An Essay on AngerWednesday, 6 September 2017, 9:56 am
Article: Jason Sanders
A Minor Article on Anger
By Jason Sanders
Anger or wrath is the emotion of heated displeasure. It is both the smouldering flame of resentment and the volcanic eruption of fury. To be angry is to not be at peace. It is to be held in the grip of aversion towards some person, event, pattern of living, opinion or thing. This essay is about the nefarious influence of anger, its unskilfulness, and how to let go of it.
Who is wrathful? He is a wrathful man who is repelled by many things. His views are predominately negative, critical, and most of all impetuous. His speech is given to sarcasm, complaining, harshness, swearing, dogmatic views, and
dismissiveness. The proper term for one who is very often angry is “irascible”.
Anger can lead to broken trust, trauma, criminality, imprisonment, and wars.
Nevertheless it is commonplace nowadays to hear anger being justified as a healthy emotion that needs to be “vented”. The popular growth of psychology and psychotherapy in the 1970s and 1980s has led to wide adoption of the idea that repression of any negative emotions is bad for mental health, and even physical health. There is a tendency to see anger as a source of strength, often justified in its expression, a reasonable response to undesireable behaviours or conditions. From street protesters and rock stars, to CEOs, teachers, and police this view is held in common.
But what if this commonly held view is wrong? What if even small instances of anger are signs of egoism, of a hardened heart, of a certain degree of spiritual blindness that is leading us into stressed relationships, fractious workplaces, and less than satisfying family life?
Seeing anger in such a negative light is certainly the historic view of the world’s great religions. The Roman Catholic Church for example made up a list of Seven Deadly Sins in the Middle Ages at the height of Christendom, and put anger or wrath as it is sometimes termed firmly on the list. The Buddha condemned anger, making it a part of his five Hindrances to enlightenment. Islam too is wary of anger. The Prophet Mohammad told his followers that the best of them were those slowest to anger, and the worst those who stayed angry the longest.
Condemnation of anger even occurs in some pagan philosophies like Stoicism. Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher during the reign of Nero said, “Anger: an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
The Christian View
According to Bishop Athanasius of Cyprus we can pretty much take it for granted our expressions of anger are based on egoism and are therefore sinful (Pride is a great sin). Scripture is also wary of anger. Again and again the Bible counsels us to be slow to anger (ie. Proverbs). James in his epistle said: “A man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”
Without a doubt anger goes against the whole tenor of Christ’s teachings in the Gospels with His emphasis on the need to forgive, to love enemies, to be merciful: “Blessed are the peace-makers,” he said during the Sermon on the Mount, “for they shall be acknowledged as sons of God.” Christ didn’t just condemn murder as the Old Testament had, but went on to condemn abuse and contempt: “I say to you that everyone who gets angry with his brother shall be answerable to the Magistrate…that whoever says “You fool!” shall be liable to the Gehenna of Fire.” (Matt. 5:22)
One of Eastern Orthodox’s greatest saints, St John of Kronstadt, Russia, went so far as to say, “He who is impatient and irritable does not know himself and the human race, and is unworthy of the name of Christian.” He also said, “We ought not to allow ourselves to be vexed or irritated by anything, because if we do become vexed or irritated frequently we form a habit which is very harmful to us, both morally and physically, whilst if we bear opposition with equanimity we form a good and beneficial habit – that of enduring everything calmly and patiently.”
Aggressive behaviour such as we often see in secular society, and indeed even amongst many Christians, with its swearing, put-downs, sneering news columns, abuse-laden snarky internet message boards, road rage, and family estrangements, is surely being perpetuated in part by societies equivocations and sneaking admiration of anger. According to many modern counsellors and psychologists this isn't altogether a bad thing. They might see abuse as wrong, but would defend our right to become angry. A strict Christian it would seem could not concur.
