The Anger Epidemic

Emotional Literacy Mar 20, 2023

Anger—an unpleasant emotion that has to be the most misunderstood and mismanaged one. People I meet often tell me, "Everything else is okay with me, but I can't seem to manage my emotions." "If only I could manage my anger, most of my life problems would disappear." "I can work on my anger at the workplace, but my family members often bear the brunt of my unpleasantness at home." While many strategies can help manage anger, they tend not to work or are eventually short-lived. The primary reason for this plight is that we do not understand anger in the first place. There are a lot many misconceptions and taboos associated with this emotion.

The first misconception about anger is that we see it as a gendered emotion—associated mostly with males. Titles like 'angry young man' try to validate such false myths. The other misconception often associated with anger is that it's a 'bad' emotion. Another school of thought when we speak of anger is that people around us or situations are the causes of it.

The truth is that anger is an emotion that anyone and everyone can experience. It can never be a gendered emotion because, like any other unpleasant emotion, it indicates that the person (who is angry) is experiencing one or more unmet needs. In this sense, anger is a universal emotion since needs are universal and not just associated with one gender. But, if we go back to the premise that feelings emerge from our needs, we will understand that anger is not a 'bad' emotion either. Yes, perhaps we might react in healthy or unhealthy ways, but it doesn't make anger the villain necessarily. For example, if I feel angry about someone not following up on a promise they made to me, perhaps my need for accountability or trust is unfulfilled. Hence, my anger, like any other unpleasant emotion I might experience, doesn't emerge from other people's actions or words. Yes, people's actions or words might affect me to some degree, but what causes me to be angry are one or more of my underlying needs.

We lack such insights about anger because when we experience that emotion, we tend to become overpowered by it and react. It becomes difficult to pause or process anger as we tend to get more cynical during such times. We tend to see other people's actions as selfish or self-indulgent and start thinking of all possible reasons to condemn them. We become very rigid and vigilant about our beliefs at all costs. It becomes almost impossible for anyone to convince us of possibilities other than what we see or want to see. Understanding this is important so that when we're angry, we can pause and differentiate between reality and what we interpret as truth.

While anger indicates one or more unpleasant needs when we experience that emotion, it also serves a fundamental function. The function of anger is to help us fight against a problem. It is why when we're angry, we start functioning from a fight mode (instead of the flight or freeze modes of nervous system activation). Feeling anger is a sign that we see something problematic in a situation and therefore want to find solutions to that problem. If we don't understand this function of anger, we might misdirect our actions to cause more problems for ourselves. Let's suppose I feel angry at my friend for showing up late to the decided personal meetings. For me, my needs for punctuality, respect, or order are not getting fulfilled. I find it problematic that my friend doesn't honor the agreed-upon time. If I don't understand the problem (for me) in my friend showing up late, I might blame, complain to, or judge my friend for making things difficult for me. I might either come across as very strong or ignore my friend.

If I, on the other hand, I understand that a lack of respect for mutually agreed upon timings or punctuality bothers me, then I will make it a point to communicate this to my friend. If my friend doesn't understand this in one go, I might even share my concerns assertively. Such solutions will perhaps be more effective because instead of blindly reacting, blaming, complaining, and judging, I would act after understanding what the problem is for me, which is what anger helps us shed light on.

Most of the time, because we feel uncomfortable or in pain when dealing with anger, we view anger as a 'bad emotion,' for which we desperately try to find ways to manage or control our behavior or actions. Anger is a rather valuable emotion if we care to dig deeper. The next time you feel angry, instead of suppressing it (numbing it out) or acting it out, pause and ask yourself, "What am I finding problematic here?" You might not arrive at the best solutions right away, but once you have better clarity about the problem, you'll have better clarity about ways to help you deal with it.


Aprajita Jha

Aprajita Jha is Linchpin at My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected].