On Controlling Anger

There are topics I generally do not speak about. Even when writing about them every word is at least triple checked. On of those topics is emotions and their experience. I prefer to think I am always in control of my emotions but I know I am not. That also brings me to the topic of this essay, namely controlling anger. Anger is the one emotion that induces fear in many people for it can lead to harm and destruction.

In preparation I have read several sources but the more complicated the explanations become, the more I think people lose grip of what anger really is. My approach to many things as I get older and learn more is to look at the context and try to simplify when it helps. Simplification when applied carefully is better than writing a book and claiming you have (all) the answers. I liked this and this other source the most.

I am a passionately curious person. I have no degrees in psychology or psychiatry and I have no pretensions to claim that I completely understand my own emotions. My emotions and thoughts drive me to decide and thus I write about this topic as I “feel” the need to write about it.  Ask me to explain “feel” and at one point my words lose meaning. Replace it with “sense”, “drive”, “motivation”, “urge” or “desire” and still my explanation would run out of meaning.

For me there are three emotions that decide many decisions. The emotions love, fear and anger are in my subjective experience the most influential. Of these three I personally consider anger the most dangerous. Anger can be relatively easy or difficult to control. The results of uncontrolled anger are at worst utter destruction. For that aspect alone anger is a fascinating emotion to write about.

On the Wikipedia page I linked there is  a small section describing three types of anger. I paraphrase them here.

  • Anger as an immediate response for self-preservation, thus survival.
  • Anger as a settled and deliberate response against perceived harm and unfairness, thus self-defence.
  • Anger that is dispositional, a personal trait which directly influences behaviour, thus dispositional anger.

To learn more about dispositional emotions there is this page about dispositional affect.  There are also the nature-nurture aspects. Regarding emotions and our human awareness of them nature and nurture are influential factors. Every child has a set of genes and traits pre-built and there are traits that developed in an environment where it grows up. The extent to which the influence of natural factors and nurture (or cultural factors) can be measured is uncertain. In a loving and caring family the little human is generally less likely to develop harmful behaviour. How “less likely” depends of course.

Anger as an emotion can generate enormous amounts of energy. When people become seriously angry they can get a rush of energy strong enough to do amazing things. Physical limitations being what they are, in extreme situations the rolled up fingers can form a hammer that delivers enough force to cause bruises and break bones. An angered person can run after the perpetrator for many miles without feeling physical stress or fatigue as long as the rush continues.

In addition to a release of energy there it the expression of anger. At best the anger is expressed to make decisions, create new things and move forward. At its worst expressed anger leads to forms of violence and destruction. Add that anger can be expressed towards oneself or towards one’s environment, sometimes both. When angered people do terrible things like harming and killing others a dilemma follows. That dilemma is challenging: how to stop this knowing human nature can both create and destroy?

The dilemma with anger and its effects is complex. You are forced to start with yourself and consider “how do I control my anger?” and then “how do I help someone else to control his or her anger?” From individual to individual this is already difficult. Add a group of angry people and things become more difficult. If you want to know how difficult think back to the French Revolution. After the bloodshed in France every European head of state wanted to avoid that.

Another factor in controlling anger is gender. How men and women behave in a state of anger can be the same or completely different and that is not including age and personal characteristics. I am a man and my perception and experience of anger in myself and others is different. Women are more sensitive for certain things and that allows them earlier to get to the bottom of issues. That is my personal experience and I have to accept that. In life that means that women are generally more verbal and men are generally more physical.

Add all the factors together like a sum of numbers. There is the raw power of emotion. Shaped by nature and nurture there are ways of expression. Emotions like anger generate energy which leads to decisions. Human nature is influential. From individuals to groups the effects are sometimes unpredictable. All this combined with gender and personal characteristics and a dose of self-awareness make this topic a complex topic of conversation.

From my side there is only one thing that I can say that works for me. Some people call it the golden rule. Some people call it the wisdom of the Jews and Jesus in the New Testament, namely “treat others like you want to be treated” and that is usually at the core of my decisions. To control your anger is to tame the reflex that makes you strike out and hurt others. Sometimes you fail and preferably you never fail in doing so. You are only human after all.

When it comes to controlling anger there is a choice to make. This choice is difficult, namely “what is worth becoming angry about?” I sometimes think about this choice and it comes down to personal principles. Energy wasted is energy gone. Time wasted is time gone. I hope the choices you make are the choices you wholeheartedly support.

Controlling your anger creates opportunities. Opportunities to make a difference…