|| Anger: The Enemy In Us
by Nicholas Ameyaw-Akumfi
Anger Patterns are Learned from our Parents
Children learn how to be in relationships from their parents through a process of social learning, and especially observational learning. They adapt the behaviors they see their parents do. The children in the family watch their parents and learn positive as well as dysfunctional coping styles in dealing with stress and threat. Research studies show that there are three social skills that create happy marriages: problem solving, emotional distress regulation and conflict management. Expression of positive words, maintaining a pleasant attitudes and the avoidance of conflict and negativity are other major skills in creating happy unions. People, who have poor coping skills in handling internal emotional distress, often become anxious or angry.
Aggression is learned behavior. Children raised in families with above average in rates of violence are at greater risk for being physically aggressive toward their romantic partner. Violence is passed down through the generations. Parental physical punishment of the adolescent has been associated with later dating violence. Increased risk for overall antisocial behavior in general in turn increases risk for aggression toward a romantic partner. Children, who aggressively fight with their siblings, can carry this destructive fighting pattern over to their adult years.
Parents who discipline their children by emphasizing positive interactions and inhibiting negative behaviors promote skills in conflict management. Parents who do not monitor their children's behavior or give inconsistent discipline create children who do not have the social skills to succeed in happy relationships. Achieving emotional intimacy is a necessary developmental task of young adults. Close social ties promote personal well being. The failure to establish or maintain positive relationships sets up physical and emotional distress in the individual.
Anger is Catching and Causes all Kinds of Nasty Side Effects in the Family
The energy of self-indulgent anger is contagious just like a nasty virus. It can infect your family though one member and be passed on to the others. Each person is affected by the anger in their social system and acts it out in their own unique way, whether they cower in silence with resentment or act out their anger on others.
Anger is a major side effect of the chaos in the home and vice versa. The research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows that the survivors of traumatic events are left with anger. The universal desire to survive during situations of threat are linked with high physiological arousal and anger. The hormones, increased muscle tension, and pounding heart are all activated to produce the resources to “fight or flight” to deal with the threat.
Children learn this survival mode of reactive stress and hyper alertness when they are traumatized. Anger can become an automatic response and a protective mechanism, which “revs” up the body to deal with threat or perceived threat. Even when there is no emergency, the person can go into full activation of anger and become ready to fight.
Children from angry families most often pick up anxiety, frustration and agitation that flavor how they see life. The research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows that early trauma in life interferes with the ability to regulate emotion, which then leads to excessive anger, fear and rage. This inability to deal with frustration and anxiety can lead to extreme out busts of aggression. Or it can surface as icy cold hostility as a means of controlling other using looks of disgust to convey displeasure.
An insecure childhood is often a set up for needing to control others. The person who was traumatized as a child by family violence often feels anxious, keyed up, on edge, irritable and tense. He has trouble learning the tools to release pent-up emotions of distress. The child learns to vent his anger because one of their parents acted that way.
Some of the children in the family learn to identify with the aggressor because the parent who yells the loudest gets his way. Belligerence and hostility become a way of life. They can even justify their yelling or hitting saying, “I was raised with my dad's yelling and using the belt, and it didn't hurt me.” They cannot see that their current behavior, which seems normal to them is a direct result of being raised in an angry household.
A second pattern that happens in other abused children, (particularly girls) is freezing in response to loud voices and anger. This is a dissociative response where the person becomes numb and spaces out instead of fighting or fleeing. Dissociation can be a normal response to trauma to keep form experiencing the pain. This behavioral pattern, learned in childhood, then carries over to the adult life where the woman literally gives up her voice to keep the peace.
A third pattern in dealing with stress that is also more prevalent in girls and women is “tend and befriend.” Women are more likely to band together and try to keep the peace. Tend and befriend is connected to the female brain and maternal behavior associated caring for others is due to a hormone called oxytocin. This evolutionary adaptation of trying to soothe the waters and keep others happy backfires on women who live in abusive relationships.
Prolonged, excessive chaos in the child's home lead to brain and hormonal changes resulting in withdrawal due to fear and acting out. Later in life the earlier stressors show up in eating disorders, promiscuity, codependency and alcohol and drug abuse. Anger becomes an unwelcome generational gift that is passed down in families.
Anger is a Normal Reaction to Loss, Threat or being Traumatized
Anger is a normal human response when our well being is threatened. We all have anger when we feel betrayed and are unable to express the pain that we feel. Anger is made up of feelings, thoughts and physiological reactions, which includes adrenalin and cortisol release to prepare for action. While the feelings and physiological reactions cannot always be controlled, the thoughts and the behaviors can be modified and expressed in more acceptable ways.
