Anger is like a sunset: Think psychology not poetry.


Everyone has “experienced” anger.

If the word “experienced” in the context of an emotion seems odd to you, that is because it is odd.

You “experience” a sunset in that you see the sunset and you “choose” how it will impact you.

You may be overwhelmed or touched by its beauty. Or, you may just notice it and move on. You don’t control a sunset, you master it.

This is a subjective, or unique to you, emotional response.

With anger, however, most people believe that you get angry. Or do you?

The implication is that anger just happens to you.  While some people believe this, and it is partially true, overall, it isn’t either the whole story or even accurate.

So, back to sunsets and anger.

Psychologically, you subjectively “experience” anger similarly to how you experience a sunset.

The sun sets every day and you have seen many sunsets.  But, you may only have stopped what you are doing to interact with the sunset and let it impact you.

With anger, as I discuss both in previous posts and in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, you are constantly scanning your surroundings for threat. The anger mastery cycle begins with the perception of threat and quickly moves to the unconscious reaction to the threat.

This is the ONLY part of the emotion of anger where the anger “controls” you.

You engage the threat when the cycle proceeds to the conscious recognition and labeling of the emotional reaction as anger, validating the nature of the threat and choosing a response.

Objective and subjective “definitions”.

You can look at sunsets and anger both objectively and subjectively.

Sunsets (objectively)

Objectively, you can talk about how a sunset is caused when light is scattered in the atmosphere by different molecules and how clouds in the sky reflect the light in different ways the scattering of light.  There is no emotion in this description and unless you are interested in the science, none of it matters.  In fact, to stand in awe of a great sunset and have someone tell you what is really happening would be a “buzzkill”.

It is a bit different with anger.

If your goal, as in many anger management courses, is simply to control, minimize, or eliminate anger, then you really don’t need to know what anger is.  Once you recognize you are angry,  you put on the brakes, and you are done.

Well, many anger management approaches are unsuccessful because they do not provide a context for anger which explains what anger is, why we, as humans, have anger, and how we can use, or master, our anger to improve our lives.  Being able to objectively understand anger facilitates our subjectively learning to master it as a tool.

Anger (objectively)

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 book entitled Emotions As Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings which is available on Amazon. You can download the first chapter of this book from my blog for free 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. When we were living in caves, this was a good thing and helped insure our survival.

Sunsets (subjectively)

If you stop the car to “take in” the sunset, your “breath is taken away” by its beauty, or you “stand in awe” of this magnificent display, you get the subjective “definition” of a sunset.

Anger (subjectively)


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.

It this tendency to react to one’s anger and go to war without really assessing the nature of the threat that has both given anger a bad reputation and has negatively impacted lives and relationships.

While our brain automatically sets us up to react, it also, by a different pathway, allows us to assess our situation and choose how we want to adaptively respond to what is going on.

This response to anger is anger subjectively defined.

If you choose to go with the anger rather than learn to master it, you may get in trouble and blame your anger for you inappropriate behavior.  You may believe the anger controls you but this is still your choice. This is one subjective response.

Other people choose to master their anger as I discuss in my current book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool which is available on Amazon. By the way, you can download the first chapter of this book for free with no opt-in on my blog Here is the download page.

This is another subjective response.

My goal has been to give you another way to look at and understand your anger.  I hope this article has helped.

I welcome your comments.

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