Anger can be understood in different contexts, which vary based on physiological, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. The common basis for defining anger is that it is an intense emotional state provoked by internal or external factors. The American Psychological Association defines anger as "an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately wronged you." It can also be understood as a physiological expression necessary for survival. When viewed through the lens of psychology, anger is considered a positive emotion in the context of expressing negative feelings and serving as motivation to find solutions to problems (American Psychological Association).
An important concept to consider when discussing anger is the "anger iceberg,". It explains that when we experience anger, there are often other emotions hidden beneath the surface. These emotions may include loneliness, betrayal, jealousy, embarrassment, fear, guilt, and rejection, among others. These dormant feelings lie beneath the outward expression of anger. Susan David also emphasizes that anger can be a symptom of other unexpressed emotions. In order to address this, it is crucial to identify the underlying emotions and address the root cause of anger first. There are numerous reasons which can trigger anger in our mind.
When things don’t go as expected: It is a natural tendency to set expectations from situations and people around us. When things don’t happen the way we want, it outrages us.
When we feel something that happened to us is unjust: Anger surfaces as we encounter that some action or consequence directed at us is unfair due to class, race, gender we belong to.
When there is a blockage in achieving our goals due to the factors beyond our control: We as humans have dreams and desires to be fulfilled. We can alter the things acting as an impediment towards our goal if it is in our control by amending our behavior and actions. However in certain instances there are factors outside our personal control which block us from achieving desired outcomes.
Anger directed towards oneself: We do have an inner voice which guides us to do things that should be done or actions that need to be taken up. Still we might fail and end up being a slave to our habits, procrastination, unwanted desires, drowning in guilt or regret over past actions.
Could be due to everyday hassles: Day to day hassles gradually feed the anger and it might explode someday. Daily annoyances can bottle up and when the jar gets full, it needs an outlet which can come to the surface as anger outbursts. Traffic snarls, uncooperative colleagues, playground bullies, lines of slow-moving public offices are a few examples.
Conflicting relationships: Arguments with people we regularly interact with, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and impulsive reactions becoming a natural pattern to get back at a situation set the stage for anger ignition. Some people in our environment (work or home) provoke others which again can shoot up these tendencies.
Anger can also be triggered under the influence of a substance: Consuming substances paves a smooth path for expression of suppressed and unexpressed and displaced anger often directed at submissive targets and can have serious consequences.
Impact of media: Electronic media showing violent scenes may breed anger and violence particularly in children. Murray, J. P. et al. (2011) in “A plea for concern regarding violent children” concluded that there are indeed, harmful effects of viewing violence and there is a great need for concern parents, policymakers, professionals in regard to unbridled expansion of media violence directed to youngsters.
Childhood experiences/traumas: Unresolved anger in childhood caused due to emotional, physical or sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglect, history of substance abuse, and parental separation/divorce increase the likelihood of high risk behavior and significantly determine the pattern of future relationships Such experiences can instill anger and aggressive behavior which might be directed on submissive targets. The issue of anger in these cases can have roots in childhood experiences and it’s important to recognize its origins.
Anger triggered by not being able to reach goals
Both internal and external factors act as barriers in achieving our goals. Internal factors like procrastination, difficulty in delaying gratifications, lack of focus, concentration, will power, resilience, and patience are major barriers preventing us from reaching our goals.
“The cost of procrastination is the life that you could have lived”.
The popular saying emphasizes acting upon your dreams and goals, owning your journey. We can’t just sit back and think about the goals. Practical effort can be inculcated by practicing affirmations, visualizing goals and giving our best at whatever we do. Certain factors like community, society, culture, facilities (income, resources, basic amenities), authority, weather, government, upbringing/conditioning, or location can also act as barriers on the path of achieving goals.
There is no doubt when it comes to accepting that anger has severe mental as well as physiological consequences. This can include disturbed breathing pattern; breath becomes rapid and shallow as we don’t inhale to lungs full capacity, high blood pressure, mental fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, hyperactivity, neurological damage, hypertension, headache and weakening of immune system
Mental fatigue: Boiling up with angry emotions can make one feel burned out and exhausted. It consumes a lot of vital energy thus causing fatigue and tiredness.
Increase sadness: Inappropriate expression of anger or bottling up it robs us of joy and happiness. It makes our consciousness centered on unhappiness and stress.
Social Withdrawal: There might be a possibility that anger can hamper our social life due to a few reasons. One doesn’t feel like meeting anyone when occupied with stress and low mood. Another could be one might end up disturbing the communication with other people. They might act aggressive, get irritable or be unkind and rude.
Low mood: The emotion can make us feel unhappy and not being satisfied with anything. If we get angry often we don’t even realize when the sadness cripples down and leads to constant low mood and tiredness.
Effects our intentions: Anger affects our intentions in subtle ways. We might undertake an action with the intention to prove someone wrong, it might be motivated by the idea of revenge or getting back at someone. These ideas and actions hinder our psychological and spiritual growth.
Unhealthy relationship: Repetitive yelling, screaming, criticism, arguments, or infuriating triggered and expressed through any act can make relations troublesome and exasperating.
How to be better at anger?
Habit is repetition of an act that gradually becomes a part of you. Everyday exposure and expression of anger projected on both trivial and significant matters can habituate anger to become a basic trigger response to situations. Breaking the habit of anger is like building another habit of constantly breaking it, few steps to follow are:
The first step to deal with an overwhelming emotion is to accept its existence. Acknowledge that anger exists and analyze the situation/reasons for it. Building acceptance is the basis of dealing with your emotions, it’s as simple as saying to yourself “yes, I’m feeling anger, sadness, jealousy, lust, greed” without judging yourself as our morals, beliefs, and virtues might not allow us to fully experience the emotion.
After acceptance comes introspection which involves reflecting upon the reasons for feeling anger. Introspection opens the door for understanding the origin of specific emotion. Knowing the root cause paves the way for deep rooted patterns to come on the surface and also helps to recognise specific situations or people which might trigger anger.
Based on this understanding we can take small steps to progress gradually in taking control of our emotions, communicating our needs and setting up healthy boundaries. This way we can minimise or nullify the impact of the trigger.
We often expect things to turn out the way we want, especially when we are working for it. Likewise we have set expectations from people in our life and when they fail to meet those we feel disappointed and annoyed over long periods of time.
Gradual decrease in level of expectations allows us to set expectations which can be met and are not unrealistically demanding. Conveying our expectations through healthy conversation is also mutually beneficial for the people involved.
Let go of things you can’t control
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” — Seneca
It’s the golden rule to do the best with what you got and let go of factors or people which stand beyond our personal control. Fussing about these things aggravate worry and stress which are detrimental to physical, mental, and emotional health.
Channelizing anger in the right direction
Sometimes uncontrollable anger needs an instant outlet which comes in the form of physical or verbal aggression, harming self, others or things around. Appropriate physical expression of anger includes doing push ups, running, punching a pillow, writing it down, talking to some other person (not involved in fight) about it.
Self-regulation teaches us to become more aware of our emotions and to identify the underlying reasons or dormant feelings which might be contributing to anger. Awareness and acceptance of emotion, journaling, a healthy self-talk, monitoring breath, and managing automatic negative thoughts enhance our ability to deal with emotional upheaval.
Sometimes we are too overwhelmed to analyse and introspect on our own. When you find yourself drowned in a particular emotion and a professional therapist can lend perspective which lie dormant within us but are inaccessible due to our flooded emotional state.