The Buddhist View
Buddhism, an ancient religion of India, also puts forward many reasons against anger. The Buddha taught that anger was unskilful, and linked it to “aversion” (which also includes hatred and fear), one of the Five hindrances to enlightenment. Buddhism is a philosophical teaching based around recognizing “the Dhamma”, an ancient Indian word meaning “the truth of the way things are” or “suchness”. One of the essential truths of our existence, according to the Buddha, is that life is pervaded by “dukkha” which means various shades of dissatisfactoriness: suffering, and stress are always either affecting us directly, or haunting us with their possibility. Anger is an emotion, a state of mind, which leads to dukkha. This is why in the most well known collection of his sayings, the Dhammapada, the Buddha said there was no loss like anger. He likened it to a plant which has a honeyed tip, but which has a root that lies in poison. Anger is often seductive to the perpetuator,
and can make him or her feel strong, alive, and seemingly vindicated; it persuades us that its expression will help resolve our problems and improve our lives. Instead, in the Buddha’s words,
“Anger brings with it great misery,
Anger churns and disrupts our thinking,
It is not understood by most
This frightening peril that lies deep within.” (Ittivutaka 3:88)
According to leading Buddhist teachers like Ajahn Sumedho of the UK, a senior Theravadan Buddhist monk in the Thai tradition, and Allan Lokos, a teacher at the Community Meditation Center in New York, both of them respected Buddhist authors, impatience fans the fires of anger and could be likened to being the ever present shadow of anger. It’s virtually impossible for an impatient person not to have problems with anger. This is one the reason why the Buddha said, “Those without patience are afflicted in this world.” If you think of famous people in history who were full of anger and hate, famous war lords and dictators like Stalin, Ivan the Terrible, Hitler, Alexander the Great, and brutal monarchs like Catherine De Medici, Henry the 8th, Mary Tudor, as well as gangsters like Al Capone, and tempestuous writers like John Osborne, they were all notably impatient. Alexander the Great, for example, who could throw his lance at dinner guests who upset him, was reputed to have wept by the side of the Tigris river when he heard there was no more lands to conquer. He had conquered all the known world by the age of 30 or so. If that is not impatience I don’t know what is!
Hindu Beliefs on Anger
It is difficult to say if Hinduism is a single religion, such is its diversity. But if there is one book which is revered as authoritive by virtually all Hindus it is The Bhagavad Gita where the avatar Krishna gives what it is thought to be God’s views on the ulitimate purpose of life. Krishna addresses his human friend Arjuna on the eve of a battle. During his discourse he had this to say about anger:
“Pondering on objects of the senses, a man develops attachment for them; from attachment springs up desire, and desire gives rise to anger. (2.62)
From anger arises delusion; from delusion unsteadiness of memory; from unsteadiness of memory destruction of intellect; through the destruction of the intellect he perishes. (2.63)”
It is not surprising that from a country whose religious traditions put so much emphasis on non violence and not killing its most sacred text sees anger as a great enemy.
The Stoic View
Seneca, a famous Roman Stoic philosopher and nobleman, wrote a lot about anger and its dangers because he saw first-hand its unhappy results. Living and moving within the wealthy upper echelons of Imperial Rome he noticed how great wealth and luxury actually led to people getting more angry, not less. It seemed to him that a sense of entitlement and unbridled desires could cause tempers to flare more often. Anger was an appalling vice according to Seneca, to be completely disregarded and not to ever be trusted. In a long and famous essay he argued why anger should always be avoided. Seneca developed some practical strategies that he believed could allow anger to be controlled. One of them was to lower your expectations: “We cease to be angry once we cease to be so hopeful”. The idea is not to assume that life is meant to be easy.
So, for example, don’t go to work expecting a happy easy day in the office – that sets you up for disappointment and anger when your boss upbraids you, when your computer breaks down, or when unrealistic goals are given to you. Instead, tentatively (without overdoing it), expect yourself to be frustrated, to be treated unfairly, to be under appreciated, and then when it all happens your hopes won’t be dashed. This bypasses a very common cause of anger, and you will be more appreciative when you do have a pleasant day.
His other strategy is to delay expressing or acting out your anger. Perhaps the greatest of all Stoic Philosophers, Epictetus, certainly concurred – “Learn to wait and assess instead of always reacting from untrained instinct. Spontaneity is not a virtue in and of itself.”
The Worst Form of Anger: Hatred
Few would disagree that hatred, which is long standing obdurate anger according to St Tikhon of Zadonsk, a great Russian saint, is the worst and ugliest form, causing as it does violence, torture, oppression, wars, racism, murder and rape.
A good example of hatred in action in the pages of history is the Nazi Party of Germany. Nazi propaganda minister Joesph Goebbels admitted candidly that his party dealt in hatred. They were not ashamed of it; party leader Adolf Hitler was disparaging, in private talks, of Christianity’s championing of virtues like patience, forgiveness and universal love: “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?” ('Inside the Third Reich' by Albert Speer).
