Anger Is A Mistake
by Thomas E. Radecki, M.D., J.D.
Suggestion to the Reader: This is a short book on anger. While it is only nine internet pages, its over 100 pages in paperback. I wrote it in 1989, but it is still very relevant today. It covers scientific research, psychological counseling, historical, cultural, religious, and other points of view. If you get bored with one section, skip around. There are many different topics and lots of interesting information, so donít let one section slow you down if reading straight through doesnít hold your attention.
A Word of Caution: If you are a person with a serious problem with anger, reading this book may be difficult. Your anger will make you want to project the responsibility for your anger onto someone else and stop working on it. Reducing one's tendency to get angry is not easy. Be patient with yourself. If you start to get angry while reading this book, take a break. Put it down for a couple hours or until the next day. Then get back to work. I wish you the best in overcoming your problems. Individual counseling can be of great benefit in overcoming anger problems, if the therapist is good at it. Unfortunately, many therapists are not expert at dealing with anger problems. There are even medications that may help in cases with biological components, and which are covered later in the book. Don't give up. Also, please note: although I have written the book, I still on infrequent occasions lose my temper, have angry thoughts, raise my voice, and speak in less than perfect ways. I am still working on doing better. Maybe there are perfect people out there, but I am not yet one of that number.
Table of Contents
Pg 1: Introduction; What is Anger; Pg 2: Anger is a Mistake; Holding It In vs. Letting It Out; Eliminating Anger; Ventilating Anger vs. Opening Up; Love & Understanding as an Escape from Anger; Two Meanings of Forgiveness; Forgiveness as Therapy; Protest, Punishment, and Pardon; Trust Should be Earned; Pg 3: Examples of Anger in Counseling Cases; Pg 4: Getting Rid of Anger: Learn to Relax; Temper Control; Don't Take It Personally; Anger as a Warning Sign; Anger Diary; the Language of Anger; Rehearsing Self-Control; Anger Behind the Wheel; Coping with Children; Pg 5: Learn to Apologize; Calming Others; Helping Save Face; Get Away from an Angry Person; Feeling Guilty for Getting Angry; Violence Should Be Protested; Criticize Constructively; TV & Entertainment Violence; Pg 6: Play-Fighting, Teasing, etc.; Alcohol & Drug Abuse; Medications to Treat Anger; Statements on Anger; Research on Anger; Non-Violent Cultures; Pg 7: Corporal Punishment; Alternatives to Lashing Out; Anger Can Be Learned; Long-Term Harm; Catharsis; Suppressed Anger; a Measure of Anger; Men v. Women; Pg 8: Anger & Psychiatric Illness; Anger & Physical Illness; Anger & Religion; Seneca vs. Lactantius; Jesus on Anger; Buddha on Anger; Other Historical Teachings; Righteous Anger. Pg 9: Family Arguments & Disagreements; Men Who Rape; Environment vs. Heredity; Anger in Court; Jealousy; Studies on Treatment of Anger; Some Therapist Confuse Frustration & Anger; Misguided Therapists Promote Anger; About the Author. Pg 10: Bibliography
Almost everyone gets angry, at least a little bit, from time to time. Most of us get at least a little angry one to several times a week. Anger is a common and normal human emotion. And yet, because of its short-term and long-term consequences, anger is probably the most frequent cause of emotional and mental health problems in our world today. Anger triggers most of the emotional and physical violence that occurs in the average American home. Research studies show that anger may also lead to physical problems, such as increased blood pressure, heart disease, and premature death, in individuals with higher levels of angry feelings.
Anger-motivated assaults have been found to be 150 times more common than those committed for simple monetary gain (European Committee on Crime Problems, 1974). Anger is the primary emotion that drives most other forms of violence including most murders and even many wars (Mulvihill, 1969). Anger and loss of self-control is a major factor in at least three-quarters of all cases of child abuse (Gil, 1973). Anger and resentment, with or without alcohol, trigger the large majority of cases of spouse abuse (Gelles, 1974). Problems with anger or temper control are probably the leading cause of psychiatric admissions for adolescents and an important factor for many adults. Anger turned inward aggravates depression, sometimes leading to suicide. The emotional and physical violence inflicted on others by angry individuals, groups, or nations is a truly major problem for human society.
The purpose of this book is to help you study and better understand anger, to learn better control of your own emotions, and to be more successful at dealing with the frustrations of everyday life. Some of the ways of thinking about anger in this book may disagree with what you have heard from other sources or what you have thought in the past. However, the presentation in this book is solidly based on the findings of aggression research and from the experience of working with thousands of patients. What is important is that you approach this subject with an open mind and then simply study the world around you. The problem of anger is so common in our modern world that you will be able to observe the principles outlined in this book on an almost daily basis. By better understanding how to analyze what you observe, you will gradually become much more successful both in controlling your own emotions and also in helping those around you to be more positive and sensible in their interactions with you. But donít expected to be completely successful at mastering your tendencies to react with anger. No one is perfect.
