Road rage- political debates- even the recent hubbub about Serena Williams expressing her feelings on the tennis court.  There is a lot of anger in our society and disagreement on what are healthy expressions of anger.

When our buttons get pushed it is completely natural to feel angry.  Anger is a normal emotion (it was one of the 5 in the control room of the movie Inside Out) and it can actually facilitate communication and positive change when expressed appropriately.

Anger as a Way to Self-Soothe

Self-medication, as a way to deal with life’s pain, is very common. For those with anger issues, there is a biochemical explanation as to why you may fly off the handle and often.

One of the hormones secreted by the brain during a fit of anger is called norepinephrine, which acts as an analgesic, or pain reliever. When we are triggered, often that trigger digs up deep wounds and past hurts, whether we are aware of it or not.

Becoming angry in the moment releases a powerful brain chemical that numbs our emotional pain so we don’t feel vulnerable, ignored, unimportant, rejected, or worthless. But as with any drug, a person can become addicted to their own anger because they become addicted to the chemical reaction of it.

Self-Empowerment

Another chemical released by the brain during a fit of anger is called epinephrine. While norepinephrine acts like a pain reliver, epinephrine acts like an amphetamine, allowing us to feel a sudden surge of energy throughout our entire body.

This adrenaline rush counteracts our feeling of powerlessness in the moment, or maybe in our life in general. How seductive is that? Many medical experts will tell you that epinephrine is every bit as addictive as alcohol and cocaine, so it’s no wonder so many people are addicted to their own anger.

“Safe” Attachment

Some of us don’t feel safe in a relationship without a bit of distance. This is typically a response to a parent or caretaker being unavailable, unresponsive, or untrustworthy in our past. The adult children of these types of parents feel the need to cultivate a certain emotional detachment in their relationships, and anger is a very effective way of doing that.

Often, anger is a “second-order emotion” which means that it is covering up a more basic, more vulnerable emotion.  Because of the brain chemicals it sets off, it can feel much better than emotions like sadness, fear or shame- which can be very difficult to deal with when we are in the presence of other people.

Tips for Managing Anger

1. Recognize the problem – As with a substance addiction, it’s important to recognize and admit you may have a problem.

2. Monitor your behavior – Keep an anger journal and log behavior you noticed or you were accused of by others. Note the incident, trigger, and the intensity of your anger from 0-10. Often just seeing your anger on paper will offer some insights into where it’s coming from.

3. Feel your anger but don’t act on it – Bottling up emotions is never the answer. It’s important for us to feel our feelings, ALL of them. But it’s equally important to regulate our actions. Walk away from potential fights and don’t send that angry email.

4. Get some help – Speaking with someone about your anger can often help. By uncovering the emotions underneath the anger, you can diffuse it and begin to heal from past traumas.

If you feel you may have an issue with anger and would like to explore therapy, please get in touch. We would be more than happy to discuss how we may be able to help.

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(410) 280-9444

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