|Emotions and Feelings|
For Me Ness
Anger is the dominant human emotion. Anger is disruptive and can be dangerous. Anger is expressed by noisy displays and attacks. All human interactions are influenced by the threat of anger and much brain power is devoted to anger management. Anger is an old animal program that emerges from the reptilian brain - the lizard rises up hisses and attacks. The human rises, threatens with gestures and then, optionally, attacks. Anger energizes aggressive behavior and is both protective and destructive at the same time.
Anger, viewed as a program, has several stages expressed at different levels of intensity. Often anger intensity escalates from threatening behavior to all-out attack. The victor in a dispute intimidates his opponent who either submits with conspicuous supplication behavior or is attacked. Anger progresses to fighting. Combatants are injured or killed in a fight. Fights leave body scars, accounts to be settled and long-lasting memories that facilitate future fighting. Anger is a pure and fundamental emotion that is preprogrammed in the amygdala.
Human children get angry as infants when they are hungry or uncomfortable and do not achieve immediate satisfaction. The term “frustration” refers to an angry outburst that arises when seeking behaviors are blocked short of achieving the desired goal. Infants and young children demand instant gratification of their needs and are easily frustrated. An essential part of social maturation is learning to tolerate delays in gratification of basic drives. Children get angry often during the day and sometimes display alarmingly violent thoughts and behaviors. Anger is a daily feature of sibling interaction and is common in unsupervised children's play.
Anger is a daily experience in the lives of most adult humans. In the USA, psychologists report that the average person gets angry 10-14 times a day. Anger is endemic both at home and at work. At work, common anger triggers are unfair performance appraisals, favoritism, and sexual harassment. One anger management advisor teaches that “No one has a right to get angry; it is delusional to think that anger can be effective.” Cornell et al found that anger is a predictor of aggression among incarcerated adolescents. Self-reported anger scales were administered to 65 incarcerated male adolescents and higher scores were predictive of subsequent physical and verbal aggression.
To become a useful and acceptable member of society each person must learn to avoid making others angry and must lean to inhibit their own anger. The term “violence’ is often used to describe displays of anger. Other terms are invented to describe angry displays in specific places and circumstances such as “road rage” or “airplane rage”.
I was standing in the post office when a three-year-old boy, nicely dressed in a suit, lifted a shinny silver foil package from a shelf at his eye level. His mother took the package from him and replaced it. In seconds, he was transformed into an angry demon. The whole anger program emerged almost instantly with screaming, running on the spot, shaking his head and torso. His mother looked embarrassed and confused but had the presence of mind to give back the package. The boy became calm immediately and within two minutes, replaced the package himself with obvious satisfaction. The three-year-old boy exemplified one of the most troubling aspects of human behavior. Anger turns on and off quickly. The triggers for anger are many and, often, the emotion is disproportionate to the triggering event. The angry little boy could be described as displaying “post-office rage.” The post office syndrome is amplified in stories that appear on the news every day. An angry human becomes quickly and inappropriately destructive and injures or kills other humans.
We often call children’s anger a “temper tantrum” and experienced parents learn to tolerate tantrums as a common response when the child is frustrated and tired. The three-year-old boy in the Post Office cannot say to his mother: ‘Please mother, let me examine the foil package because that is what three-year-old children are supposed to do. I have to complete this transaction with the world in order to feel that I am doing a good job and have the right of self-determination. When you take the package from me, my whole being is threatened and I have to oppose you with all the might I can muster. “
Anger is not derived from any other emotion as too many psychologists have claimed. Anger is not a fluid that is stored in the brain as Freudian psychodynamics suggests. Freud’s idea has become one of the most popular and persuasive wrong views of anger, that anger is an energy that accumulates, stored somewhere in the brain and has to be released from time to time. Some imaginative folks even believe that disease is caused by stored anger. However, there is no evidence of any kind that anger accumulates anywhere in the body or brain. Anger is a program in the amygdala and when it is turned on, it is really on; when it is turned off, it is really off.
Busman et al at Iowa State University concluded that expressing anger “to release your anger” increases rather than decreases aggressive behavior. Self-help books, support groups and self-styled therapists have promoted punching pillows and other forms of anger expression with the promise that this practice will reduce conflict. Angry therapists have sometimes justified challenging and abusing their clients, claiming that releasing anger was therapeutic. They are wrong.
Anger researchers found that articles and books that recommended anger catharsis did persuade their student subjects to favor punching pillows and punching bags as a form of catharsis, but actually produced angrier students. Expressing anger is not cathartic, does not relieve “psychic pressure” and does not make you a better person. Expressing anger repeatedly facilitates anger. The more you practice being angry the better you become at being angry. If you want to become an angry person, practice being angry.
Social mammals have developed anger protocols that permit angry outbursts but limit the damage done. Predators, sharing a kill, will growl, snap and jostle each other for a bigger share of the catch, but a pre-established pecking order will usually prevail and minimize the harmful consequences of the competition for food.
If every competition led to a serious fight, there would be few survivors. Some members of a group must submit to minimize conflict; anger-submission is a behavioral dyad with survival value. Without submission, anger escalates into aggressive conflict leading to injury or death.
Modern diplomacy is an alternative to armed conflict and continues to use the anger-submission dyad. The art of diplomacy is to speak softly and carry a big stick. The stick is often an implicit threat that motivates a reluctant negotiator to compromise. Diplomacy fails when anger escalates and submission fails. When diplomacy fails, humans fight. Fights tend to have their own rules and suspend rules that tend to promote rational and humane behavior. If diplomacy fails at the level of competitive and hostile nations, fighting is transformed into war by the application of rational and sustained, but not humane group activity.
Rage is the tornado of emotions, a full-volume, high energy anger that overrides all constraint and control. Rage is physical, brief, violent and destructive. Raging humans destroy property, injure and kill others. Rage is produced by maximal activation of flight and fight systems, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, high blood pressure, flushing and hypertonicity of all skeletal muscles. Maximal muscle strength is achieved in rage and amazing displays of destructive energy are characteristic of rage attacks.
Emotions and Feelings