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Why Get Angry?

by: Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach

If there's any emotion that gives us trouble it's anger. Experiencing it is hard on bodies. It raises our blood pressure, causes our hearts and heads to pound, makes us sweat and shake, and separates us from reason.

We don't need medical studies to tell us this. We know it makes us feel bad. All that adrenalin rushing around with no outlet for release. It's a call to action, and often there's no outlet. We just have to sit and endure. No wonder we resort to shouting and pounding our fists as if this would drive the source of our frustration away.

And, sadly, it often does. Anger is also hard on the hearts of those around us. Expressing it can be detrimental to relationships. We don't always have the patience and understanding to listen to our loved one's anger, and the quality of mercy can become strained.

Is the answer then to suppress our anger? This has become akin to argument about nature v. nurture, where we attempt to decide whether a person's personality is nature (the way they were born) or nurture (the way they were raised). Is anger nature or nurture? We're born with the ability to get angry. It's a basic emotional response to frustration or danger that we need, because it gives us information. As has been said, "Anger is good for knowing what you want, but not for getting what you want." Our response to anger, is partly innate (nature) and partly learned (nurture).

If you grow up in a family where emotions are expressed, then you learn to do the same. You also learn how to express them, whether in an assertive, constructive manner, or a hostile, verbal attack.

If you grow up in a family where emotions are considered "infantile," or "unbecoming," then you learn to repress them. Your body will still experience them physiologically, but you aren't mindful about what's going on. In the worst-case scenario you become numb, unable to connect with others and with life. We are our emotions, and if you have none, at least none that others can discern, then for them, there's no one home!

This history of anger-management is the history of cultures and times. It's an emotion that, when not contained and channeled, can be harmful to the individual and to society. In the US, we've gone through different fads from keeping a stiff upper lip to letting it all hang out.

What's the common sense approach? What do you innately know about anger? What do you observe from those around you?

Perhaps you know someone like Bill. He lives in the Sunny Meadows subdivision. Recently there was a construction project going on behind his subdivision that was causing concern. How they built the roads in and out of the project would affect housing values. At the meetings with city council, Bill was the spokesman for the group, angrily stating the case and demanding action.

When you told his wife how glad you were that Bill had taken on this fight single-handedly, she replied, "He's like this about everything."

Bill was unable to attend the last meeting because he was in the heart hospital having tests.

Edward, on the other hand, never gets angry. Even if you insult him to his face, he just smiles, but it's a smile that kind of makes you sick. You'd think his life would be a bed of roses, but Edward suffers from migraines, osteo-arthritis, and stomach problems. He lives alone because he can't sustain an intimate relationship. His partners find he can't deal with conflict. He's great during the courtship, but when it comes to the daily stuff, he's seething inside, but cold and distant on the outside. He can't get it out, so there's no connection. His partners, tired of walking on eggshells, shadow-boxing, and getting the cold freeze, leave.

Sandra is on an even-keel most of the time, though you've seen her get angry occasionally. When she does, it doesn't last long, and she expresses herself in an assertive, direct, and nonviolent manner. She's comfortable with her emotions, and has had practice choosing appropriate strategies. She's in control of her feelings, not vice versa.

When you're around Bill and Edward, you don't feel safe. Bill is anger looking for a place to happen, and you know you'll be the object sooner or later. You're afraid Edward is going to implode some day from holding it all inside, and that when it does erupt, it's going to be very primitive. There's something to be said for practicing the overt expression of anger, and Edward has had none. In the meantime, his shutdowns remind you why the deepest level of hell in Dante's "Inferno" was ice, not flames.

You feel comfortable around Sandra because you know you're dealing with a full and balanced personality; someone who is in control, and making choices about anger and other emotions. You know that if something's wrong, she's going to tell you about it before it gets out-of-hand. If she does choose a verbal strategy when angry, it's constructive and she's had practice. Constructive discontent is an emotional intelligence competency. It can be learned. In fact it must be learned for a healthy person and healthy relationships.

Should you hold anger in, or express it outwardly? Research suggests that either extreme puts you at risk for heart disease.

Anger is hard on your heart! It's hard on the hearts of those around you as well.

So what's the solution? It's best not to get angry in the first place. Failing that ideal, you can develop your emotional intelligence, and get smart about it. Flexiblity is an EQ competency, and it appears to be the key to managing anger. A study of how men coped with anger revealed that those who were rigid in their approach either always holding it in, or always expressing it -- had higher total cholesterol and higher bad LDL cholesterol levels than those who had a more flexible approach.

"It depends" is the answer to how you handle anger. Sometimes it should be kept in, and sometimes expressed. If you always hold it in, or always express it, you know nothing about anger. An "always" strategy with any emotion is no strategy at all. If you're unable to think about it, it remains in its raw state.
Emotions come from the reptilian and limbic brains. In order to choose a good coping strategy, you need to be able to move up to the neocortex and make a decision. This involves considering the information the emotion is giving you and decided what to do about it, including doing nothing. Practice makes perfect, and it starts with self-awareness.

© Susan Dunn, MA, THE EQ COACH. Providing coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. Susan also trains and certifies EQ coaches worldwide. Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc for information on the EQ Alive! program. It's fast, affordable, comprehensive and no-residency. Email for free EQ ezine.

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