An analysis of anger

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We are related to a long line of animals that show aggression.  It takes a bit of technique sometimes to counteract that.  Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

We are sometimes angry beings, but we often deny it.  It’s something to do with pride.  It takes a lot of courage to fold inwards, and analyse what is going on when we get angry.  But it’s worth doing, not least because unless we understand what is going on, we can’t ever change the process.  Self-analysis can be, as the Dalai Lama might put it, a type of emotional hygiene.

AN EVOLUTIONARY VIEW

Although humans have a peaceful side that has also evolved, human nature has also developed an angry, or aggressive side.  This side of us may have been functional in several ways, including:

  • Guarding resources – studies of animals show clearly that individuals can work aggressively to guard scarce resources, especially when they become scarcer.
  • Remembering something negative – humans have highly developed memories and social systems, which means that (re)vengeful reactions and enmity can last over a much longer time, and with much more sophistication, than usual in the animal world.
  • Guarding focus – sometimes a dog will react violently if disturbed or surprised.  Humans can do the same, when their cognitive powers re overloaded.  Anger, in this sense, is a shortcut, or an alarm, designed to prevent interruption of personal focus.
These could loosely be described as the use of anger to try to control from the perspectives of future (resources), past (memories), and present (focus).

A PERSONAL VIEW

In the same way, in our personal lives we are protective of our future, past and present.  Observing children, even, we can see this in action.  Perhaps in a nursery there is only one toy between two children, and a fight breaks out when both their play-futures are threatened by the scarcity of resource.  Perhaps, then, one child remembers the past fight, and enlists their friends in order to scapegoat their opponent.  Also, perhaps, once a child is playing quietly with its toy, it reacts aggressively when interrupted.

As adults, we have similar inclinations sometimes.  There is only so much time, space and material stuff in the world.  As individuals, we can be subject to anger and aggression when:

  • someone else seems to be denying us something we feel we need in the future
  • someone else has fought with us in the past, and it has begun to create a history of conflict and enmity
  • someone else disturbs our peace, and we bark at them
AN EXERCISE

Maybe just for today, try to watch yourself for these three anger triggers.

Perhaps, if we can spare the energy, we could give more.  This may mean:

  • allowing others to take resources from us
  • forgetting past conflict and starting afresh
  • accepting interruptions
Of course we all have our own self-care needs, but if we want to reduce anger, this may be a useful exercise.

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SUMMARY

Anger is a part of human evolution, even though we are also very capable of peacefulness.

We get angry when our resources are threatened, when we remember past conflicts, and when our current focus is disturbed.

To counteract this, we can cultivate generosity, a non-judgemental approach, and patience.

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