ANGER – AN EMOTIONAL POISON

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Being a text of lecture delivered by Livy-Elcon Emereonye at Royal Life Church’s Couples’Conference on 13 Sept 2015.

Protocol:

Definition of keywords:

-anger: a feeling of grievance and displeasure

-emotion: a strong feeling about somebody or something

-poison: something that causes illness, injury, or death if taken into the body or produced within the body

From the above, we will be looking at anger as that strong feeling about somebody or something that causes illness, injury, or death, mainly in the person expressing it but possibly in the person it is being expressed at and or those around.

Anger is synonymous with annoyance, irritation, fury, rage, antagonism, resentment, ire (literary), wrath, dander; and it can have multi-faceted effects.

The opposite of anger is calm, tranquil, peaceful, quiet, still, cool, composed, unruffled, serene, or relaxed.

 

What is anger?

 

Anger is an intense emotional response that can stem from feelings of frustration, hurt, annoyance or disappointment. It can range from slight irritation to strong rage, and often indicates when one’s basic boundaries are violated.

Sheila Videbeck describes anger as a normal emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceived provocation. Michael C. Graham defines anger in terms of our expectations and assumptions about the world, and states, “anger almost always results when we are caught up … expecting the world to be different than it is”. Saint Basil views anger as a “reprehensible temporary madness.” Joseph F. Delany in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1914) defines anger as “the desire of vengeance.” In Judaism, anger is a negative trait. In the book of Genesis (34:30), Jacob condemned the anger that had arisen in his sons Simon and Levi: “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.” Anger in Buddhism is defined as: “being unable to bear the object, or the intention to cause harm to the object.” Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states, “Anger is also a very evil trait and it should be avoided at all costs. You should train yourself not to become angry even if you have a good reason to be angry.” Galen and Seneca regarded anger as a kind of madness. Meher Baba held that anger results from unfulfilled desires. According to him, anger is the fume of an irritated mind. It is caused by the thwarting of desires. It feeds the limited ego and is used for domination and aggression. It aims at removing the obstacles existing in the fulfillment of desires. The frenzy of anger nourishes egoism and conceit and it is the greatest benefactor of the limited ego.

In psychology it signifies a reaction involving certain physiological changes, such as an accelerated or retarded pulse rate, the diminished or increased activities of certain glands, or a change in body temperature, which stimulate the individual, or some component part of his or her body, to further activity. It can occur either as an immediate response to external stimuli or as a result of an indirect subjective process, such as memory, association, or introspection.

Some have a learned tendency to react to anger through retaliation. However, anger may be utilized effectively by setting boundaries or escaping from dangerous situations.

Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by virtually all humans at times, and as something that has functional value for survival. Anger can mobilize psychological resources for corrective action.

In general, anger is viewed as a destructive emotion and an aversion with a stronger exaggeration. It often brings confusion and misery rather than peace, happiness, and fulfillment. Indeed, uncontrolled anger can negatively affect personal or social well-being.

Causes

Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats caused by both external and internal events. According to Novaco, “Anger experiences are embedded or nested within an environmental-temporal context. Research has also found that family background plays a role. Typically, people who are easily angered come from families that are disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications. It may have physical correlates such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Some view anger as an emotion which triggers part of the fight or flight brain response.

Somehow, it is a natural reaction to being wronged by someone else and it is a way of communicating that sense of injustice. People feel angry when they sense that they or someone they care about has been offended, when they are certain about the nature and cause of the angering event, when they are certain someone else is responsible, and when they feel they can still influence the situation or cope with it.

Other factors that can lead to anger include selfishness, arrogance and excessive ambition.

Signs of anger

The manifestation of anger can be found in facial expressions, body language, physiological responses, and at times in public acts of aggression. The facial and skeletal musculature are strongly affected by anger that the face becomes flushed, and the brow muscles move inward and downward, fixing a hard stare on the target. The nostrils flare, and the jaw tends toward clenching. Tension in the skeletal musculature, including raising of the arms and adopting a squared-off stance, are preparatory actions for attack and defense. The muscle tension provides a sense of strength and self-assurance. And an impulse to strike out accompanies this subjective feeling of potency.

Physiological responses to anger include an increase in the heart rate, preparing the person to move, and an increase of the blood flow to the hands, preparing them to strike. Perspiration increases (particularly when the anger is intense).

