Anger is the brain’s defense mechanism for perceived threats to your well-being. This is why anger is known as a secondary emotion; it’s triggered by a primary emotion, one from which your brain is wired to protect you. It’s a process born of our primal fight-flight-or-freeze instincts. In essence, your brain performs emotional triage; automatically, within seconds of sensing “danger,” your brain prioritizes your reaction based on the offense.
The American Psychological Association defines anger as “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”
Therefore, in order to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) chronic anger, the kind of anger that disrupts your emotional and physical health, you must identify the root causes and triggers of your anger. This month we spotlight fear as one possible trigger for anger.
Think back to the last time you were angry. Perhaps while driving, someone cut you off, forcing you to slam on your brakes; the driver behind you nearly smashed into your car. Your boss passed you over to promote a colleague with fewer credentials and less experience. Your spouse or partner has been having phone conversations they keep secret from you. All of these situations could, understandably, make anyone angry. But why?
We are afraid of how the effects of a perceived offense will affect and impact us. A reckless driver could cause damage to your car or seriously injure you. A boss denying an opportunity for growth and advancement could mean your contributions to the company aren’t as appreciated as you thought they were. The person you love could be cheating on you.
Anger isn’t all bad. It can even be helpful in situations of serious wrongdoing, e.g., physical assaults or emotional abuse. The goal then isn’t to eliminate anger entirely. Rather, to learn and recognize when anger is allowing you to avoid what’s truly the matter. Chronic anger thrives on your (unconscious) desire to avoid the primary emotion. The next time you feel your blood boiling, ask yourself, “What am I actually upset about? Why is this making me angry?” Dig deep. Acknowledge what you’re really feeling and you’re one step closer to controlling your anger instead of your anger controlling you.
Take Time to Ponder:
- “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha
- Anger Impact Log – If you haven’t already, now’s the time to start tracking your anger.
- Pema Chodron: Why Fear Is Nothing to Be Afraid Of
Tune in next month when we explore another common anger trigger: uncertainty.
(Personal Insight MD, LLC, PeopleTweaker, and Insight MD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are feeling extreme anger with thoughts and actions harmful to yourself or others such as physical/verbal abuse or acts of violence, find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, illicit drugs, etc., expressing your anger in such a way that threaten relationships or your job, etc. seek professional help immediately and call 911 if necessary if you find yourself in an out-of-control situation or have the urge to hurt yourself or others.)