Anger: The Emotion of Injustice

All emotions are our reactions to a variety of positive or negative life experiences.  Emotions do make sense.  Emotions exist for a reason.

Importantly, the strength of an emotion varies in people. Differences in emotional intensity have a lot to do with heredity. In some families, people experience emotions with extra intensity, as though one ounce of negative or positive experience produces one pound of emotional response. Excessive emotionality has various causes.  Emotional overreaction to events might be a sign of a bad day at work, a bad marriage, or even genetically-based bi-polar tendencies.

Anger, the emotion of injustice – perceived or real – can be a recurring problem for us when we hold unrealistic expectations as to what we think life owes us. When we have a sense of entitlement that is too self-centered, we can feel indignation and sadness with extra intensity when events don’t go our way, when disappointments or losses happen.

The tendency to feel intense anger inside us causes stress and difficulties for us and often for other people in our lives. Anger can breed anxiety problems when we sense the possibility of conflict. Anger can tighten our bodies which may be a reason why angry people are prone to headaches, chest pain, etc.

When someone we care about is angry, we can help reduce the upset by listening to his or her account of perceived injustice and acknowledging legitimate aspects of his or her complaint. Anger seeks resolution or at least a non-judgmental hearing. If the anger is directed against us, if we have the courage and the wisdom to listen non-defensively and to acknowledge our role in the distress, we can make a contribution to the healing of the relationship.  

The healthiest way to manage angry emotion within ourselves is to view it as a potential energy source that can help us take corrective action to change an unsatisfactory situation. Taking the time to plan what we might say to motivate another person to see both points of view and to act differently might require writing down our issues and a non-provocative way of communicating it.

Even if we can’t immediately find a way to change the negative situation, it is still possible to chemically change painful excesses of internal anger by engaging in continual movement, such as walking, and keeping it up until it loosens its grip on our mind and body. Anger can be vented by aerobic physical activity or by private expressions of anger or by privately shouting at non-living targets.

Anger can be a useful emotion when we recognize it as a cue to resolve an unfair or undesirable situation.  If we can manage and direct it anger can be a positive force that motivates us to resolve conflict instead of a destructive force that aggravates our conflict. To effectively use anger as a tool, we must go through steps:

  1. First, step back, and privately review our reaction, and the cause of the anger.  What action or change do we seek?
  2. Identify who and what is involved in causing the anger and what are the changes in the situation that we must try to bring about?
  3. We must try to put ourself in the other person’s shoes.  What is that person’s needs, pressures and point of view?
  4. Plan for the best time and method talk to the person involved.
    Anger can help us to identify things that we need to fix or change, if we do it in steps. Almost always we need to step back, cool off, and assess the whole picture before acting on our anger cue.

I hope this helps.

Copyright 2011, Jerrold Bonn M.D., Psychiatrist.  All rights reserved.

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