In neuroimaging studies of anger, the most consistently activated region of the brain was the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, the part that is associated with approach motivation and positive affective processes.

Also, people can express anger verbally and may do so by:

  • Shouting
  • Threatening
  • Using dramatic words
  • Bombarding someone with hostile questions
  • Exaggerating the impact on them of someone else’s action

A person who is angry tends to place more blame on another person for their misery. This can create a feedback, as this extra blame can make the angry person angrier still, so they in turn places yet more blame on the other person.

Types of anger

Aside other classifications, three types of anger are recognized by psychologists:

  1. “Hasty and sudden” anger which is connected to the impulse for self-preservation. It occurs when tormented or trapped.
  2. “Settled and deliberate” anger which is a reaction to perceived deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. These two forms of anger are episodic.
  • Dispositional” anger which is related more to character traits than to instincts or cognitions. Irritability, sullenness and churlishness are examples of this form of anger.

Consequences of anger

Anger can have many physical and mental consequences, that there are all sorts of good sensible, civilized reasons to avoid getting angry.

Not only does it make one feel bad, it makes one do stupid things without noticing the risks and it can be self-destructive. To this effect, Seneca argues that anger is “worthless even for war.”

Anger gets the mind and body ready for action. It arouses the nervous system, increasing the heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to muscles, blood sugar level and sweating. It also sharpens the senses and increases the production of the hormone adrenalin.

While physical changes are taking place, so is the way we think. When a threat arises, anger helps us quickly translate complex information into simple terms like ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ This can be helpful in making quick decisions during an emergency, but it can also cause us to act without rationalizing a situation. When anger interferes with rational thinking, we may act aggressively, propelled by the instinct to survive or protect someone from a threat.

Anger can be equated with sorrow as a form of unrequited desire. The objects of anger are perceived as a hindrance to the gratification of the desires of the angry person. Apart from being packed with more evil power, it can lead to perpetual bondage.

As an emotional poison, anger can be very destructive. It impairs one’s ability to process information and to exert cognitive control over one’s behaviour. An angry person may lose his/her objectivity, empathy, prudence or thoughtfulness and may cause harm to others.

Health wise, inappropriately expressing anger can be harmful to one’s health. Reactions, such as keeping anger pent up, seething with rage or having violent outbursts, could lead to unwanted effects, both emotionally and physically. Long term and intense anger has been linked with mental health problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm. People with a long term anger problem tend to be poor at making decisions, take more risks than other people and are more likely to have a substance misuse problem. Further, such responses might aggravate chronic pain or lead to sleep difficulties or digestive problems. There is even some evidence that stress and hostility related to anger can lead to colds, flu, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attack.

Commenting on anger, Buddha who was credited with the famous quote: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” had the following to say:

“An angry person is ugly & sleeps poorly. Gaining a profit, he turns it into a loss, having done damage with word & deed. A person overwhelmed with anger destroys his wealth. Maddened with anger, he destroys his status. Relatives, friends, & colleagues avoid him. Anger brings loss. Anger inflames the mind. He doesn’t realize that his danger is born from within. An angry person doesn’t know his own benefit. A man conquered by anger is in a mass of darkness. He takes pleasure in bad deeds as if they were good, but later, when his anger is gone, he suffers as if burned with fire. He is spoiled, blotted out, like fire enveloped in smoke. When anger spreads, when a man becomes angry, he has no shame, no fear of evil, is not respectful in speech. For a person overcome with anger, nothing gives light”.

 

Anger and the family

A family is a group of people who are closely related by birth, marriage, or adoption; and family ties are one of the strongest contributors to individual character development. Many of us spend years trying to understand, erase, or copy the influence of our family unit. When anger is part of a family’s tradition, it spreads itself much like a virus to future generations. The wider the spread, the more difficult the anger is to contain.

The effect of anger in families is usually apparent in the way that members relate with one another. Our earliest experiences communicating and relating to others occurs within the family. Patterns of anger in relationships are then taken and recreated in later relationships outside the family.

 

How a parent’s anger impact his or her child.

