Monday, December 26, 2011

Anger Part I

     I decided to write a blog about anger, because it is a condition for which there is no reliable drug treatment  and which is also not classified as a psychiatric disease. There are anger management courses offered, but a recent article in a German newspaper reported that the leader of an anger management course stabbed one of the attendees three times. Even Freud did not write a monograph on the psychiatric cause(s) of anger, probably because it is such a primary response that its origin is  inborn. He did talk about eros and thanatos, which can be thought of (very loosely) as the need for love and the death wish, and treated them as innate,, because he could find no convincing explanation for the existence of war, let alone torture. It clearly must have something to do with thinking, because man is the only animal who tortures, one of the few animals who kills his own kind, and the only animal that commits suicide.

     All babies have an inborn need for love and for human contact, and have the capacity for immediate anger which is usually shown by yelling and getting red in the face. When very young, they usually can be soothed at once by nursing at the mother's breast. No one yet understands what makes a baby colicky, and a noted female pediatric psychiatrist wrote an article about how when her baby became  colicky she was almost driven crazy, even though she knew full well that she had not caused the condition nor was there any successful way to treat it.

     I would like to approach the problem of anger from a different viewpoint: Isn't it more difficult for a totally satisfied person to really  get angry and lose his/her temper? When we are satisfied, anger is furthest from our mind  because we are pre-occupied with the happiness of our state. Whether it is achieved by being in love, or being high  on life or drugs or jogging  or  anything else that gets our  mental endorphins flowing, there is no room for anger. No one knows what chemicals in the brain get increased or decreased  when anger surges; we only know the chemical result which is an outpouring of adrenalin, etc.

     By the same token, we do not understand what really triggers and escalates  anger. It is obvious that it is usually displaced from the real object of  our anger to a surrogate at whom it is emotionally safe or acceptable to display the anger. The trivial example is that your boss yells at you so when you get home you kick the dog. A more subtle displacement is the phenomenon of road rage, with or without gunshots. What is the real source of your anger that is discharged by "losing it" at the driver who cut you off on the freeway? What is the real source of anger when you yell at your spouse or children? Who or what are you angry at when you punch a hole in the wall? The question is what the other person's actions symbolize to you or threaten that is of vital concern to you, and whether or not the anger is generated by your frustration at being unable to address the cause of your anger directly. As an aside,  what damage has been done to your psyche when your parents have suppressed your  need for anger so completely that you "never get angry"?

     All mental health workers agree that the emotion of anger is a normal and natural one and only becomes a problem when it escalates  out of your control, driving you to an action that you would never have done in a "normal" state. That is, in a state of anger, actions that would normally be egodystonic to you become temporarily egosyntonic, as if you are temporarily not the person you recognize as yourself ( "Dr Jekyll, let me introduce you to Mr. Hyde".) And why are there people who walk around in a state of chronic anger?
We often feel ashamed or embarrassed after such actions when we "cool down", and vow never to let such a thing happen to us again, much as an alcoholic vows to stop drinking after his/her first  blackout or arrest for drunken driving, or really severe hangover.

     It is as though we become temporarily insane, in that we lose conscious rational control of our behavior. We rant and rave and yell and strike at people or things both emotionally and physically. Who doesn't recall, for instance, the TV picture of Paul O'Neill, the all-star right fielder of the New York Yankees, kicking the water cooler or slamming his hat or bat down in the dougout whenever he made out? Was that due to his nature or his nurturing or a combination of the two?

     If anger is a state of temporary insanity, to use that word loosely, is it that we slip  the bonds of  "civilized" behavior, or is it that there is a parallel being inside of us who is irrational and can erupt by escaping our control under certain emotional stimuli? There is no good evidence for either explanation. And we certainly have no idea why certain thoughts or ideas or concepts infuriate certain people and make them "see red". Very often our anger response is greatly out of proportion to the triggering incident. This is a sure sign that what/who we vented our anger at is not the true focus of our anger.

To Be Continued.....







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