Category: Couples Therapy

Understanding Anger

Understanding Anger (Part 1)

Often I have clients who come to see me because someone, often their spouse or partner, has given them an ultimatum that they need to deal with their ‘anger’. Sometimes the client agrees that it is an issue, other times they do not, they feel the other person is trying to change them – which, unsurprisingly, makes them angry. I am not going to get into discussions around control and power games in relationships here (that can be left for another post soon) but IU wan to focus on what anger really is.

For many years it has been recognised that anger is a negative emotion as it is destructive. In general, this is true but as with many things the situation is more complex than that; anger can be channelled into a creative force – just think about many of the social advances that we have experienced over the last few hundred years that have resulted in someone getting angry about injustices, such as slavery or the anger about the vote for women. Anger was transformed into a positive; it provided the motivation to seek to challenge and change society. Unfortunately, most people who come to see me experience anger as a destructive force that affects themselves and those around them, particularly those who they care most about.

Ask someone what anger means to them and you get a fairly standard response but the reality is, again, far more complex. What makes one person furious may be a mild irritation or frustration for someone else or the mood someone is in at a particular time on a given day may affect their reaction. What is most common is the way that people will, generally, blame someone else for their anger and that it will feed off its self; as if we move into a spiral where we become angry for the sake of being angry, forgetting the cause of the anger and focusing on past injustices that have been done to us. The problem is that as we get angry those around us seek to defend themselves and that can make us even more angry. This leads to physical changes within us as the fight and flight mechanism begins to kick in – our pulse quickens, we feel hot, blood pressure rises, we want to act …

Research suggest that different people have different tolerances to difficulties that they face in daily life. There is as ever a debate between whether some people are born angrier than others, my own view is that anger is a learned behaviour; we saw someone else succeeding getting their own way by being angry, so we copy them. If in copying them, we get what we wanted we will continue to carry on getting angry. Following on from this some people were never taught how to manage their anger and express their feelings in a different way – why would you when you are getting what you want – irrespective of the impact on other people?

The problem is that for most people, not everyone, who get angry they begin to get angry at themselves and feel guilty after the event - they are not bad people, they just have a difficulty. We need to understand the triggers that light our fuse both the things that are outside of us (other people and events) but also our own thoughts and concerns. The next post will focus on how we can identify those triggers.

Click here for part 2 of the series

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