It was the Nazi’s aggressive hatred for the Jewish people, for Marxism, for so called weaker cultures and ways of life that led to them starting a war that cost more than 50 million lives. Their extreme aversion to “the other”, to anything unGermanic, or not approved of by Nazi ideology was in essence their supreme guiding principle, although there was a fair amount of greed too, with their massive land grabs, looting of art treasures and gold. This was all they had to offer the world. Laurence Rees has described the central thrust of 'Mein Kampf,' Hitler’s book on his philosophy, as “bleak nihilism” revealing a cold universe with no moral structure other than the fight between different people for supremacy. Nazi ideology never questioned anger or hatred – they gloried in it, and the depth of their depravity knew no bounds. It was Nazi nihilism and disrespect for religious edicts like compassion (in reference to his Hitler Youth the Nazi dictator said he wanted them to be violent, domineering “and undismayedly cruel”) which led to their brutal violence, extermination camps, vivisection on human beings, state racism, and aggressive war. My point is this is only natural when you disavow (apart from token lip-service) all respect for religious ideals preserved in culture, customs, and laws.
Lesser Instances of Hostility are also Unhelpful
If we agree hatred is a terrible vice, like inveterate dishonesty or unbridled lust, then we can also see how even small
instances of hatred must also be of concern. For if hatred is an unhelpful misery causing emotion then surely angry
outbursts, surliness, sarcasm, dislike, and such like, which are but lesser versions of the same energy (hostility) can also lead to the creation of misery, division and injustice.
Likewise when we are guilty of talking angrily over another person in a dismissive manner, or of raising our voices and name-calling during a disagreement, or harbouring a grudge and freezing out a sister or brother.
According to a major UK study (Boiling Point Report), released in 2008, anger is on the rise. It stated that UK citizens are 5 times more likely to lose tempers when dealing with businesses than 15 years previously. Road rage they found was getting worse, and they also mentioned shopping rage, phone rage, and office rage; 30% of office workers reported witnessing physical attacks on computers for example!
Many have heard of road rage and, if you're a gym attendee, perhaps even "road rage", but fewer have heard of office rage or phone rage. I remember meeting two women at a seminar once, some years ago, who told me they couldn’t handle their jobs as phone receptionists, due to all the abuse they were getting daily. Most receptionists and call centre operators will know all about phone rage.
Phone rage, like road rage, is a modern phenomenon. But I don’t think we need to eulogise the past too much: society is less violent than it was. One only needs to read a Dickens’ novel like 'Oliver Twist' to see how pervasive anger and aggression were a couple of centuries ago. It is clear from the novel that adults, whether male or female saw it as the right thing to do to use their fists violently against little children. During the course of the novel Oliver Twist only narrowly was saved by a doddery old magistrate from being put into the custody of a man who had beaten to death other children in his charge.
Why can’t we master ourselves and remain polite even when feeling exasperated? Why is it the anger seems to come on against our will?
Surely the answer is we have accumulated anger through our thoughts, and over time have not prevented many a
judgemental thought and feeling from finding a lodging in our hearts. Surely it is because we are not clearly against the expression of anger. Add to this a general lack of restraint in our speech, a lack of practice at being patient and you have the perfect conditions for rage to emerge. But there could also be at least one other reason. We now live in societies that entertain themselves with fictionalised stories full of sex, cynicism and anger, and voyeuristic accounts of celebrity misbehavior.
Entertainment and Anger
Is it possible that passive viewing of hostile stories in the form of entertainment encourages the feelings of anger? Can a steady diet of horror films, foreboding murder mysteries, and violent thrillers lead to anger issues? TV and films are very much more violent than they were a few decades ago.
Stephen King, the horror writer, wrote an essay (“Why We Crave Horror Movies”) defending the popularity of horror films. He said they appeal “to all that is worst in us” and lift “a trap in the civilized forebrain (to throw) a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.” Be kind to the dark forces within he says, because otherwise they will erupt!
His argument, while humourous, is wholly sincere: letting ourselves be entertained by stories of the Id, and of people who’ve given in to their dark passions, who’ve been perverted by depraved forces and energies, and in turn victimize others, is going to make us better calmer people. The uncivilized, untamed parts of our souls – the gators in our mind – will be more controllable if we give them what they want, King argues.
