The causes or triggers of anger are almost exclusively other feelings, such as pain, fear, or embarrassment. When a person is unwilling or incapable of acknowledging and dealing with these admittedly uncomfortable feelings, anger arises. While the triggering emotions are perceived as weak and vulnerable and associated with helplessness, anger is often seen as powerful and controlling. An angry person is not a victim and is not easily pushed around. Therefore, it makes sense that people tend to prefer to feel angry instead of afraid, even when they are not aware of this dynamic. On the downside, resorting to anger might mean that the original problem will not be addressed and will trigger anger again in the future.
Also, anger can lead to problematic behavior, such as physical fights, destruction of property, or road rage, to name just a few examples. And, of course, anger negatively influences relationships, both at work and at home. It scares other people and makes them uncomfortable. Angry people are at risk of losing their jobs, their friends, or their spouses, if they don’t learn to control or eliminate their anger. They are also compromising their health, as chronic anger is correlated with heart disease, inflammation and even diabetes.
There are many reasons to address anger, but change is not easy. Angry people might be reluctant to “give up” their anger because they are afraid of feeling vulnerable or weak. After all, they had a good reason to be angry in the first place. They were hurt or threatened or treated unfairly. But even if they are motivated to address their anger problem, they can’t just simply decide to “stay calm.” They often need professional help to identify triggers and patterns of their anger. Their friends and family also need to learn how to support the angry person and how to give feedback without provoking a negative reaction.
If people are unwilling to change, friends and family are faced with a difficult situation. Spouses and children frequently describe “walking on eggshells” around the angry person so as to not provoke an outburst. Even an angry child or teenager can dictate the family atmosphere and make life very difficult for everybody involved.
While there are some useful strategies to live fairly peacefully with an easy-to-anger person, this is not the case for a domestic violence situation. Nobody should live in circumstances where they are getting hurt. If you are in a violent relationship, call the 24-hour crisis line (888-421-1100) or the police as soon as possible.
In discussions about anger, the question often arises why some people anger easily while others are able to keep their composure in similar situations. As always with emotional and behavioral issues, the answer is complex. People with a short fuse tend to have experienced abuse or other adverse life events. They often did not have the opportunity to process those experiences and so they operate from a highly defensive point of view. Many of them don’t have supportive people in their life who could help them identify and process their feelings or simply give them helpful feedback.
A surprising number of angry people don’t live a balanced life. They often don’t sleep well and don’t exercise, they don’t have many friends or interests, and they generally don’t enjoy many aspects of their lives.
On the other hand, people who are able to stay calm and assertive in difficult situations are often good at not taking things personally. They generally have fulfilling relationships, enjoy their hobbies and even their jobs, live balanced lives and are able to let go of grudges. It’s of course impossible to determine which comes first – do they not get angry because they live a happier life, or are they happier because they don’t get angry as easily? In any case, the more positive moments that are in a person’s life, the less space is left for anger.
Antje Rath, is a clinical mental health counselor who has a private practice in Moab. She can be reached at 435-719-5550, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.