Anger is both a necessary and harmful part of human psychology. As a feature of our emotional brains, anger is:
Automatic: Part of the brain’s response to stress and danger—fighting/fleeing/freezing—anger comes into play quickly and efficiently to diminish the danger. A few brain structures short-circuit our normal decision-making process.
Necessary and useful: Our brains require protection for our well-being, and so equip our bodies to respond to danger signals so that we are not harmed. Without the ability to react to danger, we would not live very long.
Fear-based: Anger is the brain’s way of ramping up the fight response. Where you see anger, you are also seeing fear.
Destructive: When expressed regularly and forcefully, anger can easily result in escalating, reciprocal violence.
Addictive: Anger can become a habit-forming or even addictive emotional reaction to stress. Feel-good neurotransmitters course through brains when the danger has passed, creating satisfaction and pleasure, the building blocks for addiction.
Virulent: Because anger is a high emotion, it’s easily recognized and spreads quickly from person to person. Angry crowds reinforce each other’s emotions, and can heighten the imagined legitimacy of individuals’ anger.
Cyclical: Anger invites anger. Vengeance cycles into opponents’ minds, and punishment ricochets between angry people. This cause-and-effect cycle is hard to break.
All-consuming: The process and the outcomes of anger captivate our brains—shutting off our ability to think rationally or caringly. Cortisol—a brain chemical that rallies our bodies to fight danger—causes almost all body systems to respond.
Accountable: When anger subsides, our rational and social brain structures have to deal with the outcomes of the anger. Its results may bring shame and regret.
Manageable: Our brains can be trained to recognize triggers and alternatives to anger, so that it can be managed at less-than-harmful levels.
I hope this short summary helps you remember how the presence of anger in our lives—although a natural part of being human—can also bring harm to our bodies, minds and spirit.
NEXT TIME: God is (not) angry