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I’ve said it before: Every person who has ever lived has experienced anger. The capacity to become angry is an impressive gift which comes as part of our biological inheritance.
Anger is a physical state of readiness. When we are angry, we are prepared to act. Physiologically, what happens is this: More adrenaline is secreted, more sugar is released, our heart beats faster, our blood pressure rises, and the pupils of our eyes open wide. We are highly alert. So when we are angry, all the power of our person is available to us. This, and this alone, is what anger is. Preparedness. Power. Notice that I haven’t talked yet about what causes this state.
And more importantly, I haven’t talked about any behavior related to anger. That is anger expression, and it should be thought about independently.
Anger is designed to help us cope with a wide variety of situations. It is a biological mechanism which operates in the interests of survival. If we had no capacity for anger, we would be incapable of asserting ourselves in the world. We would be virtually helpless in the face of countless difficulties. When we learn to use this preparedness effectively, our lives are preserved and enhanced.
So anger is power and preparedness. You are perhaps most powerful and best prepared when you are angry.
That’s why anger is dangerous. If all that power is mishandled, it can create all kinds of havoc. People who use anger destructively in relation to others or themselves can do extensive damage.
Important findings from psychological research indicate that how you choose to use your anger is learned. And you can bring it under the control of your thinking and decision making. You can develop the ability to think through how you want to take advantage of all that preparedness. Rather than being relegated to the status of a machine which gets turned on and set loose to run wildly and out of control, you can remain in the driver’s seat and direct the action.
What causes your body to become so alert? That’s undoubtedly learned too. Your body isn’t born with any preprogrammed set to be triggered by certain circumstances.
But at an early age you learn when to set this system in motion. The older you get, the more patterned this learning becomes.
The experiences which most often are associated with this physiological state fall into the general categories of hurt, frustration, and threat. When you find yourself angry, you can often gain considerable information about what is going on in you by asking yourself what you are hurt or frustrated about or what is frightening you.
As soon as you discover the problem you can formulate a strategy for dealing with it. And because of your anger you will have sufficient power available to implement any strategy you select.
One other thing should be said about anger. Because it places you in a high state of readiness, it is physiologically demanding. Thus, when you are angry, you should employ that anger immediately so your body can relax and you can return to the task of relating effectively to the people around you, as to yourself. The Bible says: "Let not the sun go down on your anger."
As a matter of fact, if the arousal state Is maintained over too long a period, considerable physical damage may result. Ideally, your body would seldom be activated this way. It would be better if you never needed to be angry. This would substantially reduce the total amount of stress you experience. But once angry, the challenge’ is to make rapid and effective use of the available resources.
So anger is preparedness and power. It equips us to act decisively in the interests of resolution and healing. It can be brought under our cognitive control, and when it is, we become far more effective in the way we cope with life. But when anger is set loose to run any course it has been conditioned to run, serious negative consequences can ensue. That makes the matter of anger expression vitally important to all of us.
A guide to CONTROLLING ANGER
- S Black, R Donald, M Henderson. A Guide to Controlling Anger. NHS Borders, 2005, p. 1-28.
Reflection Exercise #7
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