Anger also known as aggression, can be a useful emotion when need be and if channelled effectively. However, it can become problematic for the individual when counter-productive or destructive. Feeling angry is perfectly natural and can act as a warning sign prompting us to take the necessary action to protect ourselves from harm. It is a natural primitive response by both animals and humans to fear or a perceived threat – the ‘flight or fight’ response to danger. Unfortunately, this reaction does not just limit itself to actual life threatening incidents and for many kicks in as an overreaction to events that would not ordinarily illicit such a response e.g. domestic or family difficulties, feeling disrespected or slighted, flight or traffic delays or feeling overworked and unappreciated.
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, described anger/aggression as one of the ‘most complex and distinctive of human emotions’, comprising of physical, psychological, sociological and personal as well as collective moral dimensions. He believed that it was perfectly natural to feel angry and encouraged free expression of this complex emotion. However, he was of the opinion that the manner in which it is expressed be mindful of others so as not to cause harm to them or one’s self. Sometimes, anger or aggression may be an unconscious reaction to feelings of guilt, fearfulness, hopelessness, sadness or shame. Some find it easier to project their anger onto others so as to make it more manageable to bear the psychological discomfort it can illicit. Anger is also expressed in varying ways – some have frequent explosive outbursts whilst others find it difficult to verbalise so instead repress their emotions. Both forms of expression can have a negative impact on mental well-being, resulting in anxiety, depression or stress and affecting quality of life.
Some common behavioural and psychological symptoms of anger/aggression are:
Experiencing excessive anger can often feel like being engulfed by a big storm cloud which prevents one from seeing clearly or thinking rationally. Everything becomes distorted and is coloured in its wake, sapping the enjoyment out of life and sowing seeds of persistent agitation and discontent. Some common causes of anger/aggression are:
Being able to manage one’s anger or aggression effectively is not always easy and requires a good degree of effort and self-control in order to do so. Paradoxically for many, it is easier to react angrily towards others than it is to react in a caring and loving manner. This is because it is perceived as being a more comfortable and less threatening emotion, having become part and parcel of one’s psychological make-up over the years – 'a protective armour’ against both internal and external threats. Having counselling, psychotherapy or specialist mentoring can help individuals struggling with negative emotions cope more effectively as well as helping reduce anxiety and stress, thereby improving overall mental well-being.
“Anybody can become angry, that is easy. To be angry with the right person and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everyone’s power and is not easy.”