Some of the sections in this book will mention concepts about anger taught by philosophers and religious leaders in the past. This does not mean that learning better self-control has anything to do with being saintly or that it is extremely difficult to do. Although self-control takes a little more work at the moment it is needed, it is actually the least painful and least difficult way of managing problems in the long run. Self-control helps to keep problems from getting worse and can lead to their resolution. The fact that religious teachings and the writings of some of the great ethical leaders of the past so closely agree with the findings of modern aggression research only means that these concepts are sensible and do apply to everyday life experiences.
You should expect to do some work studying and practicing skills of self-control and communications if you wish to make progress. No important skill is learned overnight or without effort. People spend endless hours learning how to swing a tennis racket or even how to fight in a martial arts course, but they expect emotional self-control and positive problem-solving skills to be something that doesnít have to be studied or practiced. This is faulty thinking. Actually, learning emotional self-control and better interpersonal skills should be an ongoing effort of self-improvement, just like championship tennis players who realize that continued study and practice are an important part of being successful.
In the first half of this book, we will study what anger is, and, after that, how to improve your self-control. We will then go on to study how to help calm down others and how to use more successful means of dealing with frustrations and conflicts. In the second half, we will review over one hundred research studies examining different aspects of anger as well as looking at historic and religious writings on anger.
What Is Anger
Anger has been called a reptilian emotion. By this is meant that anger or the rage reaction first appeared evolutionarily in the more primitive brains of reptiles. Whether anger ever served a useful function in primitive man is unknown. However, in the modern world of the last several thousand years it is clear that anger has been a destructive and harmful emotion. As the human brain developed greater and greater capacities to think and reason, the rage reaction became totally unnecessary and socially destructive.
Domesticated animals with serious temper problems are much more likely to be eliminated because of the dangerousness they pose to both other animals and people. Indeed, this is a major part of what "domestication" means. It is virtually certain that, in the history of modern man, people with the most serious inborn problems of anger have also died off more quickly because of the problems their violent rages have gotten them into with other human beings. In the same way over many thousands of years, man has also become more domesticated or civilized. The emotion of anger has been likened to the appendix, an apparently useless appendage from the past that no longer serves any useful function (Gaylin, 1984). As you will see, anger only gets us into trouble.
Still, anger is a normal human emotion whose neurological foundation is present in virtually everyoneís nervous system. The capacity of express anger is already well developed by seven months of age. In a study of infant children, expressions of anger were found to increase as the time since eating or sleeping increased. The frequency of expressions of anger were also related to maternal perceptions of the child having an irritable temperament (Stenberg, 1983).
Most of us are quite good at identifying the outward manifestations of anger when we see it or the emotion itself when we feel it. However, in my experience, most people are not good at defining precisely what anger is. Therefore, it is important to get the meaning of anger and related terms clear in our minds before we proceed.
First of all, anger is an emotion, an inner feeling. Although there are often outward signs that sometimes accompany anger, for example, a tensed face and a raised voice, anger itself is an inner experience. The Websterís New Universal dictionary definition for anger is "a strong feeling excited by a real or supposed injury accompanied by a desire to take vengeance." This is an excellent definition. Anger is a hostile feeling. Synonyms for anger are fury, resentment, rage, wrath, and indignation. An angry person often feels like yelling at, shaking, or in some way getting back at another person for something the other person has done. Anger can be supported by a philosophy that one should get angry or mad in certain situations, but the anger itself is still an emotion or feeling. Anger is an upset feeling, although not all upset feelings are anger.
Anger is almost always preceded by some type of injury or frustration to the individual. A frustration is when oneís goal is blocked. For example, a person is in a hurry to get to work and a train suddenly blocks the road, making the person wait, impeding his ability to get to work. Most people would handle this minor frustration calmly, but a few people would get upset and even angry. They might feel like yelling at the conductor or at somebody else. They may fume quietly in their cars or curse and swear. Another example of a frustration for a parent of a teenager might be finding a bottle of alcohol or a marijuana or tobacco cigarette in the teenagerís possession. The parentís goal of helping his or her child stay drug-free has been blocked. This frustration may lead to anger, but not necessarily.
Albert Bandura, a leading research psychologist on anger and aggression from Stanford University points out that frustration does not always lead to anger (1973). Indeed, there are quite a number of ways to deal with frustration other than anger. Below is a diagram showing this relationship. Early in this century, the frustration-anger theory was common in psychology and psychiatry. It assumed that frustration always led to anger. However, simply looking at numerous examples from your own everyday life, you can see that this is not the case.
(diagram goes here)
Getting irritated means getting a little angry, while becoming enraged means getting very angry. Sometimes, we say that we get mad by which we mean the equivalent of getting angry. Indeed, the European philosopher Erasmus said that anger is a type of temporary insanity or madness. Hate is a very intense and usually long-lasting state of being angry with someone.
