While it may not seem like it when you’re looking at a hateful face screaming at you, anger is actually a functional and necessary emotion. It would not be so common if it were not so necessary. Anger motivates us to defend ourselves in the face of a threat. It is a necessary part of survival.
Now, I know a lot of people are going to read that last paragraph and think, “I knew it! There’s nothing wrong with getting angry with people. It’s unhealthy to hide your anger.” This is inaccurate. There seems to be a myth that, when you’re angry, you need to let it all out. However, research has found that feeling as though you should “let it all out” actually escalates aggressive behavior and does not help to resolve whatever is triggering the anger.
So what’s the answer then? If anger is inevitable and it’s unhealthy to “let it all out”, what do we do with it? Before I get to that, let’s have a look at the title question:
What Causes Some People to be Angry?
Some people find it more difficult than others to tolerate frustrating, annoying, or inconvenient circumstances. Most of us probably feel that we should not have to put up with circumstances like this. People who have a tendency toward feeling angry are just more sensitive to these types of frustrations or annoyances. It’s difficult for people with this type of sensitivity to be light-hearted when faced with these circumstances, or to just let things go. People prone to anger are often able to justify their anger easily. It is often rooted in something real. It’s not that these people are unlucky and happen to be the victims of more frustrating circumstances than people not prone to anger. It’s just that they find it more difficult to let these things go. A significant trigger can be when circumstances seem particularly unfair (e.g., someone failing to keep a promise or someone treating you with less respect than you treat them).
What causes people to be like this? Part of it is genetic. The research seems to indicate that that some children are born irritable or easily angered. They show angry temperaments from a young age and that anger tends to stay with them through adolescence and into adulthood. The other cause is people’s environment. Our culture has a tendency to view anger as a “bad” emotion. Expressing sadness or anxiety is ok, and we tend to feel sympathy toward people experiencing these types of emotions. Anger, on the other hand, is always seen as unacceptable. So, instead of learning how to deal with it, we just get told to “stop” it. In this way, many people struggle to deal with their anger and it can interfere with their lives and the lives of those close to them.
The Powerful Emotion
It’s not surprising that so many people use anger as their go-to emotion. Anger is a powerful emotion. Behaving aggressively can help us feel like we are more in control of a situation. We’re “taking charge” of the situation. Whereas, feelings of hurt or sadness can sometimes make us feel like a situation is out of our control. Also, when you’re angry with someone, the problem never appears to be you. When you’re angry, the problem more often than not seems to be something or someone other than yourself. Whereas, with hurt or sadness, we can often blame ourselves. Therefore, anger can be an appealing alternative for some people and has even been described as an addictive emotion.
When people repress, or push back, their anger and don’t allow themselves to communicate it in any form, it can lead to hypertension, stress, and even depression. Some research has even found a link between cancer and unexpressed anger. This may be where the myth that you need to “let loose” your anger came from. While it’s true that you do need to communicate your feelings, acting aggressively is not useful.
Three Ways of Expressing Your Anger
- Passive. This is where you don’t express how you’re feeling at all. You allow others to act however they want toward you without doing anything to change it.
- Aggressive. This is the other extreme. You talk over people, you’re critical of others, sarcastic, and you often yell or act in a way that may intimidate people.
- Assertive. This is the “Goldilocks” zone. When you communicate assertively, you let other people know what you’re thinking without being disrespectful. You are firm and polite. Assertive communication is relaxed and open. You let people clearly know your needs and rights, without violating the needs and rights of others.
There’s also another style here. It is a combination of both extremes: Passive-Aggressive. You probably know someone with this kind of communication style. It usually comes from trying to repress your anger. Passive-Aggressive people tend to try and “get back” at people with whom they’re angry without telling them why. They don’t clearly communicate their anger, but they still want the other person to know about it, or to feel the way the other person made them feel.
As for what to do to help feel less angry, that will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, try being aware of your communication style when you’re feeling angry. Also, avoid using extreme black-and-white words (and even thoughts) such as “always” or “never” (e.g., “You always embarrass me” or “You never take my side”). Behaviour is rarely “always” or “never”. Using this type of language can make you feel like your anger is justified and like the problem cannot be resolved.
Image by Tarik Browne