense" facts about anger:

  • The emotion of anger gives one a feeling of power that can compensate for underlying feelings of anxiety.
  • When a person experiences a situation in which there are certain expectations of self and others that remain unmet, anger often occurs.
  • Anger may be displaced onto an object resembling the original object of anger, or, often anger is displaced to an object that is less threatening than the original source of the anger.
  • Any anxiety-producing situation has the potential for evoking anger and aggression.
  • Often, people who live with a knowledge of their potential and do not behave in ways that will help them achieve it are frustrated and angry.
  • The conflict between two values can be a source of anger.
  • Anger can be a vehicle to a new understanding and meaning.


Making the most of your Anger

Anger can be beneficial when we can recognize that this powerful emotion that we are experiencing is a signal that we are feeling threatened and frustrated, and that our mind and body are trying to mobilize us to take action.


How do you express your Anger?

As children, we learn from family and friends what are considered acceptable ways to express our anger. Often there are complex "rules" regarding the expression of anger: Are we allowed to be angry? Can we show it? When? To whom? Many times there are powerful proscriptions about how and when we express anger, often learned from watching our parents express their anger. We carry these beliefs and perceptions into adulthood, and they can be very resistant to change.

People express their anger in a variety of ways. Some people seem to explode over very small things; others seem to rarely show even the smallest irritation. Anger is often expressed in ways that are subtle and often not recognized as angry acts at the time. For instance, anger may be unconsciously translated into forgetfulness, procrastination, tardiness, or carelessness. People may appear perpetually cynical, grouchy, or even depressed. We all have different triggers for our anger...and often we have difficulty understanding why certain things seem to anger us in the first place! But remember, many times, angry outbursts are the result of a build-up of many things throughout the day. Things that by themselves are only mildly irritating can accumulate and result in a seemingly unreasonable outburst later in the day when the right trigger is encountered. How can you stop the process of accumulated irritations leading to overblown angry outbursts? By taking action.


Taking Action

Probably the most important step in changing how you handle your anger involves examining your beliefs about anger itself. Do you believe that others make you angry? If so, you are powerless to change it! At some point, you have to take responsibility for your own anger. This is NOT the same as blaming yourself for your anger...remember, anger is only a signal that you are being threatened or feeling frustrated. Your anger is telling you that you have needs that are not being met, and/or problems that need to be worked out. So, you don't have to hold back, you don't have to explode, you just need to make use of your anger and get in touch with why you are experiencing the anger in the first place.

Surprisingly enough, many times our anger is not caused by an event, but rather is the result of what we think about the event. In other words, our angry feelings are the product of our perceptions of events and experiences. And often, the thoughts that we have about any particular event come to us so fast that we are not even consciously aware of them...these thoughts are in essence automatic. Where do these thoughts come from? They are the results of our unique neurological makeup combined with our unique set of individual life experiences. For example, say you are walking through the woods and you see a bear. How you react would depend a great deal on what you tell yourself at the moment. And what you tell yourself will depend largely on your past experiences and what you believe to be true about bears in the woods. If you are a forest ranger, you might be mildly curious, because you tell yourself, "No problem, I'll just walk out around and allow the bear to continue feeding." If you are a hunter, you might be very excited, telling yourself, "Now I can finally bag that trophy I have always wanted!" If you know little about bears, you might be terrified, telling yourself, "Bears are dangerous and unpredictable, and I will probably be killed and eaten!" The same event occurred, but each person reacts in a vastly different manner. So it goes with anger. Many times, it's what we think about an event or experience that determines whether or not we get angry about it, or merely shrug it off with a laugh. Understanding that automatic thoughts can generate angry feelings gives you a powerful technique to help control your anger. When we can identify and evaluate our automatic thought processes, we can begin to gain control over our feelings. The next time you feel yourself get angry, take a minute for some self-analysis. You might try these 4 steps: (1) Try to capture and identify your thoughts, and attempt to understand your interpretation of the situation; (2) Ask yourself, "Are there alternative explanations?" i.e., is there another way to interpret the situation? (3) Examine your reasoning and logic. Does it make sense? (4) Look at the evidence. Is there evidence to support a contradictory view? Let's look at another example. Your friend is supposed to pick you up at eight o'clock sharp for the concert. Eight fifteen, eight thirty, and still no ride. You find yourself getting angry. "She knows how much I wanted to go to this concert. She is always so inconsiderate." Using step one, you examine your thinking and realize that you are telling yourself that your friend is late on purpose, just to hurt you! What are the alternatives? Flat tire, accident, important phone call, lost car keys, miscommunication about the time, etc. Look at your reasoning. You know that your friend is generally a very reliable person (that's one of the reasons that you like her!), but her car is not so reliable. She was also just as excited about the concert as you were, and it would make no sense that she would be late just to hurt you. Last, look for contradictory evidence. Your friend has never let you down before. She is one of the most trustworthy people you know. She has always been very considerate of your feelings in the past. Understanding how your automatic thinking can fuel your anger can really help to get yourself back on track and save you lots of emotional wear and tear.


The Anger Quotient Test

For each question, choose the answer that best fits you method of coping with anger.

1. If I become frustrated when something I'm attempting to fix does not work, I:- Keep my cool.- Verbally express displeasure.- Hide my anger inside.- Physically take it out on the thing I am trying to fix.- Strike out at anyone or anything that happens to be close.

2. When I am verbally criticized, I:- Listen and try to understand their point of view.- Walk away.- Pout and sulk.- Become argumentative and verbally attack.- Physically strike out at the person.

3. When unjustly accused of something, I:- Stand up for myself.- Assume a passive position and stay silent.- Complain to someone else.- Become verbally aggressive.- Become physically assaultive.

4. When peers tease me, I:- Ignore them.- Tease back.- Leave the group and sulk.- Counterattack aggressively.- Physically attack my tormentor.

5. When I fail at something that I thought I could succeed at, I:- Accept it and try to learn from the experience.- Rationalize, and become defensive.- Brood about it.- Put the blame on someone else, where it belongs.- Take my anger and disappointment out on myself or on someone else.

6. When I feel that I am being pushed to change, I:- Try to recognize that I may really need to change.- Ignore those trying to push me.- Take it personally.- Dig in my heels and resist all suggestions.- Become physically or verbally assaultive.

7. When I feel that people are setting limits on me, I:- Try to understand what is being requested and why.- Passively accept the limits, and generally don't question the need.- Become defensive, resistant and argumentative.- Openly defy or ignore them.- Become physically assaultive, or figure out ways to get even.

8. If I am rejected when I am trying to help, I:- Accept that others might not want my help.- Try harder to help.- Take it personally.- Tend to become verbally judgmental of them.- Take it as a personal putdown and often take out my anger on myself or someone else.

Scoring Key
32 to 40 Good for seem to handle your anger well.
24 to 31 do have some ability to handle your anger, but it looks like you may want to make some changes.
23 or less You need to work on your anger.



Reserve Library, HBLL 48 Hour Reserve


Anger Busting 101 (Hightower) ........................ BF 575 .A5 H54 2002
How to Keep People From Pushing Your Buttons ........................ BF 637 .I48 E45 1994
The Anger Workbook (Bilodeau) ........................ BF 575 .A5 B55 1992