Fully controlling your temper in a situation means not getting angry, even inside. Inner anger means having an angry feeling inside, but holding it in so that no one else knows. Having a good temper means being better than average at keeping an inner calmness in frustrating situations. The good-tempered individual has a higher frustration tolerance and is able to maintain his self-control or "keep his cool" even in most stressful situations.
To lose your temper means to get angry. This book is about learning to control your temper, not just to control your anger. To say that you are working to learn to "control your anger" means you are going only part way. The ideal goal is to learn to handle frustrations without getting angry and to keep any angry emotions that do occur as brief and innocuous as possible. The higher your goal, the more likely you will be more successful. But again, remember no one is perfect.
Being a little angry means that you have already lost control of your temper somewhat. To be angry is to have already started to lose your inner calmness. If you are working only at controlling your anger, you have already given anger a foothold. It is much easier to learn to control yourself before you get angry or at the first hint of anger than to learn to accept some undefined level of anger and merely try to keep yourself from becoming verbally or physically violent.
There are other types of upset feelings besides anger. The most common is a frustrated feeling. It is an uncomfortable and generally negative feeling that does not have a hostile character and is not directed at anyone or anything. Prolonged frustration can harm a person emotionally, leading to anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, severe depression and more. Anger only adds to the pain and increases the risk of violence directed against oneself or against others.
Feeling hurt is not the same as being upset or angry. Indeed, it is very important to differentiate hurt from anger. One can feel pain without becoming upset. It takes some self-control, but this is the best way to handle a painful situation since becoming upset and especially angry will only make the pain feel worse. It will interfere with your dealing with it properly. Getting angry increases oneís sensitivity to emotional injury. Getting angry is like rubbing salt into a wound.
Thinking About Anger: "He made me mad"
How you think about anger is very important step in controlling your emotions. The first step is to realize that anger is a loss of self-control. You canít learn to control your emotions if you keep telling yourself that someone else is in control of your emotions. Yet, this is exactly what many of us do when it comes to anger. I have found that angry and violent individuals almost always blame others for their problems, even when it is blatantly obvious that they are mostly or entirely at fault.
Many people use the expression "He made me angry" or "He made me mad." This is a faulty way of thinking that needs to be corrected right from the start. In order to develop more control over your life, you have to take responsibility for your own self-control. Dr. Arnold Goldstein, the Director of the Center for Research on Aggression at Syracuse University, in an excellent book entitled Aggressless, says that a person can no more make you angry than he can make you run down the street naked. He notes that if someone has so much control over your emotions that he can make you angry, then why canít he in the next instant make you stop being angry. Saying, "He made me mad," is the same as saying, "He lost my temper." That, of course, is a senseless way of thinking.
It takes time to eliminate using the expression, "He made me angry." It may take several weeks, months, or years of catching yourself after you have said or thought it before you have totally eliminated this manner of thinking. The proper thing to say is "He hurt me" or "He attacked me" or "He insulted me" and "I got angry." No one makes us angry, we get angry. It is important to go over this and drill it time after time ("He did this, then I got angry"). Accepting responsibility for your own self-control will enable you to better take charge of your life.
At the same time, it is important to realize and not deny when you are getting angry or when someone is hurting you. In the first instance, you need to learn that you are making a mistake and not dealing with the situation as well as you could be. In the latter situation, it is important to realize when you are being hurt. Otherwise you wouldnít correct problem situations early on when they are usually easier to rectify.
It is also helpful to realize that, just as no one can make you angry, you cannot make someone else angry. Of course, you are responsible for treating others with respect and consideration. You may accidentally or intentionally say or do something that hurts another person, but if that person loses his temper, then he is also making a mistake. That error may not be as bad or it may be much worse than what you did. But there is no question that the other person lost his own temper, you didnít lose it for him. What you did may have been so bad that most people would lose their tempers is such a situation, but by using the correct words to think about a situation will increase the chance of finding a good solution. Often victims of repeated aggression blame themselves for "making" the other person angry. Just as no one can "make" you angry, you can't "make" someone else angry. We hurt each other, but humans really don't have buttons anywhere on their bodies that can be simply pressed.
Sometimes, when working with patients, I compare an emotional hurt to a physical hurt. You can be seriously cut on the arm and get hysterical about it. You may jump up and down and wave your arms all over the place. This only increases your chance of blood loss and infection. You may deny that you have been hurt, but this also increases your chance of infection and blood loss. Or you can stay calm or quickly calm back down, put pressure on the wound and get yourself to a hospital for treatment. Your arm will still hurt, maybe severely. But the pain will be less and the treatment more likely to succeed than if you deny the problem or lose your self-control.
There are several other similar expressions to be on the lookout for. For instance, donít say, "I got angry because of what he did." Rather say, "I got angry about what the other person did." Again, the other personís actions didnít cause you to get angry, rather they triggered your anger. The otherís actions hurt you and made it more difficult for you to control your temper. But it was you that lost your temper and got angry.
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