This is the first of a two part discussion.
There are at least three possible explanations for why someone might be angry and not be able to identify a “reason” for their anger. In this post, I will talk about what anger is and discuss the first two explanations.
In my next blog, I will address explanation #3 and talk about anger which really isn’t anger: specifically secondary and instrumental “anger”.
Recently, I was asked the above question on Quora.com and I thought I might address it here. If this applies to you, or someone you know, here are some insights that could be helpful.
As I have noted in previous posts, anger is one of six primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise). With the exceptions of glad (happy) and surprise, the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors which appear in all human cultures and many subhuman species.
In humans, the primary emotions function as primitive threat detectors which both alert us to potential threats and, subconsciously, prepare our bodies to deal with the threat. While I discussed sadness, fear, anxiety and other feelings in my first Amazon Best Selling book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings, my second Amazon Best Seller book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool focuses on Anger specifically.
Each emotion communicates a different message about the perceived threat. The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough power at it. Your body is prepared for battle. You are ready to fight.
Whenever you get angry, it is because you perceive a threat. This the reason behind your anger.
This question appears to address the experience in which one feels angry but can’t seem to identify a specific threat. The apparent absence of an identifiable threat implies that there is no reason for the anger.
This may, or may not be true.
There are at least three possible explanations for what may be happening.
- No threat exists and you have misperceived was is going on.
- A threat exists but it is not obvious and, therefore, is not consciously identified as a threat. The individual has, however, subconsciously, identified a threat and reacted to it.
- While the emotion expressed appears to be anger, it is not anger as a primary emotion. Rather, it is either secondary anger or instrumental anger and the individual is not aware that the emotion is not primary anger.
Let’s look at the first two.
- No threat exists.
Imagine a situation in which you get angry and everyone around you looks at you as if to say, “What is going on with you?”. Their comments imply that there is no reason for your anger and that your anger is inappropriate.
There are at least two possibilities here.
On the one hand, you may have correctly perceived a threat and your perceptions are not being consensually validated. Your experience, based on the feedback you are getting, is that you are angry for no reason. The truth, however, is that you are correct and they are incorrect. There is a reason for your anger and they are telling you there is no reason.
On the other hand, you may have misunderstood the actions of another individual. Your experience, based on the feedback you are getting is that you are angry for no reason.
The truth is that you perceived a threat and reacted. You just were incorrect in your perception. In this case, you are not “angry for no reason”. Rather, there is no reason for your anger.
2. A threat exists but it is not obvious.
The actions of another person are not always what they appear to be. This can happen when one is being sarcastic, cracking a joke, using evasive or insincere language, or giving a “double message”.
You may get angry because you correctly sense the actual meaning (threat) underlying the communication you are receiving but you don’t consciously identify the threat because it is not obvious.
When this happens, I suggest that you validate and honor your anger as alerting you to a possible threat. You should not act-out in anger but you do have at least two options.
On the one hand, you can choose to ignore the possible threat because the individual’s message is indirect and, therefore, not actionable.
The second option is to note that you aren’t sure what the person is trying to say to you and ask for clarification.
I will address the third explanation in my next post.