anger on yellow and black background

Seeing Red: Anger and Emotional Pain

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what is anger?

Anger is a basic human emotion. One of the first ones we learn about as children along with happy and sad, scared and surprised. Something we don’t always learn, but probably should, is that anger is a secondary emotion. This is an emotional response to a primary emotion. Anxiety, fear and sadness are the usual prime emotions behind anger.

So, anger can be triggered, yes by the frustration of stubbing your toe, but frequent, regular outbursts likely stem from underlying emotions.

Anger has physiological affects on our bodies. It release adrenaline, so our heart speeds up, our breathing increases, our muscles tense. You might feel a tightness in your chest, feel hot and sweaty and sometimes teeth grinding or nail biting (guilty). This is the ‘fight’ response from our flight or fight instincts, which can sometimes motivate us to take action of change. However, uncontrolled anger can be very harmful; to others but also to your own mental health and wellbeing. And also, maybe your crockery.

Emotional Pain Definition

Defined by psychologist and suicidologist Edwin S Schneidman as “how much you hurt as a human being. It is mental suffering; mental torment”, emotional or psychological pain is the feeling or suffering from a non-physical origin. Schneidman credited the source of emotional pain to frustrated psychological needs, and that people’s level of pain varies due to the importance we, as individuals, place on each need.

When your emotional or psychological needs go unmet, anger can build up and simmer internally; eventually showing up either through frustration or irritable outbursts, but also through anxiety and depression.

Depression is not just sadness, and it has been interlinked with anger by many psychoanalytical theorists and has been researched in many different studies. People who suffer from depressive illnesses also display symptoms of anger, with these traits exaggerating depressive periods.

According to psychiatrist Fredric Busch, outbursts of anger can cause “intrapsychic conflicts through the onset of guilt and the fear that angry feelings will disrupt relationships.” And this then leads to “anger being directed inwards, further lowering self-esteem, creating a vicious cycle.”

Dealing with anger

The first thing to do, is acknowledge the feelings and try to figure out where it’s coming from. Often, it does stem from long, pent up annoyances of grievances that you carry around for a long time.

In the long term, seeking help to understand where these feelings come from and how to deal with them is the best way at handling anger and/or depression.

Short term, there are safe ways of releasing anger that will suit everybody, from meditation, distraction or taking time out. With heightened levels of adrenaline, finding a safe way to use your energy, such as exercise, hitting a pillow or ripping up paper, is a far better alternative to throwing a vase or yelling at your mum (sorry, mum). Play loud music, take a cold shower, find something to do with your hands and once it’s passed, consider why it happened. What tipped you over? And try not to focus on it negatively.

Don’t dwell on the fact that you lost your temper, but focus on the positives, on how you handled it, how you spotted the warning signs and dealt with it accordingly.

Don’t let yourself fall into a spiral of negative thinking.

Mind: Managing Anger

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