“Anger is an emotion of enormous power. Surveys show that more people find it the hardest of all emotions to master,” writes Dr. Roger Walsh.
I see the impact of anger every day not only at work as a marriage and family counselor, but also driving on the roads, shopping in stores, and waiting in line at Starbucks for tea. On a warm July day, I sit in my white 1993 Lincoln Towne Car at a stop light with the driver’s window down. I woman stops next to me and begins to lecture me in a rageful voice. I have no idea about what she is talking. On rainy, cold December evening, walking around a grocery store, I see all the exhausted and sad faces. Some of us turn our anger in toward our self with criticism and self-punishment.
When we feel fear we sense danger nearby. When we feel anger someone is invading our space. Someone may break into our house. They may also interrupt us in the middle of our sentence. We feel they are intruding in our psychological territory. Most of the anger we experience personally or see in others is resentment. Everyone’s experience of anger is unique to them. Often, we feel hot in the face and tension in the muscles of our arms and hands.
Yet we also can see the hatred of discrimination because of race, grievances against unjust bureaucrats, grudges against ex-husbands, as well as murder and war. “When the cat gets angry, its tail swells up to almost twice its normal size, and the cat tries to look imposing. The biological purpose of expansion is to intimidate one’s apparent enemy,” writes David Hawkins. We often can spot anger when someone is inflated, meaning they are behaving as if they were a god. When we are struggling with our appropriate human limitations, anger is a problem for us. We try to force or manipulate people, things, or events.
There are also physical reasons that people experience unhealthy anger and rage. Seventy percent of people who assault others or damage property have problems with their physical brain, specifically the left temporal lobe. When we experience anger frequently, it affects the health of our body. When we live an angry lifestyle, the chemicals that anger releases into the body can lead to heart disease or cancer.
Yet not all anger is bad. Anger has its place in our lives. It is healthy to feel angry when we experience oppression as someone interferes with our ability to choose and express our thoughts. Anger can motivate us to leave a relationship where we are slapped or punched. Anger may also lead us to quit a job where we are asked to so things we believe are wrong, because it violates our cherishes values.
What do I do when I am angry? I cannot sleep because I am so angry. I cannot listen to my children, because I feel so angry. I react at my friends and family who love me, because I feel so angry. What will help me?
The place that I think it is best to begin is with myself. Before I complain to the person with who I am angry, I need to look inside at the source of my anger. There is the 2% rule. He may be 98% wrong, but what is my part. How am I responsible for my anger? The deeper I examine my responsibility, the more I may realize that I play a significant role. For example, I look at my boss who it demanding and critical. He always asks the impossible of me.
It is often beneficial to examine my own role in my anger, before I confront another about a grievance. When the anger is out of proportion with the event that triggers the anger, I have work to do. I examine my projections around anger. (Look for my blog and video on projection for a more detail explanation of what it is.)
I would generally prefer to be civil. Being in a whole brain state seems to enable me to be civil and emotionally congruent. Learning to get into a whole brain state is another key aspect of managing my anger and self-regulating my emotions generally. (Look for my blog and video on “EMDR Self-Help – The Butterfly Hug” for more information on how to achieve a Whole Brain State.) What a difference if the world were full of calm people. Image this! Please consider watching this video on anger and calming yourself down.