Helping News                                                  January 2010 Issue 18
Things to know about anger

Anger is a powerful emotion. It can be used either in productive or counter-productive ways. It can lengthen or shorten our lives. It is like electricity. It can run large equipment or it can electrocute you. 

Here are more things to know about anger:

1. It is a powerful survival tool
2. It is a response to pain (physical or psychological)
3. It is a source of energy 
4. It is a secondary emotion 
5. When we are angry, the brain downshifts to a lower evolutionary level
6. Prolonged anger is unhealthy 
7. Repressed anger is also unhealthy 

Nature has developed the emotional state we call "anger" to help us stay alive. Anger sends signals to all parts of our body to help us fight or flee. It energizes us to prepare us for action. Many years ago we were threatened by wild animals who wanted to eat us. Now we more often feel threatened by other human beings, either psychologically or physically.

When we feel energized by anger, we might ask ourselves how we put this energy to the most productive use. As with the use of other forms of energy such as electricity or oil, we might want to use it 
efficiently, not wastefully.

Primary vs. Secondary Feelings

Perhaps the most helpful thing to remember 
about anger is that it is a secondary emotion. 
A primary feeling is what is felt immediately 
before we feel angry. We always feel something 
else first before we get angry. 

We might first feel afraid, attacked, offended, 
disrespected, forced, trapped, or pressured. If any 
of these feelings are intense enough, we think of 
the emotion as anger.

Generally speaking, secondary feelings do not identify the unmet emotional need (UEN). When all I can say is "I feel angry," neither I nor any one else knows what would help me feel better. A helpful technique, then, is to always identify the primary emotion.

Here is an example. Assume someone wants us to do something we prefer not to do. At first we feel a little pressured, but not enough to get angry. When they keep pushing us, we begin to get irritated. If they continue, we get "angry". Such anger damages often relationships. One suggestion on how to avoid getting angry in this case would be to express your initial feeling by saying "I feel pressured" before the feeling has escalated to the point of destructive anger. If the person respects your feelings and does not 

them, they may stop their pressure. Even if they do not, I believe it is helpful to know what the specific feeling is. Knowing exactly how we feel with others and why helps us in several ways. First it raises our self-awareness in general. Second, it helps us communicate more precisely. Third, it helps us learn more quickly who respects our feelings and who we want to spend time with.

Anger as a Response to Fear

One of the primitive functions of an animal's response to fear is to frighten away the attacker. But in modern human life, we often frighten away those who we need and care about most. Besides this, prolonged anger has clear health consequences. According to Dr. Herbert Benson, these include heart attacks, hardening of the arteries, strokes, hypertension, high blood pressure, heart rate changes and metabolism, muscle and respiratory problems. (The Relaxation Response, 1975) 

Responding To and Learning From Anger 

Anger is an intense emotion. It is evidence that we feel strongly about something. As with every emotion, it has a lesson for us. It can teach us what we value, what we need, what we lack, what we believe and what our insecurities are. It can help us become more aware of what we feel strongly about and which emotional needs are important to us. 

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