Anger and reconciliation

Anger has strong evolutionary roots, but in modern life can be profoundly damaging. Photo by Julien L on Unsplash

Anger comes about because our stability is threatened, or because we simply feel animosity towards others.  Biologically, anger releases epinephrine (adrenaline), released by the adrenal gland, which speeds up the heart rate, as well as nor-epinephrine, which has similar fight-or-flight effects.

Anger has been useful in our evolution, as it motivated us to fight off threats.  In the animal social world, it also pushes others to prioritise our welfare, as it gains their attention, and warns them to serve our interests, at risk of hurt to them.

However, in the modern large-scale social worlds we inhabit, anger is perhaps not so useful.  Our cultures depend, for their peaceful survival, on harmonious relations, and anger can quickly escalate to disastrous suffering, especially when one person has sufficient power to project their anger via organised groups such as armies.

When we get angry, it can put pressure on our cardiovascular system.  It can also cause headaches, and sleep and skin problems.  It is essentially a kind of ‘allergic reaction’, a behavioural response in which we are likely to try to repel, and view another as an enemy.

In domestic life, anger is experienced when someone else ‘treads on our toes’ – perhaps they do something which takes away our sense of safety or continuity, or which threatens to compromise our resources or our comfort.

In close relationships, anger can be a very expensive strategy.  It is hugely unpleasant in its effects, as it requires the object of the anger to experience hostility, in which all the normal benefits of sharing and good communication are withdrawn.  It is common, when angry, for people either to stop communicating entirely, or to change to a rough communication style which allows for little or no subtlety.

Typical thinking patterns include reflecting obsessively on the damage someone else has done to us, or daydreaming about how we can reassert power or control over that other person.  Socially, it is strongly linked to revenge, in which we react to being hurt by wanting to hurt others.

The only way anger can work in a long term relationship, is in a codependent partnership between an angry person, and a submissive appeaser.  Even then, it hurts both parties, and is damaging, even if the codependence adds an apparent air of stability.


If we want to remove anger from our behaviour, then we have to consider two things.  Firstly, we have to work out how to reduce the level of our animalistic angry hormones.  And secondly, we have to work out how to de-escalate our relationship with the object of our anger, so that there is room in the partnership for better communication, and better sharing of resources.

The chemical grip of anger can be dissipated with many tactics, but here are four good ones:

  • walk away temporarily so that no direct damage is done
  • consciously accept the emotion and empathise with it
  • get some exercise, which helps to process the stress chemicals safely
  • speak with a trusted friend or counsellor, to process the emotion

Regarding de-escalating anger in the relationship, every relationship is different, and so it’s hard to offer hard and fast rules.  However, through my work with individuals and couples, I would suggest the following as good tips:

  • change our attitude to listening to the other instead of talking
  • find little, safe ways to re-engage and express goodwill
  • be willing to allow the other time and space if wounds are being nursed
  • rather than obsessing, find other things to get busy with

An angry relationship can be like an over-tight knot – it needs loosening in order to see what is happening, and re-tie it more sensibly.

Anger can be a sign of something that needs correcting – under every piece of anger, there is probably a vulnerability or need.  But very little is so urgent that it has to be done now.  Remember, war feels urgent, and spawns its own urgency.  Peace brings negotiation, because it offers enough space to listen, to contemplate, and to re-examine.


Today I will notice what I feel angry or stressed about.  I will consciously accept the feeling, but will also work to reduce it, maybe through exercise, or through talking or counselling.

If I am angry with a particular person, I can listen to them more, try to express some goodwill, and give them time and space.

If I can get on with other things, instead of just fighting, then I can reduce the urgency, and provide enough peace for new perspectives to arise.