09 Jun. 2022

Important characteristics of anger

When examining our reactions under the influence of anger, such as outbursts or irritability (“everything annoys me”), it is worth paying attention to several characteristic features of anger.

Firstly, anger shifts. For example, when we have a difficult day at work, we may experience strong irritation, frustration, and increased tension. However, we may find it unreasonable to yell at our boss or coworker. We return home and unleash our anger on a family member, pet, or objects. Sometimes, we are not aware that anger has shifted – when we come home, everything seems annoying to us (“why is he breathing so loudly?”).

Secondly, anger accumulates. Tension associated with various challenging situations accumulates throughout the day. If there is no opportunity for the tension to naturally decrease or if we cannot regulate it, there comes a moment when it becomes too much for us. Using the metaphor of a tank – it fills up to the brim until something “tips the scale,” leading to an outburst of anger or irritability. A high level of tension means that we lack the resources to stop, and the emotional mind kicks in – impulsive and “blinded” by anger, disregarding facts and consequences.

Thirdly, anger can have a recreational character. Prolonged contemplation of situations that anger us and fantasizing about revenge can add motivation, provide a sense of strength, and even be enjoyable. It’s as if we don’t want the tank to ever become empty, and we want to stare at its contents for hours.

Understanding how anger works is an important initial step in acquiring skills to regulate this emotion in a healthy way. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy emphasize the broad development of emotion regulation skills – teaching coping tools that patients can use in their everyday lives.

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