Anger management and our emotional mind

Our bodies contain lots of energies. For example physical energy and psychological energy.

Our psychological energy has two main components: affective energy and mental energy.

Affective energy is comprised of emotions, mood, temperament and emotional masks. Mental energy contains our thoughts. Most human beings are good at training and exercising their physical self – but our psychological energies also need training and exercising. We particularly need to learn how to cope with, deal with, and exercise our psychological negative energy.

What is an emotion – and how is it different to a feeling?

An emotion is the execution of a complex series of actions or changes. For example, a facial change like smiling – or an internal change, like our heart rate increasing. There are also molecular changes that release chemicals such as dopamine and adrenalin into the blood stream. In evolutionary terms, an emotion was engaged when there was the possibility of a threat (being killed) or an opportunity for food or sex. Incidentally, these changes have been modified by our life experiences.

A feeling is the process of perceiving what is going on within the organism when that organism is ‘having’ an emotion. Our emotions can alert us to a threat (attack) or opportunity (food or sex). This happens unconsciously until we ‘feel’ it.

Our felt emotions can have a great deal of impact on our behaviours. However it is not necessary to always behaviourally respond to our unconscious emotions or feelings. Fortunately we have control systems within the brain that help us control our behaviours.

Emotions can be seen as the driving forces behind what we do, say, think and how we perceive the world around us. They are largely automatic but are rooted in our moods and temperament. They can be seen as the root to many of our problems in our lives. If our emotions are automatic they can have control over us. If we can achieve some emotional awareness, we may have some control over their effects on us. Moods and temperament are more long-running and have more diffuse cause which may not be known.

 

Our emotional reaction to a situation can be affected by 5 variables;

  1. How close the current situation is to the existing emotional trigger
  2. How early in life the emotional script was developed
  3. How intense the emotions were when the trigger was learnt
  4. The frequency of the episode that created the trigger
  5. Our own personal style of affect

 

Why should we bother to learn how to better manage our emotions?

 

Negative emotions have negative effects on our bodies and on our lives. Sadness can lead to loss of energy, muddled thinking and poor decision-making. Anger and irritability can lead to lowered self-esteem, substance abuse, relationship problems and loss of job. Negative emotions (Fear, sadness, anger, shame, guilt) narrow our thinking and our reactions to perceived danger, threat or fear. Neutral emotions such as surprise and confusion just tell us that we need more data upon which to make our decisions. Positive emotions (Happiness, joy, love, gratitude) allow us to be more creative, imaginative and innovative and to create more options and possibilities.

 

Dr John Schinnerer Ph. D. believes that there are a series of developmental steps that we take in learning to be aware of our emotions:

  1. No awareness – emotions control you, individual reacts according to current emotion
  2. Beginning awareness – there is an attempt to turn off emotion or to shut them down, there is no emotional management
  3. Awareness of basic emotions – little management of emotions (emotions may last for weeks), basic emotions (sadness, anger, contempt, happiness, disgust, guilt, fear, surprise)
  4. Awareness of complex emotions – awareness occurs hours or days after emotion occurs, some emotional management, emotions last for hours or days, complex emotions (resentment, regret, gratitude, shame, maliciousness, embarrassment)
  5. Quicker awareness of complex emotions – awareness takes place seconds or minutes after emotion occurs, increasing emotional management
  6. Awareness of basic emotions as they occur –  managing basic emotions in the moment
  7. Awareness of complex emotions as they occur –  manage complex emotions as they occur
  8. Ability to split emotional awareness – awareness is split between managing reality and managing emotions as they occur, individual manages own emotions, emotional self-management

 

Anger

Anger is a felt negative emotion or feeling state which is perfectly normal; everyone experiences anger. Some animals experience anger. Have you ever said ‘You make me so angry’ or ‘I was so angry about that’; that is your acknowledgement that the recognised situation has had a negative effect on you and that has caused you some negative affect by the way of a negative emotion and feelings we call anger.

Anger can start off as a frustration, maybe wanting something but not getting it. Something can get in the way of what we want and that frustrates us. We may want to be safe, loved, listened to, appreciated, acknowledged, respected or understood. It may any number of wants that get thwarted and cause frustration. It has been found that an average person experienced 20 frustrations a day ranging from very small frustrations to very big. So with all these day-to-day frustrations it is not surprising that we get what we all call ‘angry’ from time to time.