According to the research in When Anger Hurts Your Child, the authors found that the following appeared to be true:

  • Children of angry parents are more aggressive and noncompliant
  • Children of angry parents are less empathetic
  • Children of angry parents have poor overall adjustment
  • There is a strong relationship between parental anger and delinquency
  • The effects of parental anger can continue to impact the adult child, including increasing degrees of depression, social alienation, spouse abuse and career and economic achievement.

 

How to know if a family or loved one has an anger problem?

 

Angry individuals are, in most instances, very aware of their problems in controlling anger. Unfortunately, too many come to accept their anger as an unchangeable part of who they are and feel hopeless to change. If you feel that you or a loved one may have an anger disorder, look for several of the following symptoms:

  • Becoming more angry than is appropriate in regard to mild frustration or irritation.
  • Having feelings of guilt or regret over something that you have said or done in a fit of anger.
  • Repeated social conflict as a result of anger outbursts (law suits, fights, property damage, school suspensions, etc.)
  • Family and/or friends approach you with the concern that you need help managing your anger.
  • Having chronic physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal difficulties, or anxiety.

Anger in relationships

Anger is one of the most common negative patterns in relationships. It takes root in insecure relationships where open communication is absent and the emotion of love is buried beneath years of resentment. There is typically hopelessness in the present and doubt about the future in these relationships. It is like living in bondage.

Coping with anger

According to Leland R. Beaumont, each instance of anger demands making a choice. A person can respond with hostile action, including overt violence, or respond with hostile inaction, such as withdrawing or stonewalling. Other options include initiating a dominance contest, harbouring resentment, or working to better understand and constructively resolve the issue.

In order to manage anger the problems involved in the anger should be discussed. The situations leading to anger should be explored by the person. There is no need pretending that all is well when nothing is well because according to Robert Quillen, “Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance.”

Conventional therapies for anger involve restructuring thoughts and beliefs to bring about a reduction in anger because research has shown that people who suffer from excessive anger often harbour and act on dysfunctional attributions, assumptions and evaluations in specific situations.

 

Anger Management

Anger management is a process of learning to recognize signs that one is becoming angry, and taking action to calm down and deal with the situation in a positive way. Anger management is about learning how to express anger and emotions appropriately.

Proverbs 19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Psalms 37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!  Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

Proverbs 29:22 A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.

Proverbs 30:33 For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.

To manage anger, Seneca addresses the procedure in three parts:

  1. How to avoid becoming angry in the first place.

To avoid becoming angry in the first place, he suggests that the many faults of anger should be repeatedly remembered. One should avoid being too busy or deal with anger-provoking people. Unnecessary hunger or thirst should be avoided and soothing music be listened to.

  1. How to cease being angry.

To cease being angry, he suggests that one should check speech and impulses and be aware of particular sources of personal irritation. In dealing with other people, one should not be too inquisitive: It is not always soothing to hear and see everything. When someone appears to slight you, you should be at first reluctant to believe this, and should wait to hear the full story. You should also put yourself in the place of the other person, trying to understand his motives and any extenuating factors, such as age or illness.

  1. How to deal with anger in others.

To deal with anger in others, the first reaction is to simply keep calm. He suggests that a certain kind of deception is necessary in dealing with angry people. Little wonder Laurence Peter said, “Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

So restraining oneself from anger is a noble and desirable act. To this effect, Ben Zoma asked: “Who is strong? He who subdues his evil inclination, as it is stated, ‘He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man, and he who masters his passions is better than one who conquers a city’ (Proverbs 16:32).”

We can overcome anger by transforming difficulties starting with the mind. Problems arise when we respond to difficulties with a negative state of mind. Therefore, we should learn how to transform our minds for better.

Techniques to control anger

In reality, it is can be very challenging to control anger especially when there are cogent reasons to be angry. But the good news is that some practical techniques have been identified to control anger:

