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From Serving Iowa Elders for Over 20 Years

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A Word About Anger

A Word about Anger

The reason I want to write these blog things is that there is some basic knowledge that I want to share with everyone.  Sometimes I think we just need to have a whole childhood class in human behavior and living skills.  So in that vein I offer some thoughts on anger.

Anger is not a primary emotion.  By that I mean that there is another emotion hiding behind anger, making anger secondary, a reaction.  For example, your spouse promises to wash the dishes.  You walk into the kitchen to see a pile of dried food on plates and cookware.  You become angry.  Ready to yell at the lazy slob?  Slow down.  Try to see what is beneath your anger.  Chances are your underlying emotion is disappointment; you really believed he would carry out his promise.  He has failed in his commitment and now you have to reschedule your time to wash dishes yourself.  He has disappointed you.  Then you become angry at being disappointed and call him a lazy slob.  Understanding that disappointment is behind your anger does make a significant difference.  You can’t make anything better by calling him names (not for long, anyway) and you can’t get dishes washed simply by being angry.  Anger is just anger — the best it can do is remind you to look for the real emotion that has triggered it.  In this case, disappointment.  You can do something with disappointment.  You can quit expecting your husband to fulfill his promises.  You can readjust your image of him.  Your can examine why he doesn’t perform this or other tasks.  Is he universally lazy?  Is he usually helpful but had some unknown problem today?  Would he be willing to trade dish duty for another chore?  Does he need counseling around his fear of Brillo Pads?  Is he deliberately trying to drive you away?  Is he in the emergency room with a finger severed on a partially washed knife?  If you bypass the anger to look as the primary emotion, you can begin to tease out alternatives that will avoid the anger, deal with the disappointment, and give you data for effective problem-solving.

Anger is most frequently covering up the primary emotions of grief, pain or fear.  It can also be hiding frustration, embarrassment, worry, guilt, disappointment, sadness, and other emotions we’d rather not feel.  It can be very helpful, when you are ready to shout, “You make me so angry!!!!!” to pause a moment to identify the real emotion you are feeling deeper inside.  It will do you more good in the long-run.  Anger management techniques encourage creating a pause before releasing anger.  This is a good time to look for other emotions rumbling around inside.  Also, the pause allows the level of anger to stabilize, making it less of a nuclear explosion when released.

A very important reason to care about lessening the anger response is that anger itself is extremely hazardous to your health.  Explosive anger triples a person’s risk of heart attack.  There is no doubt among medical researchers that anger does damage to your heart and vascular system.  Also, anger releases stress chemicals which can make it harder to think clearly, sometimes for many hours after the conscious feeling of anger has passed.  This hurts the angry person so deeply, it might be worth taking that pause before an explosion to ask oneself how much damage to my body is this outburst worth.  If you add to your thinking that anger isn’t even at the core of the problem, it should make a lot of objective sense to apply the brakes and try to get a better grip on what emotion really needs tending.

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”   Marcus Aurelius