In our previous blog, we looked at your relationship with anger and different ways you may get angry. And while we touched on the physiological flight or fight response to anger in that blog, let’s see if we can dig deeper into the biology of anger and what really makes you angry.
When we are angry it is sometimes hard to believe that anger is actually a secondary emotion. Not secondary in terms of less important, but rather secondary in terms that another emotion is felt first and anger is the second emotion.
The idea of anger is like an iceberg. The anger is the eruption that is seen. What lies beneath are the originating emotions. And these are what really matter.
The originating emotions are the emotions that are so painful, vulnerable and uncomfortable that we quickly make the shift to anger. These are the boogeymen in the closet you don’t want to face.
When an event happens that affects us negatively we may feel such emotions as hurt, helplessness, shame, rejection, and the big one – fear. These emotions are very difficult to experience – so we shut the door of the closet very quickly.
Our internal system will do anything to avoid feeling these difficult emotions and will quickly move us into a state of regaining power. The answer as to why we slam that door and become angry instead is quite simple: Anger feels powerful. It feels like a way to right the wrong, and take away the feeling of vulnerability that comes with being out of control.
In order to regain power and avoid the state of vulnerability prompted by the originating event the brain goes into high gear. In an oversimplified biology lesson – this state of mind is governed by our brain and small almond shaped structures known as the amygdala that governs our fight or flight response. (Digging deeper than the last blog here!)
When the amygdala interprets a danger, it sends the signal to other brain structures (the hypothalamus) to begin the cascade of hormones that provide a surge of power in preparation for the fight (Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine- the three major stress hormones).
Anger temporarily takes us away from feeling hurt, helplessness, ashamed, rejected, and the big one – afraid. Instead our body feels powerful. No wonder anger can be addictive to people since it can numb the pain and convert to a sense of power.
Why would anyone want to find an antidote to that?
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Why you need to manage your anger
Chronic anger can be toxic to relationships and to health. Although the emotion of anger is a normal human emotion, neither good nor bad, it’s important to differentiate that there is a difference between anger the emotion and aggression the behavior.
When the fight or flight response is activated and the hormones prepare for the fight our frontal cortex (our rational brain) disengages. We stop functioning rationally and sensibly, which is why it is so difficult to slow the process down.
One “old fashioned technique” is to slowly count to ten. Focusing on the counting allows your rational mind catch up with your feelings. Deep diaphragmatic breathing can help to regulate the hormones because it helps to quiet down the amygdala.
Once the experience of anger has been short circuited it becomes important to become honest with the iceberg of emotions and understand what the originating emotions are so that we can address these emotion directly.
In other words, now that you know what anger is, and you know how to manage your anger, it’s time for you to assess what really makes you angry?
You see that you are quite clear on how you get angry from our last blog, right? And you see that you may act aggressively when you’re angry, creating more of a problem for yourself. However, what is that boogeyman in the closet? What is really making you angry?
It’s time for you to look at the iceberg under the water. You need to take a minute to say, “What is really triggering my amygdala to fight or flight?” When you take the time to look deeper into yourself, you may be able to start resolving how you feel about the real boogeyman.
Instead of punching him in the face, perhaps you can learn to invite him out into the room for a cup of tea and cookies. You can look him in the face and ask why he’s so insecure about something that hurts him.
By making peace with the primary cause of your anger, you will slowly learn to stop slamming the door and acting aggressively towards it. You will also find a deeper sense of inner contentment as you no longer need to cover over your fear, do you?
Dr. Ines K. Roe has been helping women in transition rediscover themselves for over 20 years. If you’ve been feeling unfulfilled, are frustrated with your sense of accomplishment in midlife, or simply need guidance on your path to holistic well being, join her ecourse.