  1. Take a timeout
    Anger is the one thing made better by delay. Defuse your temper by slowing down. Before you react, take a moment or two to breathe deeply, blink and count at least from 1 to 10. If necessary, step away from the person or situation until your frustration subsides.
  2. Once you are calm, express your anger
    With a cool head and calmed emotions, state your concerns and needs clearly and directly, but in a non-confrontational way.
  3. Get some exercise
    As your anger builds, but before it erupts, take a brisk walk, a healthy run or engage in some other favorite physical activity. Stimulating your brain chemicals can leave you feeling happier and more relaxed than you were before you worked out.
  4. Think before you speak
    Before you say something you will soon regret, hold off for just a few moments, collect your thoughts and allow others involved in the situation to do the same.
  5. Identify possible solutions
    It is natural to focus on what made you mad or upset. But assess the situation and remind yourself that anger is not the answer and will not lead to a solution. In fact, it might make matters worse.
  6. Stick with ‘I’ statements
    Criticizing and placing the blame on others might only increase the tension. Instead, use specific “I” statements to describe the problem in a respectful way. For example, say, “I’m upset that you didn’t take out the garbage this morning,” instead of, “You never take out the garbage when it’s full.”
  7. Don’t hold a grudge
    Forgive. Don’t let anger and other negative feelings crowd out the positive ones. Avoid being swallowed up by bitterness or sense of injustice. If you can forgive someone who angered you, you both might learn from the situation. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to behave exactly as you want at all times.
  8. Use humor to release tension
    Lightening up the situation can help diffuse tension. However, avoid using sarcasm as it can hurt feelings and make matters worse.
  9. Practice relaxation skills
    Exercise those relaxation techniques when your temper flares. Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as, “Take it easy.”
  10. Know when to seek help
    Controlling anger is challenging to everyone at times so consider seeking help for anger issues if your anger seems out of control, causes you to do things you regret or hurts those around you.

Anger management in the family

  • Individual therapy, which explores the root of angry feelings and behavior, is traditionally a safer, more secure option to working with the entire angry family at once. Treatment with individuals helps facilitate a thorough focus on the most important emotions beneath the individual’s anger.
  • Family therapy is a powerful way of repairing the damaging effect of long-term anger interactions. Over time, chronic anger drives a wedge between family members, resulting in the members becoming disconnected from one another, or overly involved with one another in an unhealthy manner. Therapy would consider each member’s role in the anger interactions, versus assuming any single member is responsible for the family’s anger.

Anger management in relationship

According to Joseph Worth, the following are some tips on how to limit anger producing interactions in relationships:

  1. When you have anger toward another person, start with an internal check of your own emotional state. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do.
  2. Before feeling attacked or hurt, make an attempt to give others the benefit of doubt, especially if you have nothing to lose by doing so.
  3. Ask yourself if you have legitimate assumptions about the intentions of others.
  4. Keep the lines of communication open. When you feel resentment building, see if you can journal your feelings and then share your thoughts with a loved one.
  5. Explore your participation in relationships that repeatedly bring out the worst in you.
  6. Always consider individual or family therapy in instances where your anger feels out of control and/or mysterious.
  7. Then learn how to let go, and indeed let go.

Benefits of breaking legacies of anger

If parents and caregivers are willing to learn about anger and become more proficient in responding to anger in healthy ways significant benefits result within the family’s environment. Some of those benefits are that parents and caregivers:

  • Become calmer when interacting with children
  • Become better able to promote emotional and relational health
  • Are less afraid of their children’s anger
  • Have less need to be as angry
  • Are less likely to do damage when angry
  • Can better appreciate underlying causes of a child’s or adult’s anger
  • Become less afraid of their own anger
  • Are better able to break destructive family legacies around anger
  • Can model coping with anger in healthy ways
  • Feel more prepared to cope with their own anger and the anger of the children
  • Feel more in charge and confident

 

Healthy families have less stress, more confidence.

Dealing with anger is so important to ensuring a healthy family. Besides less stress, children will feel more safe and have higher self-esteem. There will also be more time and energy to enjoy family life. So when we consider the impact of anger on children, it would be a worthy pursuit to learn to cope positively and constructively with anger, and strive to build healthier and emotionally safe environments necessary to promote peaceful coexistence.

More Bible Verses About Anger:

James 4:1-2 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel …

Genesis 4:5-8 but for Cain and his offering he [the LORD] had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

Psalms 37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!  Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

James 1:19,20 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

In conclusion, anger is the one thing made better by delay. That anger begins with madness, and ends in regret; we should pay attention to Imam Ali’s advice that says, “A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves a thousand moments of regret.” Thus, to live a life free of anger is one of the ways to easily let go of pain, suffering, stress and anxiety to move forward in life with confidence, peace and joy. Be anger free and enjoy life.

 

Thank you.

Livy-Elcon Emereonye.

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