Research shows that anger is a normal response to betrayal and loss of basic trust in others. Anger also is a normal reaction to injustice, terror and feeling out of control. The innocence of the child is broken by acts of betrayal. What takes its place is fear and anger. The hurt child resolves not to trust again and creates barriers to further connection to others.
All anger is not bad. Sometimes anger is a legitimate response to an injustice, which is used to bring momentum, which allows the person to make, needed changes in their life. At times anger is justified given an unfair situation where the energy that anger provides is needed to leave a bad situation. Anger can be used to protect yourself when you are terrorized. We need the energy that anger brings to get us to act and do something differently when we are stuck in bad circumstances.
Other times, anger is just a bad habit to deal with the feelings of frustration because things are not going as the person wants. This article addresses the habitual type of destructive anger that harms family members and friends.
Twenty percent of people have an anger-prone personality. If you choose to be around someone who easily gets frustrated and express anger freely, the quality of your life will be affected. It is best to find out how a person expresses anger before you become emotionally involved, hop into bed with and have a child with them. Your life will be drastically changed by living with a habitually angry person. During the honeymoon period of new relationship, people put on their best behavior. Later the person's true coping mechanisms come out.
Check out a new partner's coping patterns of dealing with conflict before things get serious between you. Observe his reactions to daily stressors to life, and how he does anger. See how he treats the significant others in his life when he is upset with them. If he treats others badly, chances are he will treat you badly when the bloom of new love fades. See how he acts when he is upset and threatened. Pick a fight if necessary to determine what type of fighter he is-mean or constructive. If the person drinks or uses drugs, see how he reacts when he is drunk-is he an angry drunk, a raging drunk, a melancholy drunk or a sleepy drunk?
Do not be foolish enough to think you can change another person's anger patterns. After all, he has had many years to practice them before meeting you. Anger coping patterns lie deep within the psyche and do not change unless the person makes a strong commitment to become a better person. They need a structured program of anger management or therapy to learn how to break into their destructive behavior.
What Provokes Anger?
Anger is made up of increased physical arousal, emotions and accompanying behaviors that comes up when a person feels a threat or a loss or a perceived threat or loss. The threat may be to their self-esteem as they feel challenged or discounted by what happened. The person responds to the threat by producing adrenalin to “fight or flight.” How they respond is due to how they have been conditioned as a child or later in life if they are exposed to abuse. Everyone has triggers that set off anger. Here are the most common reasons people become angry:
- their body or property is threatened
- their values are being threatened (disagree with what someone is doing such as kicking a dog or not following the rules)
- someone insists that they do something they don't want to
- when someone hurts or betrays them and they feel a loss of trust
- they are guilty about something and they do not want to feel or admit their guilt
- they feel discounted and their sense of self esteem is lowered
- their expectations are not met and they don't get their way (their expectations may be unrealistic)
The Shoulds, Ought Tos, Musts and Have Tos
Most adult anger is about expectations and values not being met. We build up strong belief systems of how things should be or should not be and then expect others to behave in ways that we deem best. Expectations can be realistic (I expect you to be faithful to me in marriage) or unrealistic (I expect you to keep a perfect house all the time. I expect you to let me indulge in my addictions such as alcohol or shopping.) The shoulds are the irrational ways we make our self and others crazy by insisting that small, insubstantial things be our way.
Don't believe everything you think! The mind can make wrong assumptions and make up things that are just not true. The shoulds are the rules that we make for our self and others that are based on our personal history and way of doing things. Anger is often the result of a person's need to control someone else and tell them what to do based on his own view of how things should be in life.
Perfectionists usually have a big list of shoulds that they try to impose on their mates and children. Perfectionists are usually made so by their parents. People who had critical, perfectionistic parents learn to be judgmental themselves. They often become angry when their own needs are not met.
People who are critical and controlling of others usually have high anxiety and irritability within and try to keep their nervous feelings down by trying to control the environment and the people in it. They harbor irrational beliefs that certain people are stupid, evil, or do things wrong and it is their moral duty to correct them. They try to impose their standards on others in order to keep their nervous feelings at bay. Constant criticism is a bad habit that will sour any relationship. Virginia Satir called this habit the “Bony Finger of Blame.” Here are some examples of shoulds that are irrational to try to control another person. Note that each statement starts with the word “You” followed by an accusation and the insistence that the person is doing something wrong. They are all a form of “I get to tell you what to do.”
- You should not use so much butter on your toast.
- You should brown the hamburger the way I do.
- You should take the dishes out of the dishwasher my way.
- You should wear your hair long (or get your hair cut).
- Children should not make noise. Children should be seen and not heard.
- You are dong the vacuuming wrong. You should do it like this.
- You should not be calling your friends so much.
