Can getting angry ever be good for you? Is anger a cause or a symptom of mental illness? Do men get angry more often than women? Does anger always have to be a part of life?
Aristotle is quoted as saying: “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
And he’s got a point: learning to use your anger effectively and control its ineffective outbursts or uncomfortable suppression is not easy.
Moodsurfing has explored the topic of anger, especially unhealthy anger, in a variety of ways and we have seen its strong health effects – both of succumbing to anger and also of learning to control how it is expressed. We have always encouraged people to learn anger management and negotiation skills to reduce aggression and the potential for violence.
Some studies have shown that anger can, in some circumstances, increase motivation to succeed and goad people to persist longer towards their goals. There is also some evidence that showing anger and stubbornness in settings like business negotiations or job interviews can be viewed favorably, at least in men, although women are thought to more often be viewed unfavorably if showing anger in similar situations.
However, most of us are more familiar with the down sides of anger: explosive rage that drives away the very people who might be able to help us meet our needs; suppressed rage that can turn into depression; chronic hostility that is associated with increased rates of stress and heart disease.
In the brain, anger functions through a complex network of interconnections. When something goes against our expectations or desires, an alarm is triggered in the amygdala, which is responsible for the well-known “fight or flight” response. However, signals are then sent to the prefrontal cortex, which is the area responsible for reasoning and decision making. What is the context? What are we trying to achieve? What is a rational response to this situation? If the prefrontal cortex is stronger, we control our angry response and channel it into productive actions.
There is some evidence that women tend to have stronger and larger prefrontal cortexes than men do, so that although they get just as mad, just as often, they are less likely than men to lash out or use anger towards aggressive responses. Whether this is inborn or a result of early training is, of course, still a source of ongoing controversy.
So how can you learn to use your anger as Aristotle proposes? Maybe it’s “not within everybody’s power” – or maybe it is. We suggest Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as a strategy that has given a lot of help to a lot of people, teaching them to strengthen their rational responses to “dangerous thoughts” and build more emotionally intelligent foundations to their daily lives.