Human beings are very emotional animals , with our moments of positive and negative emotions, necessary to adapt to the world around us.
Sadness, joy, anger, disgust and other emotions and feelings are necessary in order to adapt to the demands of our social environment and to cope with everyday life.
Anger is as necessary an emotion as any other, but sometimes when it occurs in an uncontrolled way and all too often it is when the need to seek help and think about the consequences in our closest environment must be raised.
Here we will address what are anger attacks , what are their common causes and explain some useful techniques to control them.
What are anger attacks?
These are episodes of anger in which the person reacts suddenly and violently to something that has upset him or her , such as an injustice, a personal offence or a situation that makes him or her uncomfortable. The difference that occurs with normal, adaptive anger is that the person may lose control of himself, throwing objects, shouting and hitting both furniture and people.
Given the seriousness and violence manifested by the person possessed by the attack, this behavior is clearly socially undesirable. Moreover, the environment itself can feed back on it , since people who are in the vicinity can contribute to more tension and can even be infected by the attack of anger.
Behind domestic incidents, domestic fights and other tense situations it is common to find that the fuse was lit with an attack of anger by one of the people involved, which incited the rest to behave in an equally violent manner.
In addition to family life and relationships with friends, people who suffer frequent attacks of anger can have their working life ruined when they experience one of these episodes in the workplace . Problems can also occur with the authorities, when fighting with a policeman or trying to assault someone on the street.
A common characteristic of people who suffer from anger attacks is that, after living through one of these episodes, they deeply regret what they have done, but the damage has already been done.
There are many causes that can produce an attack of anger . Some situations that can produce these episodes are when someone’s patience has been exhausted in the face of serious negligence or a personal offence that cannot be allowed to pass.
It can also occur when living with loved ones such as parents, siblings and the couple is not happening in an adequate way, not fulfilling the domestic tasks, having overprotection and abusive control over the life of family members, among other aspects that can generate tension and initiate an incident at home.
Of special mention are some disorders in which fits of anger may occur: bipolar disorder, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism … as well as diseases that apparently may not seem to be related to emotional instability, such as diabetes mellitus, cirrhosis, hepatitis, epilepsy, abuse of benzodiazepines, hormones, steroids, anabolics and cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Substance abuse is a concern, since episodes of excessive anger are common in all of them, since they directly affect brain chemistry.
Techniques for controlling our anger
Below are some of the techniques that are useful in keeping anger attacks at bay and avoiding their harmful effects on our lives, personal relationships and health.
1. Learn to express yourself emotionally
One key to preventing anger from taking hold of us is to try to give a name to what is happening to us. We may have experienced a situation that we find unpleasant, but we haven’t said how it made us feel .
It is very important to talk to the person who is involved in the bad thing that has happened to us, whether it is the person who caused the evil or a person who has been able to live with us the problematic situation.
Expressing ourselves helps us to understand the problem more deeply, since it forces us to reflect on it. It also encourages the person listening to us to show some empathy towards us and be more understanding of our feelings.
In this way, the potential attack of anger is transformed into self-reflection , in understanding what happens to us, in empathy and, eventually, in a better self-knowledge that will grant us joy and satisfaction.
2. Change emotional language
On many occasions, at the beginning of what will later be an attack of anger, the angry person says things like “you always say bad things to me”, “you treat me like I’m trash”, “you never listen to me”…
Instead of saying it with these words, and using a hostile tone, let’s try to translate it into a more positive language .
By lowering the tone, and trying to avoid increasing the tension, we can express the same ideas in the following way: “I think the way you treat me makes me feel in a way that I don’t want to”, “I’m angry because I feel that you never listen to me, or at least not in the way that I would like to”…
These phrases say, in essence, the same as the first ones, only the tone in them changes in a way that makes them softer , as well as detailing how we feel without resorting to bad words or generating tension.
3. Be empathetic
This maxim, which may seem obvious, is, in practice, rarely used. Being empathetic implies putting oneself in the other’s place and trying to understand why he has told us something that has bothered us.
It may be that the person is going through a bad time, and has found it necessary to say something somewhat unpleasant to release some of his emotional discomfort. We must try to make an effort to understand what they are going through.
If you can, ask the other person how they feel, if they need help, and if they prefer that you put aside the issue you are arguing about to address their problem. Thus, besides defusing the situation, you will encourage positive feelings to emerge .
4. It’s not a battle
Whether it’s your partner, your friend, your boss or anyone else, just because they feel and think differently from you and perceive the situation differently doesn’t mean they’re attacking you.
We human beings are very varied and almost never agree on the same thing . There are as many opinions as there are people in the world, and that is why we must make an effort to prevent a misunderstanding from turning into a real free-for-all.
Sharing your reflections and thoughts can be transformed into something really positive, since it helps us to have a richer vision of the world around us.
5. Enhances active listening
How many times has it happened to us that we have spoken to someone and what went into one ear came out the other? When this happens to us it is very frustrating, because we feel looked down upon and we are not taken seriously.
It is very important that, in case someone is telling us their problems, we listen to them actively, that is, trying to understand and remember what they are telling us, asking them how they feel and, if possible, explaining something about our lives that is related to what they are sharing with us.
If we listen to her, she will also listen when we share our feelings . Many conflicts are the result of people not being able to talk or listen to each other, leading to terrible misunderstandings.
6. Be aware of the consequences
Stop short before you say something unpleasant. Breathe. Think about what all this could degenerate into. You’ve experienced this before, what happened? How did it end? Are you satisfied with the situation at that moment?
It is very important to be aware of how the escalation of tension will develop . If you have lived before and therefore have experience of previous anger attacks, it is very important to reflect on how all this ended.
It may seem obvious, but remembering what happened in the previous anger attack can be a useful technique to stop the current attack in its tracks. That way we avoid going any further.
- Damasio, A. (2014). In search of Spinoza: neurobiology of emotion and feelings. Barcelona: Booket.
- Salmurri, F. (2015). Reason and emotion: resources for learning and teaching how to think. Barcelona: RBA.