Shoulds are those beliefs that are absolutes that make us crazy and keep us from achieving closeness with others.
Mature Ways of Dealing with a High Level of Internal Frustration
Some people are easily provoked and have a hotheaded temperament, yet they take responsibility for their responses to irritation. They live with a high level of inner frustration but try to keep their aggravation under control. They accept their overly emotional temperament and take responsibility for dealing with it. They learn techniques to deal with the cues and triggers that bring up the inner arousal that will quickly turn to anger. They do stress management techniques regularly and use physical exercise to work off their strong emotions of irritation. They minimize venting their anger at others by recognizing the beginning signs of anger and take a time out to chill out,
Mature people seek better ways to deal with their anger in an argument. They make a contract with their partner that they can leave during a fight when they feel that they are getting out of control. They remove themselves to a private place for time out. In private they do damage control techniques to bring their anger level down and then return to deal with the problem.
So, how do they learn these ways of keeping their cool? They understand that they have an anger prone personality. They recognize that they must work an active program of anger management in order to live a happier life. They study and take parenting classes to seek more effective ways of disciplining their children. They take anger management classes and do couples counseling to learn better ways of being with the people they work and live with. Mature people with high degrees of frustration keep tabs on themselves and work at diffusing their anger responses.
There is a new breed of angry men and women who are motivated to change their inappropriate behavior. They choose to go to therapy and couples counseling to work through their excesses of anger. Some agree to get help due to their conscience telling them that their outbursts hurt others. Some come because their partner is threatening to leave them if they don't get help. Some “macho” men recognize that they are doing their father's anger and sending it down to their own kids. A few get help only after they lose their spouse and families. And sadly, some never do.
Courageous men and women choose to learn to be different from their own angry parents. They stop denying that their anger causes problems for others. They take responsibility for their unjust actions. They experience a significant boost in self-esteem when they admit their wrongdoing and seek other ways of dealing with their anger. Their spouses and children are extremely thankful to them for taking this important step of deciding to grow and learn anger management techniques. They learn and practice the following healthy ways to deal with their aggressive impulses. As they grow in maturity and loving kindness, they become role models for others in their family.
Healthy Approaches to Dealing with and Expressing Anger
- Using feelings of threat and distress to cue yourself that you are beginning to be angry
- Not sweating the small stuff and heading off anger before it escalates (This is no big deal)
- Using humor to defuse the tension in the situation
- Using movement or exercise to drain anger away
- Becoming more flexible and accepting of things others do
- Writing about the anger (Use size 24 print and a bold type on your computer, then delete it.)
- Drawing pictures about anger
- Looking for and admitting your part of the problem
- Sharing feelings and discussing the issue from an emotional level Gently confronting the irrational ideas of yourself and the other person
- Problem solving the issue using conflict negotiation
- Taking Time Out to cool off, and then come back to address the problem
- Breathing and calming to talk your anger down ( I can handle this. I'm cool. etc.)\
- Observing your physical reactions, thoughts and feelings
- Finding the errors in your thinking that triggered anger
- Trying to see the issue from the other person's point of view
- Take constructive action to make changes about the situation (MAD-Use your anger to make a difference
- Using relaxation techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitization, Thought Field Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, Tapas Acupressure Technique and Progressive Relaxation to release anger.
It is better if both partners in a relationship where there is anger are willing to acknowledge their own dysfunctional coping patterns and make the necessary changes in how they deal with conflict. Once learned, these skills are a positive investment that will serve the entire family. If your partner refuses to learn and grow, focus on yourself.
Some People Do Not Take Responsibility for their Aggressive Outbursts
A few decades ago there was a myth that it was healthy to blow up to keep it from being bottled up in the body and causing physical problems. Unfortunately, this erroneous idea sticks around today despite the evidence that blowing up does not solve the problem and creates trauma for others. Still some people feel justified in exploding and then forgetting about the incident while those around them are left devastated.
Some people who are typically angry believe they have the right to vent their frustrations on others or to break things. This self-indulgent attitude is entitlement and is a form of self-righteousness. Outbursts of anger do not solve the underlying feelings of threat, fear and sense of betrayal, which are hiding under the anger in the person. Angry people block vulnerable feelings such as hurt, sadness, guilt and vulnerability. The emotions have to go somewhere so they turn up as anger. Anger becomes the substitute emotion for the others that are not allowed
The person who believes that he has the right to vent anger on others never quite grows up emotionally. He is stuck in a child-like reaction when he feels frustrated and responds with a temper tantrum. Tantrums increase the anger by revving the body up to a heightened arousal state.