I certainly agree “the gators” are fed by the viewing of horror films, and not just films but novels like Kings which they’re often based on. Also the alligators can get sleek and fat on a diet of TV programmes whose stories revolve around violence, lasciviousness, ruthlessness, and other negative human traits. TV productions which easily fit that bill include the Sword and Lust fantasy 'Game of Thrones,' old dramas like 'Dallas,' a great many modern TV detective dramas, and even soaps like 'Coro St' which these days seems to be all about people cheating on each other and then wanting revenge.
King believes such feeding makes “the gators” more peaceable, but I disagree. I believe such feeding makes the darkness stronger, more uncontrollable. It’s rather similar to consuming alcohol. A tipple here and there is not going to do anything much to you. But if you start regular heavy drinking, and use it as a form of escapism to calm down feelings of social inferiority, or to numb emotional pain you can’t bring yourself to face - you’re asking to be addicted. Similarly one can use horror films and TV programmes about the darker human passions as a form of escapism from the boredom or pain of ones life, but there will likely be a cost to your spirit.
Horror films et al just have to increase one’s distrust of the world, of people and this can only increase feelings of aversion or hostility. I recently watched part of the film 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' about a middle-aged married couple who bitch and play mind games with each other. The relentless sarcasm and put downs make it a heavy watch but what surprised me was how I found myself, as the film wore on, feeling more impatient and irritated with my viewing companion, and vice versa. The film without a doubt was influencing us somehow, with its negative atmosphere. In the end we elected not to finish viewing the film and watched something milder. Our behaviour immediately returned to normal.
Veneer of Civilisation
This is not to say we ought to deny our dark sides. It seems to me that Jungian psychology is right to suggest that what we deny can become our “shadow”. Denying the reality of our feelings leads to unconscious negative behaviour. We are better off admitting to ourselves we are prone to anger, although this still doesn't mean we have to indulge it. It is definitely part of the rubric of Christianity to be honest in self examination, and admit our faults – for this is humility. The Buddha counseled his followers to let anger arise and be observed with detachment, but not to be expressed or acted on. In this way spaciousness and understanding around this great negative force could be gained, and combining this with the cultivation of compassion and patience, slowly but steadily anger will lessen.
Stephen King was really talking about our primal selfishness when he refers to “the gators” in our minds. This I do agree with him: in many ways we only have a veneer of civilisation in this world. We are not as progressive as we think we are. Put us in the right circumstances (i.e. a life-boat with limited water and food, lost at sea) and a great deal of us would become more vicious. Christendom would have called it original sin. Still, I will always believe that an innate goodness is our deepest reality – our true nature is selfless love - but all the major world religions seem to suggest it takes a lot of work to uncover that "inner kingdom" and in the meantime the presence of anger in us is a sign that we are still in servitude to "self." It is their assertion that if you are slow to anger, quick to forgive, have no bitterness in your soul, you will have a better life – because character is destiny. Your patience, peace and compassion will benefit the whole of society.
Methods to Lessen Anger
In case you feel you have some problems with anger here are some methods and skills to slowly lessen it. There are many methods and I am only mentioning ones I have personally found useful.
1) Forgiveness. This is huge and pivotal. I remember a couple of decades ago I read in the paper about an intrepid Norwegian explorer who trekked across the vast icy expanse of Antarctica by himself. The only reading material he took with him was a Bible. He said the main theme he picked up from it during those lonely hours in his tent in the harshest weather conditions on the planet was the need for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a healing balm. It is letting go of anger, refusing to live in the past. It is all about hope.
Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Evangelical Christian woman who helped hide Jewish people in occupied Holland during the Second World War knew all about the need for forgiveness. Arrested by the Gestapo after being informed on near the end of the war, along with other family members, she was sent to an extermination camp in Germany. She barely survived, and lost her father and older sister in the most ghastly circumstances. After the wars end she went back to Germany to help the devastated enemy recover, and even met and managed to forgive one of her former SS guards, one of the most brutal. A prayer to Jesus Christ helped her. Corrie said, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
2) Reframe the way you look at things. A brilliant way to defuse anger comes from Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy, a sort of sister to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and which like it was much influenced by Stoicism. Ellis, a hard boiled New York psychologist, has suggested three unexamined core beliefs cause disturbance by their absolutism and demandingness. The one which frequently causes anger is as follows:
“Other significant people in my life, must treat me kindly and fairly at all times, or else I can’t stand it, and they’re bad, rotten, and evil persons who should be severely blamed, damned, and vindictively punished for their horrible treatment of me.”
