Four Part Series on Anger. Part 3: You Are NOT Your Anger

When  you saw the title of this post, did you wonder what point I was trying to make?

Or, did you think something along the lines of, “Duh!”?

In either case, the point I am making is that sometimes people act as if their anger has taken control of them. Or, in other words, they have become their anger.

As I will discuss below, while it may feel like your anger is is calling the shots, your anger NEVER has control over what you do. It is always a tool that you can deploy to make your life better.

Let me unpack this a bit using pain as an example.

Let’s say that you have a headache. You are uncomfortable and, maybe, you are even a bit surly with those around you.

I know this has happened to me.

Should you be challenged about your behavior, you probably would apologize and explain that you have a headache and it was really bothering you.

If the headache persists over time and doesn’t go away after you’ve taken some OTC medication, you might decide to call your doctor.

This action of using the pain as a source of information encouraging you ro get some help is actually using your pain as a tool.

Pain is a physical phenomenon which, as a tool, both informs you that something is wrong and encourages you (because it hurts) to stop what you are doing (straining something) or seek professional help to look into what is going on inside you that might be problematic.

By the way, this is the function of pain.

You would not say that the headache forced you to be surly or that the headache was in some way controlling you.

In other words, it would always be clear to you that you had a headache and not that your headache had “become you” and taken control of you.

If you did blame your headache, then you would be engaging in the psychological phenomenon of suffering from your pain. Suffering involves giving unwarranted meaning or significance to the physical pain.

This process is analogous to that which happens with the  emotion of anger.

Here is how the Anger Cycle works:

  • You are hard-wired to constantly, and subconsciously, scan your surroundings for threat.
  • When a threat is perceived, a fast message is sent to the Amygdala in your brain telling your body to prepare for battle.  This is your anger reaction. The physical signs of this preparation are the changes that your body goes through when you get angry.
  • At the same time, a slower message goes to your cerebral cortex which tells you that a threat has been perceived.  This gives you an opportunity to assess the nature of the threat and choose your response.

As I have noted in other posts, anger is a tool, the function of which is to alert you to and prepare you to deal with perceived threat. Your anger is like the smoke detector in your house.  It sends out an alert and screams “Check out what is going on!”

Your anger does not tell you what to do next anymore than the smoke detector tells you to grab your “go-bag” and move to higher ground.  After all, it may be that the toaster just burned the toast. Or, you could have just misunderstood what was said to you.

Or, there just might be a fire and the perceived threat is real.  This is where your assessment and response options become important.

Sometimes, however, a person will act as if their initial reaction is absolutely correct (and not take the time to assess the situation) and go to war.  In this situation, they have become their anger and that the anger is eliciting behavior that is often seen as inappropriate or extreme.

 

Notice the words in italics.  (Act as if) The individual, here, is abdicating any judgement to the anger and is assuming that “war” is, indeed, called for.

It is, as if, the anger got inside them and, like an insidious virus or alien being, took control of their actions and gave them no choice but to lash out at or hurt another person.

In other words, they have become their anger!

When called out for their actions, while angry, they will plead that this just wasn’t like them and that their anger made them do what they did.

When a person takes no responsibility for their behavior and blames their anger, they might as well saying that they were possessed.

To put it another way, when you over-identify with, and distance yourself from, your anger, you, in a sense, become your anger.

In essence, you are acting as-if it controls you.

Three important points are critical here.

First, your anger, as an emotion,  results from how you perceive your surroundings.

Secondly, because anger is a hard-wired emotion and can happen very quickly,  your experience may very well feel like your anger is controlling you. This is the fast track process of anger that I have addressed in other posts and in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

Thirdly, because the emotional process of anger, always sends a slower message to the the thinking part of your brain (the Cortex), you always have a choice as to how you will respond to the perceived threat.

In other words, your anger does initially happen to you based on how you perceive your surroundings.  But, it never becomes you as you always have a choice as to how you will respond.

You just have to learn how to recognize and strategically utilize this choice.