While everyone feels angry at various times, there are some people who seem to become angry more easily and more often than others. For these people many aspects of their daily lives seem to cause angry feelings which can be difficult for them, and those around them, to deal with. They seem able to access angry feelings more easily, as if they are nearer to the surface and always ready to burst through. This may be because they are living with unresolved feelings of anger that they have been holding on to for a long time.
Anger is a necessary and natural response to the frustrations and difficulties of our daily lives. Sometimes we are thwarted by the actions of others or by changes in circumstances that are out of our control. We express this anger through words and gestures so that other people know how we feel.
A healthy emotional response remains connected to the initial stimulus and once expressed begins to fade away. This would be regarded as a proportionate response to a situation. Feelings of anger that persist long after the experience has passed, and are expressed in a particularly aggressive or violent way, suggest a more complex emotional response to the situation.
Anger and Rage:
When something happens that makes us angry it can be healthy simply to express it, as once expressed the emotion is gone. When we link it with previous occasions, perhaps when something similar happened, and use this as a way of maintaining the feeling for longer we are moving from anger to rage. Phrases we typically use are ‘why does this always happen to me’ or ‘why can’t you ever do what you are told’. Using ‘always’ and ‘ever’ suggest that the feelings have moved beyond the present situation to connect with past experiences.
When current feelings combine with previous, possibly unexpressed, emotions they can become overwhelming. We may find ourselves acting in ways that we struggle to control and that others may be unable to understand. People have described this as being like a red mist coming down. Some people express this rage outwardly with aggressive language and possibly physical violence, while others turn this rage inwards by hurting themselves or putting themselves in danger.
In some relationships not everyone is allowed to spontaneously express their feelings. In many families only the adults are allowed to be angry. When children show their anger it is sometimes described as a tantrum. They are discouraged from expressing this particular emotion and even punished if they try. Not acknowledging the anger experienced by children risks these feelings becoming suppressed long into adulthood and emerging in destructive and unhelpful ways.
Children’s responses may not be fully understood by adults and can seem disproportionate. Youngsters express their feelings as they occur and often see the world in more dramatic terms than their parents. They do not always understand the actions of others and so can draw the wrong conclusions. Young children will often feel confused and angry when parents argue or separate and may even blame themselves for being the cause or at least for not being able to prevent it from happening.
Anger, Shame and Violence:
Feelings of shame at what we have done, or not done, can lead to a growing sense of anger. Not being able to express this feeling directly can lead to minor irritations becoming the spur for prolonged expressions of rage which may be accompanied by acts of violence. Where shame, perhaps resulting from humiliating experiences at the hands of others, is compounded the rage that is eventually expressed can be almost volcanic in both its energy and its impact.
Blowing our tops in this way can make us feel better in the short term as some of the tension we have been carrying around with us has been released. However the impact on those around us can be significant and the tension will start to build once again so that the cycle needs to be repeated.
Experiencing trauma can also be a source of anger and shame which is then expressed in ways that might seem unrelated to the original experience.
Consequences of Uncontrolled Anger and Rage:
Carrying around excessive anger can be crippling. We struggle constantly to control an emotional chain reaction that can be set off at any moment by any number of unrelated external triggers. Our relationships are inevitably affected as people around us become wary of how we might respond in any situation. They may even start to fear us so that they are always on their guard and unable to act naturally around us. This can result in a continual state of tension that may feed into the frustration that lights the fuse to ignite our rage.
The risks are poor relationships and a lack of intimacy, combined with regular acts of violence which can lead to personal injury and possibly prison terms.
Managing Anger and Rage:
The first step is to identify the difference between anger in the moment and the rage that spills out from beneath the surface. Making this separation can help us identify what triggers the rage in us and try to avoid such situations, if possible, or at least reduce their impact. Grounding ourselves in the present can help us ensure we are connecting with what is happening in the moment rather than drawing on past experiences. We can learn to distinguish between an anger response and a rage response so that situations do not escalate out of our control. There are many techniques we can use such as focussing on our breathing, feeling the ground beneath our feet, and even counting to ten before we respond to something.
It can also be helpful to explore the origins of any unexpressed anger or rage. It may have its roots in a particular incident or may stem from a situation which lasted for many months or even years. Working through the old emotions attached to these past experiences can allow them to surface so that they can be expressed safely and no longer need to emerge through other routes.
A skilled counsellor can help in both managing anger and rage in the present and exploring its origins so that its power to control our lives slowly fades.
© 2017 Michael Golding
About this blog ...
This is a collection of personal thoughts and observations on issues that many people are facing every day.