A more flexible skillful way to view things when you’re inevitably let down is:
“It would be preferable if significant people in my life were to treat me kindly and fairly but that doesn’t always happen. People sometimes let you down, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad and unkind. It just means they’re imperfect, like me.”
Ellis it seems to me is trying to get people to be less black and white in their thinking, less rigid. Over use of the word “must” in people’s vocabularies is one clue. He jokes about people “mustabating” with their inflexible expectations and senses of entitlement. You think your mother “must” love you, but as Ellis points out a lot of people manage to lead happy fulfilling lives, despite never having had a loving mother. As he says, “So what if your mother looked at you cross-eyed when you were young; it doesn’t mean you have to be miserable for the rest of your life!”
3) Be judged by your own conscience, not others opinions. In this modern flatland world we are encouraged to believe we all have our own truths, even if they’re mutually contradictory. We have lost respect for authority, especially religious authority, lost our trust in the idea that there can be a guiding spiritual pole star to our storm tossed seas of life. And thus we paradoxically become less sure of ourselves. The only reliable authority becomes the opinion of the majority which is so often wrong, faddish and tyrannical. Truth seems to be built on a shifting shoal of sand.
One of the ramifications of the flat lining of values due to secularity is people become more thin skinned. Venerable
Thubten Chodron, an American Buddhist nun points out in her book “Dealing with Life’s Issues” that most anger is born from becoming hurt or afraid. Upon feeling infringed upon we seek the false security of anger; the adrenaline release makes us feel empowered. However the power it gives us is illusory and it ends up almost always worsening any given situation. As Chodron says, "It is as if we were thinking, "I’ll be so mad at them that they’ll regret what they did and love me," but the opposite happens, and our release of venom pushes the other person away. Chodron: "A lot of hurt feelings come about because we don’t feel totally sure of ourselves. Thus, we crave for somebody else’s approval or praise so that we can feel good about ourselves. This is what most people do. However, if we learn to evaluate our own actions and motivations we won’t be so dependent on other people telling us if we are good or bad."
Modern capitalist-consumer society has a tendency to tear our emotions apart. It is not hard to start feeling alienated from the opposite sex or society in general because of histories of failed relationships, family dysfunction, unhappy marriages, and surburban neurosis. Perhaps you have not known steady family love, even from childhood; then the chances are you might feel great anger stemming from a deprivation of love; you might be tempted to withdraw from society into materialism, love of animals over people, shallow hedonism, or egoism. This is where having a strong spiritual practice such as daily prayer, the practice of mindfulness, following the ethical precepts of religion, or simply believing in the saving force of compassion can really help you slowly let go of unfruitful behaviours. Of course one must sincerely practice one’s chosen path for it to have any effect. Surely the Desert Father, Dorotheos of Gaza, was correct in pointing out that no-one ever learned to do things like riding horses by just reading about it!
4) Express Feelings Without Blame
Learn the difference between responding aggressively and assertively.
a. Aggressive. "You liar! How can I ever trust you after what you said to Nigel? Don’t you have any sense of shame?" (loud tone, with finger wagging).
b. Assertive. "I’m feeling upset. I understand from Nigel that you told him I’m lazy. If true I feel let down by you."(level, well-modulated voice, with good eye contact).
The first response is certainly venting anger but you have also blamed and abused the person you’re speaking to. They have had no chance to give their side of the story. The second assertive response is actually more courageous and thoughtful, without expressing any anger. Calm determination is more effective than beligerance – the warriors of Sparta knew this. Famous for their fighting prowess they evidently listened to calming music before going into battle so they would not lose their tempers.
I have certainly found in confrontational situations that making “I” statements can help a good deal. You own your own feelings, and are not so prone to generalising unfairly about the other person (i.e. abuse them by calling them a liar, an idiot or worse). Reflective listening is also helpful: summarising politely what the other person has been saying, reflecting it back to them. This helps them understand you’re listening attentively to them, which is respectful, and helps them understand what they’ve actually said! Because a lot of people get carried away in the heat of the moment and forget what they’re actually saying!
5)Take a clear stand on Anger. Be clear through your own investigations into anger what the results of anger are. Reflect on why so many wise religious leaders and thinkers are united in saying anger is a negative force, not to be trusted.
He who is slow to anger, or never gets angry is a person at peace with the world. His singular thoughtfulness and calm self control is a sign of great patience and wisdom, and this creates the room for real love to grow. Not sentimental love, but selfless love or compassion. This will be a positive influence on the world.