Other ‘angry’ words are: aggravated, annoyed, bothered, bugged, cranky, disappointed, disgruntled, displeased, enraged, exasperated, frustrated, furious, impatient, incensed, indignant, irritated, irate, irked, mad, outraged, pissed off, resentful.

Every day or common causes of anger can be: traffic jams, arrogant people, rude people, being yelled at, people who waste my time, having to wait, feeling  ‘I’ve been used’, being lied to, unreasonable taxation, people who cut in line, people doubting what I say, being unjustly punished, being wrongfully accused.

As a result of being frustrated with our wants, needs and desires we end up finger point or blaming others for blocking us from getting what we want. We find that we then want to punish those that block us and we direct our frustration at those around us. This is the external expression of our felt negative emotion. Some could see it as being aggression. It can all happen very fast; or rather slowly.  We can be aware of it all happening or it can happen with no awareness on our part whatsoever.

 

12 types of Anger

  1. Passive anger – mocking others, sarcasm
  2. Verbal anger – saying it out loud
  3. Behavioural anger – aggression
  4. Self-inflicted anger – harming self when done something bad
  5. Chronic anger – no cause can be detected
  6. Constructive anger – e.g. protest marches
  7. Overwhelmed anger – shouting in various situations
  8. Judgemental anger
  9. Deliberate anger – to get own way
  10. Retaliatory anger
  11. Paranoid anger
  12. Volatile anger

Inwardly directed anger is bottled up anger and may be up to 90% of all anger we experience. This type of anger can lead to explosions of behaviour often at someone that does not deserve it (displaced anger). Outwardly directed anger is the anger everybody sees and reels away from. Disappointed anger is the result of judgements that have not been met. Constructive anger can be used to remove an obstacle that is stopping us from achieving a goal.

 

An angry episode consists of 5 elements:

  1. There is a trigger: some situation, event or perception;
  2. Our cognitive appraisal of the trigger; Is it good or bad? In line with what we wanted or not?
  3. Our experience or awareness of anger; anger differs by frequency, intensity and duration. Each person will experience anger in different ways for different situations. Any emotion, such as anger, has 4 elements: a feeling that accompanies the emotion, thoughts, internal bodily changes and external bodily changes;
  4. The public expression of anger: we may shout, scream, yell or throw things: it is these outward expressions of anger that can be called aggression;
  5. An outcome: very often it is these outcomes that make clients go to see a psychologist. They may have been very aggressive against their partner or boss, they may feel remorse or guilt or regret for doing what they did, they may have been arrested, or many other undesirable outcomes.

 

Anger is not aggression and anger does not need to lead to aggression. As human beings we have the ability to control our expressed behaviours. We may not wish to control them but we can should we so choose.

Anger management counselling is really learning how to control our expressed emotions. We need to learn about anger, stress management techniques, assertiveness tools, about our emotional mind in general (why single out anger?), what replaces anger if we are able to decrease the volume on angry negative thoughts, and some would suggest we need to use humour to replace or decrease our negative thinking.

 

The amygdala hijack

We do have control over our behaviours. Our prefrontal cortex takes control of our impulses amongst others functions it manages. The Amygdala (meaning almond shaped structure) is bilaterally in the temporal lobe. (If you draw a line from your eye to the back of your head and bisect that line with one from your ear going across your head that is where your amygdala is).

In research the amygdala is most often associated with fear. The amygdala obtains its input information from the many sensory systems that process the outside world for us. If triggered the amygdala can use that information to influence our output responses. The output responses tend to be in the freeze, flight or fight domains.

The amygdala is also very good at creating associations. For example, if there is a sound and then pain the association of pain and that sound will be formed. The amygdala is particularly concerned with threat and the fear of attack and harm. Once triggered it gets dopamine and adrenalin released into the blood stream, increases blood flow and basically gets us ready to deal with the perceived threat.

The neo-cortex (top 2-4mm layer) of the brain can handle lots of information (on topics such as motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language) but when this information processing capability is hijacked by the amygdala, because of a perceived threat or opportunity, the amount of information it can handle greatly decreases. From handling complex problem-solving to “do I eat it or does it eat me?” all in the space of .85 milliseconds.

When people say they cannot think when angry – blame the amygdala. 

 

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