There is no such thing as an angry temperament. However, certain temperamental qualities determine whether a person will experience normal or toxic anger. Temperament is a set of inherited traits that define the style of our emotional and behavioral responses—the tone and direction of our emotions. Dr. Avshalom Caspi of Harvard University, for example, distinguishes among the angry, ill-tempered person who moves against the world; the shy person who moves away from the world; and the dependent person who moves toward the world.5
Dr. Arnold Buss, a psychologist at the University of Texas, identifies the person most likely to become angry or act aggressively with reference to the following four temperamental characteristics:6
• High activity
• Behavioral and physiological hyperreactivity
The highly impulsive person cannot delay gratification or tolerate the frustration that ensues when his or her needs are not quickly and easily met. When confronted with a potentially anger-arousing situation, the impulsive person must act immediately and decisively by getting angry. The highly active person expends more energy than the average person in the course of a day and is much more likely to have interactions with people that provoke anger. The hyperreactive individual responds in a more intense and vigorous manner than most people. As Brian put it, “Where another person gets a little upset, I’m angry!” Last, the independent individual chafes and becomes angry more often in response to strong interpersonal pressures to conform and submit to societal demands and restrictions.
Impulsivity, activity level, and independence define the frequency with which we become angry, whereas reactivity defines the intensity and duration of our anger.
How does your temperament define your anger? Circle the one number on each of the following dimensions of temperament that best describes you:
+2 +1 —1 _____ __ —2
Impulsive/quick to act Deliberate/thoughtful
+2 +1 —1 _____ __ —2
Active/energetic Passive/nonenergetic+2 +1 —1 _____ __ —2
+2 +1 —1 _____ __ —2
Independent/self-reliant Dependent/rely on others
Add up your numbers to determine your biological arousal (BA)
If you have a negative BA score, anger should not to be a problem for you. If your BA score is positive, however, you probably get angry too often, feel anger too intensely, or stay angry too long. In short, you suffer from TAS.*
Temperament is defined in early childhood and doesn’t drastically change over a lifetime. If you were a happy five-year-old, you can expect to be a reasonably happy eighty-five-year-old. Similarly, if you were an ill-tempered, easily upset child, you will be the same irascible individual throughout your life unless, of course, you make a concerted effort to change.
Continuity of temperament exists for two primary reasons.7 One, we tend to seek environments—people and situations—that are compatible with our temperament We look for a situation in which our style will “work.” A socially extroverted individual may seek a job in marketing because it offers him more day-to-day variation in work demands and more of a challenge, whereas an introverted person may prefer working as a laboratory technician or computer operator because the job requirements are more routine and involve less contact with people.
Second, we tend to act in ways that consistently provoke the same counterreactions in others, which then reinforce or sustain our temperamental style. Anger begets anger. Love begets love. John, the sixty-year-old exMarine, for example, began his cycle of anger during his early school years. He was treated as an outsider by the other children, so he fought back by being angry and aggressive. But this behavior only made him more of an outsider, and in turn, he became even more angry and aggressive. Fifty years later, he still feels like an outsider, even from his family, and he is still ready to fight.
- Gentry, Doyle, Anger-Free: Ten Basic Steps to Managing your Anger, William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1999.
Reflection Exercise #5
The preceding section contained information
about the role of temperament. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
What is temperament? Record the letter of the correct answer