America’s Anger Epidemic … Why?
By Robert Rudelic BS, NMT, MES
What’s going on in our world today is often described as "America’s Anger Epidemic." The list of reasons for all this anger is long but some state at the top of the list is; financial uncertainty, working long hours, (on average about one month more now than they did in the 1970s and with less vacation), opposing views about politics, religion, or tastes in music, cheering for a favorite sports team, the list of reasons for having so much anger is long, but the real problem lies in the inability to be emotionally composed and to “disagree agreeably” as my dad used to say.
What has you seeing red? Maybe it’s getting cut off in traffic, or being verbally attacked. For one guy seen on a viral video, he threw a tantrum over a city street trombone player. I guess he didn’t like the tune!
There are meltdowns happening all around us, whether it happens to you personally or you see it on TV or hear about it on the radio, or if you log in to any social media platform, much of what you see or read is negative, hate filled meltdowns. A recent study from the USA Today found 60 percent of Americans report feeling angry or irritable. That is up from 50 percent when a similar poll was taken in 2011.
Dr. Vince Berger states, “We know what anger is because we have all experienced it, whether as a fleeting annoyance or as full-blown rage.”
In general, we may become angry or frustrated whenever we are not able to achieve a goal. Life is full of frustrations from minor irritations to something really big. When we use our frustration and anger to motivate us to change something in our life, anger and frustration end up being good and helpful. But for many people anger and frustration result in irritability, rage, wrath, stress, resentment, loss of confidence, depression and other negative behaviors. While anger and frustration are not the same, the distinctions between them are lost and meaningless.
Understanding Anger and Rage
Anger is an emotional response to a real, felt or imagined grievance. It may have its roots in a past or present experience, or it may be in anticipation of a future event. Anger is invariably based on the perception of threat or a perceived threat due to a conflict, injustice, negligence, humiliation and betrayal among others.
Many words in our vocabulary describe various forms of anger that differ primarily by their intensity of passion and arousal. A partial list includes: irritation, frustration, annoyance, miffed, sulking, offended, indignation, exasperation, incensed, pissed, outrage, wrath, rage, fury, ferocity, and livid.
Anger can be an active or a passive emotion. In case of "active" emotion the angry person lashes out verbally or physically at an intended target. When anger is a passive emotion it’s characterized by silent sulking, passive-aggressive behavior, and hostility.
Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person or event (a traffic jam, a canceled event), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.
Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.
Physiological Aspects of Anger
Like other emotions, anger is accompanied by physiological and biological changes. When you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your energy hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, your rate of breathing increases and your body’s muscles tense up.
While anger has a physiological preparation phase during which the body resources are mobilized for a fight, it also has a wind-down phase as well. The body starts to relax back towards its resting state when the target of the anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. It is difficult to relax from an angry state very quickly. The adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger lasts a very long time (many hours, sometimes days), and lowers the anger threshold, making it easier for the person to get angry again later on. It takes a rather long time for the body to return to the resting state.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. Expressing your angry feelings can be done in violent destructive ways or in an assertive, but non-aggressive, manner.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression. Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger.
Anger can make us blind to the truth and unable to accept what’s sensible and correct. When anger is the primary emotion being felt, we become less able to think and act rationally and in some cases, even our senses do not work properly because of extreme anger.
Anger is often followed by depression. When we feel particularly irate, we tend to express ourselves verbally or physically. Afterwards, when we recognize such outburst as atypical of ourselves and we end up feeling depressed with the reality of what we have just done.
We all know someone who seems to always be involved in a conflict. They seem to love to argue, are always itching for a fight, or purposely push all the right buttons to get a rise out of those around them. What makes some people so constant in their anger? The answer may be biological. When we are in the middle of conflict, our fight or flight instinct kicks in to help us respond to the perceived danger. This response is initiated by the release of the stress hormone cortisol by the adrenal gland.
While cortisol is important to a healthy system, it can also produce a chemical “high” that can be addictive. Normally, cortisol lowers once danger is gone but if a person constantly exposes themselves to high stress situations such as those caused by anger and conflict, their system never completely processes the cortisol. This causes the biological system to remain polluted, so to speak, with the excess chemical. Once we become more and more exposed to high levels of cortisol caused by increased conflict and stress, “like a drug addict, (we) need a bigger fix all the time.
The Solution –
Overcoming the Addiction to Anger
We are taught in our society that anger is bad therefore after we calm-down, we feel bad in some way or feel guilty for getting angry in the first place. Women are particularly affected by anger – for many its scares them because of the loss of control, it’s also unbecoming and can be embarrassing.
The 3 keys to Eliminating Anger
- Recognize why you got angry and forgive yourself. I’ve developed a simple tool to do that in three minutes or less. Journal about what triggered you. Getting it down on paper will broaden your understanding of the issues involved and open up some avenues to respond differently in the future.
- You must desensitize yourself to lower the intensity of your response by “tapping out” why you’re angry and why this response no longer works for you. Eventually this erases the trigger forever.
- Put in its place a constructive, emotionally satisfying response by “tapping in” how you’ll respond in the future to any provocations. Do this until on a scale of 1-10 you believe it between 8-10.
Anger as an addiction is not well understood.
Dr. Candice Pert in her book “The Molecules of Emotion” wrote that emotions are peptides (molecules). When you’re triggered the body produces these molecules which are then released into the body where they attach to receptors on the cells and trigger the feeling of the emotion. Each time you’re triggered more receptors are made that need to be filled or satisfied just like any chemical addiction. The brain goes about filling that need by setting up situations that cause you to be triggered.
So when you see people getting so easily triggered, they are not in control, they are just acting out while under the influence of the molecules (drug) of Anger.
Like any addiction you have to be vigilant and address anger every time it occurs. Get good at knowing when to use anger to your advantage and when to get rid of it. Having the tools to handle it effectively is what is most important and that’s what I’ve developed.
For more information, visit our PowerTapping page.