Let’s talk about A N G E R.

When I was little, I thought anger was a feeling that only adults were allowed to express. I grew up in an environment where I’d get punished if I had sworn and asked to behave if I would scream in a public space. Going for my bachelor’s degree, trying to memorize and understand all the new terms, I realize that I was experiencing what we call in psychology cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when someone feels some discomfort because he/she is holding two or more conflicting beliefs. In other words, what I was experiencing was my urge to react in situations where I would feel anger vs what I was “allowed” to express. 

A few years later, when I was doing my practicum, L. came to me and told me that our next group session would be about anger because K. reacted angrily when he recalled some of his prison memories. That was my cue to unpack what anger is and why I had that relationship with that emotion. Let’s start with the basics; anger can be a feeling and a reaction. As mentioned in the “I don’t know how I FEEL” post, anger can be a secondary emotion, meaning that it can stem and be fueled by sadness. However, it can also be a reaction in the case of a perceived threat. Therefore, it acts as a protective mechanism. 

Let me distill what I mean. When someone is truly sad, without any space to vent their emotion safely, then it stays in the mind and body. Each of our emotions changes our body’s chemistry since emotions secrete hormones that have a certain duration which should stay in the body so that to keep the body balanced. If for whatever reason some hormones stay for longer, then, the body will try to maintain its balance and start giving off danger signals. One of them is anger. Therefore, what we can conclude here is that anger, like any other emotion and feeling, can act as feedback to our emotional state and cognitive reasoning

At the same time, anger can be a response to a stimulus that we translate as threatening. So what is the scenario here? When there’s a cue that we perceive as threatening to our self-image, our amygdala is triggered which in turn they activate the fight/flight response. This acts as a protective mechanism since if we go back to the primitive people, living in the jungle they found themselves in grave danger. Therefore, in the likely event of facing a bear, they had to decide if they would fight the animal or run away to save their lives. Considering that we have culturally evolved at a disproportional rate compared to our biological evolution, nowadays we don’t have to fight animals, therefore, it would not be socially acceptable to run away or physically fight someone. This repression of action tends to be converted into anger

As Robert Sapolsky explains, anger is part of us being humans; however, the expression of anger is acceptable depending on the context and setting that it is expressed. For example, when you are watching football and you get upset up to a certain level then it’s considered acceptable. However, if you display the same kind of behavior at a coffee place, then probably it would have been frowned upon. The conclusion here is that there is a difference in whether you want to express your anger or not and how you express your anger. Therefore, if you are struggling with any issues of anger, then what you should be aiming for is to manage how you express your anger

Experiencing anger is normal as is part of how our minds and brain are engineered. The way that each one of us experiences and expresses anger can be different depending on the culture, context, and personality of the individual. If anger is expressed in a safe and non-intrusive way can be protective and creative. However, if your anger interferes with your everyday life, negatively affecting your mental and physical health and your relationships, then you should seek the help of a mental health professional as this can escalate to violent behavior.