Anger Mechanics

Illustration of angry young woman
People vector created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Who among us has never been upset? Or lashed out with harsh words? We have had people frustrated with us, too, at some point or the other. Without doubt, we all want to defend ourselves or our character, when we are struck by people’s irritation attacks. We all, therefore, think that we understand anger.

Let’s see the faces of anger we know.
Anger as hot fluid – She is boiling with anger.
Anger as fire – His anger is smouldering.
Anger as insanity – He was crazy with rage.
Anger as fight – I was struggling with my anger.
Anger as a burden – She carries anger around.
Anger as physical annoyance – He’s a pain in the neck.

We have so much creativity around and about anger, because it is such a usual, everyday reaction for all of us.

So, is it wrong? Everyone gets angry, no?

Anger is one of six basic emotions. The elementary human emotions are:

  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Happiness
  • Surprise.

Isn’t it uncanny that the majority of our basic human emotions are negative? Maybe not as negative as we think. Anger is an emotion that we perceive when things do not go our way. We use it to protect ourselves from attack. That’s why anger is also considered to be a defence. We get angry when we feel the need to protect ourselves from:

  • Unfairness
  • Injustice
  • Criticism
  • Character attack
  • Antagonism
  • Resentment.
  • Simply not getting what we want

All of this seems to justify anger. The truth is — things cannot always go our way. People’s thoughts and reactions are their choice. But how we strike back determines whether anger is our friend or foe. Whether it degrades us or helps us grow. Anger is destructive if we are quick to react negatively, and don’t take the time to deliberate the impact of our reactions. In fact, we often surprise ourselves with our own rage. We often say: “I have no idea why I got so angry!” We can, and need to change that.

More to anger than we see or know

Our anger is like an iceberg. And there’s a gigantic body of emotions underneath, which we are all relentlessly covering. We get angry when we feel threatened or unsafe. We don’t like losing. We can’t face the shame and guilt and don’t want the pain of hard work. Here’s what the anger iceberg covers.

SadnessRejectionDistrust
IncompletenessDisappointmentGrief
ShameStressLoneliness
GuiltEnvyPain
EmbarrassmentAttackRejection
NervousnessInsecurityHelplessness

Consider these situations. We have felt some or all of the above emotions but used anger to cover them up. Do you remember feeling…
… guilty about not faring well in an exam?
… ashamed about not being invited to a party?
… sad about your pet who passed away?
… envious of the new smart classmate?
… disappointed when you did not win a match?

Did you respond to these with frustration and annoyance? Maybe you thought people didn’t care and you did not know how to handle your own feelings? If you realized and did something about the underlying negative emotion, you could have used your anger to your advantage. To learn and grow from the set-back. And become a bigger, better person.

Mechanics of anger — 0 to 100 like a Ferrari

Of course, everyone gets angry. But anger follows a process before it becomes second nature. None of us were born hot headed. Our experiences make us that way. Let’s see how angry reactions evolve.

  1. Negative thought (he’s/she’s putting me down)
  2. Destructive emotion (frustration, irritation)
  3. Body’s action (release of stress hormone)
  4. Bodily impact (raised pulse and blood pressure)
  5. Angry behaviour (shouting, yelling, hitting, breaking things).

The intensity of this could be anywhere in the range of displeasure > irritation > frustration > anger > rage > fury

It’s on us to break the chain and prevent our displeasure from reaching the stage of fury. If we worked on the thought stage and prevented the negative emotion, the entire cascade could have been prevented.

How can we stop the anger cascade?

A lot depends on who the object of your anger is! A parent, friend, coach, trainer, teacher, classmate? Step back and think about the goals of your anger and what outcome you want from it. Find a way to defuse the situation and also to prevent it from happening again. If you’re frequently upset with parents or friends, ask yourself — is this about right now or is this something that needs to be worked on since a while? When someone says something you don’t like, listen to their anger and do something to prevent yours.

  1. Don’t take it personally. It reflects on them and not on you. You reflect on you.
  2. Focus instead of focusing on how you feel, think about what the other person feels.
  3. Be curious. Wow, she’s so fuming angry, what just happened? Let me figure it out.
  4. Communicate rightly. See how they are talking and react like you would normally.
  5. Find the obstacle. Maybe they’re worked up about something else. Not at you.
  6. Look for the reason beneath the iceberg. Be the smarter one to figure things out.

And if you have gotten angry already, then this is what you can do.

Know that anger is a basic emotion, so you will feel it, but you have to break the anger cascade. Ask yourself what you want from the person you’re angry with. If it’s a sibling, you want to share the TV. If it’s a teacher, you want to resolve your query, if it’s your friend, you want to see a movie of your choice, and if it’s your mom/dad, you want the latest iPhone. If you get worked up, the golden questions you need to ask are:

  • How is this helping me?
  • How does this help the relationship?
  • What’s my end goal here?
  • How can I calm, myself right now?
  • Can I find an escape route?
  • Can I defuse this situation?
  • Can I take deep breaths and relax?
  • Can I forgive this person and move on?

Anger does no good. As soon as you realize that, you’ll stop feeling angry. Lower your gushing adrenaline, learn to forgive the other person’s inadequacy, and learn to overcome your own, too.

When you’re at peace with yourself, you’ll be at peace with the world.

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Dr Shefali Batra
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Dr Shefali Batra

Dr Shefali Batra is a Senior Psychiatrist and CBT Expert, and is the Founder of Mindframes. She posts and conducts regular ‘lives’ on Instagram @drshefalibatra.