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The roots of anger

By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Twitter: @gordon_lp

I was angry with my friend;

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.  A Poison Tree, William Blake (1757–1857)

Anger is a basic human emotion. No one can go through life without feeling angry at points. There is more to anger than vitriolic verbal outbursts and violence. Anger below a calm façade can manifest in humour, sarcasm, backhanded compliments, passive aggressiveness and even silence.

The Catholic News will explore the emotion of anger and coping mechanisms. Hopefully at the end there will be a greater understanding of this emotion.

There are numerous articles written about anger. Dr Harry Mills’ article on the Psychology of Anger states anger “occurs when pain is combined with some anger-triggering thought”.

These include personal assessments, assumptions, evaluations, interpretations of situations which are interpreted as an attempt— whether consciously or unconsciously— to cause hurt.

Mills comments, “In this sense, anger is a social emotion” with pain and the anger triggering thoughts spurring the individual to strike out at the source of the pain.

He says anger can also be used to substitute for pain, confronting the latter is avoided. Mills says people can change pain to anger.  “… it feels better to be angry than it does to be in pain. This changing of pain into anger may be done consciously or unconsciously”. The main advantage is being distracted from feeling pain and attention is focused outward to getting even.

“Making yourself angry can help you to hide the reality that you find a situation frightening or that you feel vulnerable,” he says. It can also make individuals feel righteous, powerful and morally superior.  Mills says “It is very rare that someone will get angry with someone they do not think has harmed them in some significant fashion.”

Anger has been categorised from three types: passive-aggressive, open, assertive, to ten types—assertive, behavioural, chronic, judgemental, overwhelmed, passive-aggressive, retaliatory, self-abuse and verbal. It is no surprise to read there is no consensus among psychologists on how many types exist.

What anger made me do

I spoke to people of different ages about their experiences getting angry and what were the triggers.

“In my younger days I would become angry to the point where I stopped feeling. Then I was most dangerous. Then the most cutting, destructive things would come out my mouth with no remorse.”

This response came during disagreements when a loved one refused to acknowledge something they did. She said, “My talking was futile; there was constant denial. I felt I was not being taken seriously.”

A husband related how during an argument with his spouse during which some industrial language was exchanged, he would cuff the wall in anger. Her words were hurtful and caused him to feel inadequate and unloved.

A single mother said she got so angry she broke a broomstick on the head of her daughter’s father after he threatened her. He had been harassing her and one day threatened to take her daughter away. “I lost it. Saw the broomstick leaning on the wall, grabbed it and whacked him across the head sideways…he took off, cursing,” she said.

There are things which happen randomly which can also make our blood boil. Getting a ‘bad drive’ caused a motorist to follow the offending driver, pull up alongside and ‘carry on’. “The other guy started to laugh. I boil down. I was there hot and sweaty and it was almost like I had no reason to get on like that. He shame me without saying anything. Maybe he responded like that because he had children in the car,” he said.

Stories about uncontrolled rage are seen in our news headlines and on social media. The headline of the Express newspaper February 6: “Spat over $100 leads to Murder”. The article quotes the victim’s brother, “They were real good friends”.

Counselling psychologist Anna-Maria Mora shared pertinent reflections from a sign she has: “If you find yourself getting angry most of the time, here might be four reasons why. They are 1. Unmet needs: What do you need that you are not getting? 2. Hurt: Did someone hurt you? 3. Threat: Who or what do you see in your home, office, school or on the street that can cause you enough harm, for you to feel that your life is threatened? 4. Injustice: Was someone so unfair to you that you cannot move on with your life? Do you feel stuck? What help do you need to resolve the injustice you felt.”

Sometimes we need to drill down to identify the root of the anger in order to deal with it, otherwise anger can be harmful both to oneself and others.