Screaming does NOT purge the anger impulses. It may give a temporary relief but makes it worse overall. Name calling and swearing do not solve the problem. Continued yelling breaks down the inhibitions that most people have about not acting out their harmful impulses. Any habitual verbal thought pattern such as yelling creates a well-worn pathway in the brain making it easier for the pattern to happen again. Dealing with irritation with constant expression anger can be a harmful habit that takes over a person's life.
Expression of hostility results in more hostility. Impulsive anger such as yelling, throwing things, cursing, and blaming the other person takes its toll on the person expressing it and harms those in its path. Frustration and anger may temporarily go away with the venting, but the rage remains within because it is not addressed directly. The anger remains there unchanged until the next time an expectation is not met or there is disappointment, threat, or stress.
People who cannot stand feeling helpless get angry instead. Anger and the adrenalin make them feel that they are more in control of the situation. Getting angry instead of feeling ashamed or anxious helps the person manage those emotions they do not want to feel.
Violence has a way of getting out of control. Rewarding a person's verbally abusive behavior by allowing it, excusing it and returning to things as usual WILL increase their screaming behavior. When family members indulge the aggressive person, their violent tendencies remain. The person learns that there will not be consequences for inappropriate behavior so continue his tirades without fear of reprisal. Children in the family learn that when they are stressed, it is okay to blow up and hurt others and things.
Some angry people feel anxious and guilty about blowing up. They feel a decrease in their self-esteem with feelings of remorse and guilt. They talk about how bad they feel (some will even cry) to “hook” their partner feeling bad for them and allow them to return to grace. This is one dynamic in abusive relationships called the “fight and make up” syndrome.
Some people who get angry cannot talk about the problem the next day. Talking about the issue stresses them and they get angry all over again. This type of person emotionally distances to take care of his anxiety. while you need closure to deal with your own anxiety and need to talk. Emotional Distancing and Emotional Pursuing when anxious and upset are common ways to cope with conflict in most relationships.
Harmful Behaviors of Expressing Anger that Hurt Others of Self
The negative ways of dealing with anger are harmful to life. Harmful anger negates others or your self.
- Self harm such as hitting or cutting
- Physically assaulting others
- Verbally abuse
- Raging and screaming
- Throwing and breaking things
- Cursing and name-calling
- Holding grudges and plotting revenge
- Using excessive addictions to calm down
- Displacing anger on weaker people or animals
- Criticizing others
- Criticizing and beating self up
- Blaming others instead of taking responsibility for one's own actions
- Giving others the silent treatment and using pouting or cold rage to show disapproval and control others
- Using anger and raging to manipulate others to back down
- Using sarcasm and negative humor to put others down
- Denying anger and stuffing feelings, which may then turn into depression
- Shutting down and dissociating when threatened
- Running away and not addressing the problem
- Going into battle alert over small things
On Just Trying to “Control” Your Anger
It is a fallacy to think that you can just “control” your anger. The energy that anger generates has to go somewhere. Too often people think they are “controlling” their anger, but they are just stuffing it down and it comes out later with disastrous results. Anger cannot be controlled, but it can be expressed more appropriately and then released. Anger can be understood, analyzed and channeled into higher-level responses. Blasting it out, giving the cold shoulder or squelching anger are not realistic goals. The healthy goal regarding our anger can be to learn better ways of expressing it that do not harm others or ourselves.
One simple question to ask when angry is “Do my actions celebrate life or harm life?” Another good question is “What am I saying to myself to make myself angry today?” Here are some of the necessary skills for people who have frequent outbursts of anger:
Skills for Containing Excessive Anger:
- To learn to discriminate between big and little deals. (Don't sweat the small stuff.)
- To realize and accept that you don't always get what you want. (Break into entitlement)
- To identify irrational thoughts and statements that fuel anger.
- To break into self-angering thoughts and use cool down thoughts.
- To analyze and correct mistakes instead of beating self up.
- To address anger directly with the person you are angry with instead of displacing the anger on family members.
- To use Thought Stoppage to interrupt intrusive, negative thinking. Thought Stoppage techniques are anything you say or do to break into self-angering thoughts.
- To keep cool when others are trying to push your buttons.
- To take Time Out when overheated during an argument and return to problem solve.
Skills for Learning to Feel Empathy and Respect for Others
- To listen to others when they are upset and try to understand their point of view.
- To recognize and refrain from actions that are hurtful to others.
- To stop blaming others when you are stressed.
- To take responsibility for one's own actions and wrong doings.
- To refrain from sarcasm, name calling, egg ons and put-downs.
- To see things from the other person's perspective.
- To observe the effect of one's actions upon others and express sorrow for hurting them.
- To treat others with respect and caring even when feeing upset and frustrated.
BY: Nicholas Ameyaw-Akumfi