This is a question someone asked on Quora.com and as I hadn’t really thought of anger in this way, I decided to address it.
YES Anger, as an emotion, is an objective term as it can be as it can be clearly and “objectively” defined. We tend to think of anger only as an objective term and as I will discuss below, this can be problematic.
NO Anger as experienced and expressed by an individual is a subjective term because how you experience and express your anger is very “subjective”, or unique, to you.
Anger, as an emotion is one of the 6 primary emotions “discovered” by Paul Ekman. These emotions are mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise. All of them can be seen across human cultures and in some subhuman species. If you have kids, you have learned to recognize these emotions in your kid’s faces when they were too young to think about, or subjectively configure what they were feeling.
With the exception of glad and surprise, all of the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors the evolutionary function of which is to alert us to the presence of a threat and subconsciously prepare our bodies to deal with the threat. You can think of emotions as tools. I have written about this emotional process in my first Amazon best selling book entitledYou can download the first chapter of this book by scrolling up to the Welcome post on this blog with no opt-in.
When a person is subconsciously alerted to a threat through the Amygdala and the Thalamus and experiences anger, he or she is “set up” to REACT to the anger. With anger, we are set up to go to war. When we were living in caves, this was a good thing and helped insure our survival.
There are two aspects to anger as a subjective term.
The first is how you experience anger physically.
How does your body alert you to the emotion of anger? This is important information to have as your “physical correlates” of anger are the first indicator to you that you are getting angry. I have included several checklists to help you identify how your body reacts in anger in my first Amazon best selling book Emotions as Tools A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Emotions. You can download the first two chapters to this book by scrolling up to the top of the blog.
The second aspect of anger as a subjective term is how you respond when you are angry.
Today, we have a choice about how we want to RESPOND to a perceived threat because our nervous system alerts our cerebral cortex (thinking part of the brain) about the situation we are facing.
While our brain automatically sets us up to react, the threats you face today are psychological not survival based. How you choose to respond to the threat is highly subjective and can either be adaptive and useful or maladaptive and problematic.
There are three general subjective responses to anger.
The first personal subjective response to anger is to go with the anger rather than learn to master it. It this tendency to go to war without really assessing the nature of the threat that has given anger a bad reputation. This choice can get a person in trouble in that it leads them to blame their anger for their inappropriate behavior. They feel their anger controls them and do not take personal responsibility for their actions. This may not feel like a choice but it is. In addition, this choice is very maladaptive in that it does not work to the advantage of the angry person
The second personal objective response to anger is to master the anger as I discuss in my current Amazon best seller book. By the way, you can download the first chapter of this book for free with no opt-in by scrolling up to the top of the blog.
The choice to master your anger is adaptive because it takes into consideration what is happening in the situation, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what works best for you and the other person.
A third personal subjective response is to use anger as a secondary emotion. This is dishonest anger as the anger is used to cover up other feelings such as anxiety, vulnerability, sadness, hurt and so forth. While the emotion looks and feels like anger, there is not obvious threat and the “angry” person knows the emotion is a cover-up.
Problems can arise when we treat anger as if it is always an objective term. This implies that anger is the same for everyone. With the exception of anger as a secondary emotion, it is true that everyone who gets angry perceives a threat. But, and this is the important part, how a person defines, perceives, and responds to that threat is highly subjective.
When we deal with another person who is angry, we need to find out how they are subjectively responding to the situation. We can use this information to develop our response to them.
As always, I welcome your comments.