Thinking About Anger

Thinking About Anger

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The recently released film, "Anger Management," portrays the stereotype of anger management. We tend to think that anger management is all about keeping your cool. If you can keep your cool when somebody is in your face, steps on your toes and screams in your ear, you are an anger manager.

It is a highly superficial view of anger management. Comprehensive anger management is management of specific thoughts, perceptions and feelings that make one angry.

Anger in certain situations, in moderation, is normal. But, anger is a problem when it is too intense, expressed inappropriately and harms self or others.

Right thoughts can have a moderating influence on both the feeling and expression, wrong thoughts can aggravate them.

Thinking about what makes you angry puts you in a special class of people. Only conscious people think about their anger. Others simply feel it and act as they feel.

Some think they must be aggressive in order to get what they want. Others think if they didn't get angry and release pent-up tension they will go "crazy." Some believe they can control others by a powerful demonstration of their anger.

Some carry a lot of "oughts" and "shoulds" in their head. They feel strongly that everybody ought to or should observe them. Examples: "It should be peace and quiet when I am trying to concentrate;" "You ought to give me a chance;" "If I want to speak I should be heard right away" and "Since you didn't do what I said, I should teach you a lesson."

Preconceived ideas and biased perceptions feed each other and, together, they light the fire of anger. For example, if you think others are "stupid," you will find stupidity all around you. You would constantly note all day long every day that "dummies" can't understand the simplest of things.

People might occasionally exhibit tiny sparks of genius, but you would miss them. You would attract stupidity like a magnet attracts iron particles.

Finding plenty of confirmation of your belief, you would be convinced that people really are stupid. You would feel justified in feeling totally frustrated and fed up with having to suffer so much stupidity around you. In a sense, you strap yourself with emotional explosives. The next time you judge someone to be doing something stupid, you might explode.

Some have a hang up of different type. These are convinced that people are unfair and always treat them unfairly. When people respond in a way that is not to their liking, they see that as another evidence of unfairness. They don't even think about other possible causes.

Sometimes, we hear the admonition, "Don't take it personally," but we do. Here is one of the reasons for personalization: Inaccurate, one-dimensional and universal explanation for others' disagreeable response towards us, as mentioned earlier, "People are stupid" and "People are unfair."

If you want to understand your anger, identify and get to understand whatever it is that gets under your skin. People who exhibit frequent and intense anger tend to have just a few distorted explanations to explain all the events and responses of others they don't like.

Anger management also involves management of certain feelings that are related to how we feel about ourselves. What are those feelings? Feelings that make us feel valued, appreciated or good are called, "ego-syntonic" and those that make us feel small, ashamed or bad are called "ego-dystonic." Ego-dystonic feelings cause anger.

We are not always conscious of the ego-dystonic feelings. Often, it's simply too painful or frightening to admit to ourselves that deep down we are so vulnerable.

So, what are these dystonic feelings that we don't want to face in ourselves? One of the most frightening feelings is that we might not be loveable, likeable or good enough.

Also, it's too painful to think that we might really be insignificant in the eyes of those we want and need. So, why not go on the offensive and attack them. It's illogical but true.

Some feel too powerless to shape their own life or to influence others, so they simply stay angry.

Even more difficult might be to admit to ourselves that we are extremely bothered by feeling being judged and negatively evaluated by others. Sometimes, an anger outburst is to demonstrate that we care least about what they think of us.

But, deep down we do care what they think of us and that might make us even madder!

We have at least a score of mechanisms by which we defend ourselves against unacceptable feelings, called, "defense mechanisms." One of the defense mechanisms is to turn into an opposite that which is unacceptable to us. Thus, we defend against lack of self-esteem by arrogance, lack of accomplishment by domination, and against fear by anger.

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Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted May 2003


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