WASHINGTON, May 27, 2013 – Anger in America is booming. The citizenry is involved in shooting, knifing, bombing, fist fighting and if nothing else, screaming and gesturing angrily at the slightest provocation.
Children are even catching the ‘anger disease’ and bullying one another on a scale that has become a concern of every school in the nation.
Anger in America is nothing new. Anger was one of the driving emotions that drove our forefathers to create this nation. They were angry with the king, taxation, cruel punishment, and other issues. America has gone to war close to a dozen times in our short history for principle, which is the same reason many individuals wage personal war.
Anger in children is inflamed by poor parenting, stress and anxiety, broken homes and difficult economic conditions.
Pressures from athletics or academics, parents who are substance abusers and domestic violence all add to current stress and help create anger.
Adult anger is not too far removed from children’s sources of anger. An undertow of chronic, suppressed anger, lays the groundwork for an acute episode of explosive anger. Any additional catalyst can cause them to boil over and lose common sense and rational thought.
Adult anger may stem from the poor economy, drug and drink, domestic abuse, work issues and poor interpersonal relationships, among many other reasons.
Psychologist Dr. Charles Spielberger tells us that physiological and biological changes accompany anger. Changes such as heart rate and blood pressure increase as do levels of the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, causing immediate increase of energy.
Society today disallows the sources of resolution that were available not so long ago. Men are more susceptible to expressing anger externally and in days past, such expression was not only allowed but encouraged.
Men took to sword, pistol, knives and ‘fisticuffs’ when they felt slighted, insulted or perceived injustice. “Take it outside” was not an unusual method of resolution. Today, however, even ‘fisticuffs’ will land an angry person in jail and there are scant methods of physical outlet to expend the energies and changes we rapidly experience when angry.
We are now forced to harbor ill will and remain civil when civility is the last thing on our minds.
Our primitive limbic (emotion) system is provoked by anger. That is the same system involved with our instincts of survival such as fear, sexual behavior and eating.
Two large structures of our limbic system are the amygdala and hippocampus where memory is stored, sorted out and relayed. It is thought emotional response is tied to memorable events causing disproportionate anger response in some cases.
For example, certain words or action may trigger memories of severe childhood trauma or other events of severe displeasure. Hearing them again may make us overreact. When the hormones of adrenaline and noradrenaline are secreted, these are the same hormones that trigger our instinctive ‘fight or flight’ responses. It can be in that split second trouble starts.
Anger causes optimism via secreted courage. We feel momentarily invincible, aggressive, dominant and have great expectations for positive outcome via a high levels of motivation. Sometimes these feelings can work for us when we are truly in danger or use anger as a motivational tool for accomplishment.
Conversely, pent up, unresolved chronic anger can be unhealthy. Cardio-vascular disease, arthritis and general aches and pains, gastro-intestinal issues and auto-immune systems can be affected by suppressed, unreleased anger.
Another danger is that a build -up of anger can be released in an explosion of misdirected rage and fury onto someone or something unrelated to the true source of anger.
For acute anger, counting to 10 while breathing deeply from the diaphragm when the rush of hormones begins is a means to pause and evaluate potentially critical situations. Mentally creating a worst case scenario may calm emotions by helping to understand that worst case is not as bad as lashing out.
The old expression of ‘let it out’ is no longer a valid response as this approach may escalate anger and aggression
Americans live with fear of terrorism, poor economic outlook, distrust in our government, the possibility of war with adversaries and concern over our children’s future.
Since fear is tied into the same physiological systems as anger, fear can make us simmer and stew, particularly regarding situations beyond our control.
Taking a walk or exercising is a great means to expend the additional energy initiated by situational anger.
Chronic anger may need to be addressed by cognitive/behavioral therapy or anger management classes to discover means to deal with sources of anger and address aggressive behavior.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.
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