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Anger is a natural, though sometimes unwanted or irrational, emotion that everybody experiences from time to time.
Anger experts describe the emotion as a primary, natural emotion which has evolved as a way of surviving and protecting yourself from what is considered a wrong-doing.
Mild anger may be brought on by feeling tired, stressed or irritated, in fact we are more likely to feel irritated if our basic human needs (food, shelter, sex, sleep, etc.) are not met or are jeopardised in some way.
We may become angry when reacting to frustration, criticism or a threat and this is not necessarily a bad or inappropriate reaction.
We can also feel irritated by other people’s beliefs, opinions and actions and hence anger can affect our ability to communicate effectively - making us more likely to say or do unreasonable or irrational things.
Being unreasonable or irrational can lead others around us to feel threatened, resentful or angry themselves and, again, these can all be barriers to effective communication.
Anger can also be a ‘secondary emotion’ to feeling sad, frightened, threatened or lonely.
It is useful to try to understand why you (or somebody else) is feeling angry at any given time so that the root causes can be addressed and problems solved.
Anger, however, is not just a state-of-mind. Anger can trigger physical changes including an increased heart rate, blood pressure and levels of hormones such as adrenaline preparing us physically for ‘fight or flight’. Due to these physical effects long-term anger can be detrimental to health and wellbeing.
How Anger is Expressed
Anger can be expressed in many ways; different types of anger affect people differently and can manifest to produce different actions and signs of anger. The most common signs of anger are both verbal and non-verbal.
It can be clear that somebody is angry from what they say or how they say it, or from their tone of voice. Anger can also be expressed through body language and other non-verbal cues: trying to look physically bigger (and therefore more intimidating), staring, frowning and clenching of fists. Some people are very good at internalising their anger and it may be difficult to notice any physical signs. It is, however, unusual for an actual physical attack to transpire without ‘warning’ signs appearing first.
What Makes People Angry?
At a basic instinctual level anger may be used as a way to help protect territory or family members, secure or protect mating privileges, protect against loss of food or other possessions, or as a response to other perceived threats.
Other reasons can be very diverse - sometimes rational and sometimes irrational. Irrational anger may mean that you have a problem with managing anger or even accepting that you are angry - our page on Anger Management covers ways that you can understand and manage your anger (or that of other people).
Some common triggers to anger include:
- Grief and/or sadness, loss of a family member, friend or other loved one.
- Rudeness, poor interpersonal skills and/or poor service. (See Interpersonal Skills and Customer Service Skills)
- Tiredness, since people may have shorter tempers and be more irritable when tired.
- Injustice: for example infidelity, being bullied, humiliated or embarrassed, or being told that you, or a loved one, has a serious illness.
- Sexual frustration.
- Money problems and the stress associated with debt.
- Some forms of stress, unrealistic deadlines and things beyond our immediate control such as being stuck in traffic. (See: What is Stress? and Avoiding Stress)
- A feeling of failure or disappointment.
- Becoming angry as a result of taking drugs or alcohol, or when withdrawing from such substances.
- Having a crime committed against you or a loved one: theft, violence, sexual offences but also more minor things such as a feeling of being treated inappropriately.
- Being either physical or mentally unwell, being in pain or living with a serious illness can lead to feeling angry.
Can Anger Make You Ill?
When we are angry, our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, the same hormones released when we encounter stress.
As a result of these releases in hormones our blood pressure, pulse, body temperature and breathing rate may increase, sometimes to potentially dangerous levels. This natural chemical reaction is designed to give us an instant boost of energy and power and is often referred to as the 'fight or flight' reaction. This means that the body and mind prepare for a fight or for running away from danger.
However, people who get angry often cannot manage their anger effectively and can become ill, just as stress that is left unresolved may make you ill. Our bodies are not designed to withstand high levels of adrenaline and cortisol over long periods or on a very regular basis.
Some of the health problems that may occur as a result of being angry regularly or for long periods of time can include:
- Aches and pains, usually in the back and head.
- High blood pressure, which can, in severe cases, lead to serious complaints such as stroke or cardiac arrest.
- Sleep problems. (See: The Importance of Sleep)
- Problems with digestion.
- Skin disorders.
- Reduced threshold for pain.
- Impaired immune system.
Anger can also lead to psychological problems such as:
It should be clear, therefore, that, anger can be detrimental to health. If anger is (or becomes) a problem should be managed, see our following pages for how this may be achieved.