Anger doesn’t just hurt, it can kill

Anger doesn’t just hurt, it can kill

lthough anger, like guilt, fear, and joy, is a healthy emotion, the aggressive ways of expressing it are not conducive to healthy relationships or to a healthy self. Anger is neither good nor bad, positive nor negative, right nor wrong. However, aggression or hostility is negative and destructive.

I recently read some very disturbing statistics released by the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women.  The number of partner violence incidents involving a female victim and a perpetrator who is her current or former spouse or intimate has increased from 877 in 2004 to 1,976 in 2009 in our province.  There are many possible explanations for such statistics and I will leave the interpretations to those who know more about this issue. However, the idea that violence is increasing in our society is not a new one but a very sad one. Many studies suggest that our children and young people are being exposed to more violent and more graphic television images and video games than ever before and watching all this violence may contribute to the increase.  

One thing that is undoubtedly behind most violent behaviour is unmitigated, unmanaged anger.

I know of what I speak.  I was once a “rageoholic.”  I grew up in a household where my mother screamed from the time she got up till the time she went to bed.  There was always something to send her off into a rage. I learned the pattern that I lived as a child — anger is expressed in blaming, loud, and abusive ways.  As a young adult I began to recognize that I was using anger as a manipulation tool. I could use threats to scare those around me into behaving as I wanted them.  I identified myself as having a short fuse, a bad temper, easily annoyed, etc. That gave me the permission to behave as such — a bully. When I began to notice that I was damaging the most important relationships in my life, I started reading about anger management, taking courses to learn more constructive communication skills, and I started seeing a Social Worker.  I learned that aggressiveness is generally a way of covering up feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or inferiority. By working to change my thinking patterns I began to feel differently about myself and I learned to express my feelings in healthier ways.

Although anger, like guilt, fear, and joy, is a healthy emotion, the aggressive ways of expressing it are not conducive to healthy relationships or to a healthy self. Anger is neither good nor bad, positive nor negative, right nor wrong.  However, aggression or hostility is negative and destructive. The feeling of anger and aggressive behaviour are not one and the same. The intent behind aggression is to harm another whether the person is conscious of the intention or not. 

Belligerent people are feared and experience a sense of power and control that reinforces the bullying.  Anger can create and reinforce a false sense of entitlement, an illusory feeling of moral superiority that can be used to justify immoral actions such as terrorism. Typically, an aggressive person believes that they are right and everyone else is wrong and therefore they don’t need to change but rather it’s everyone around them that needs help. 

Then there is the cost of seething anger to the physical health care system.  Recent research suggests that men who have poor anger management skills are more likely than their more emotionally skilled peers to suffer a heart attack before the age of 55.  A separate study indicated that older male subject’s hostility ratings predicted heart disease more accurately than other known risk factors including cholesterol, alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, and obesity.  High blood pressure, or hypertension, is also related to the experience of chronic anger and hostile impulses. Even the immune system, which plays a significant role in keeping us cancer free, seems to be weaker for people who are regularly aggressive.

Regardless of what you have learned, you are not locked into that pattern of response forever.  You don’t have to let the past dictate your future. The plasticity of the human brain allows you to reshape your patterns into whatever you choose.  If you, or someone you know, experiences chronic anger and engages in aggressive behaviours whether verbally, physically, or sexually, there is help available.  There are many books available on the topic, there are programs on CD or DVD, information on the Internet, one-on-one counselling, and anger management programs.  Access the help you need to learn more respectful and healthier ways of expressing your feelings and you and your family, friends, and co-workers will be glad you did.

For more information email info@familyenrichment.ca or call 458-8211 or 1-888-829-6777

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