Anger is one of the primary feelings we have, and it is meant to protect us.
Anger is the emotion we feel in the present moment, and it has to do with the trespassing of personal boundaries or territories. When our values or something essential for us is threatened, we get angry and irritated. We are willing to defend whatever it is crucial for us: things, people, ideas, opinions, identity, etc. If we do not control this Anger, it can lead to violence (verbal or/and physical), and we end up hurting people we love, including ourselves.
It is also a feeling that covers all the other emotions we have. We’d rather be angry than deal with all the different feelings we can have; we never thought about working through them and calling them by their names.
In my therapy room, Anger shows up a good deal. People are angry or irritated.
Angry at their parents, mad at their kids, mad at their boss, angry at their jobs, angry at their friends, angry for no apparent reason.
Some tell me that they get angry and they don’t know what to do with that Anger. Some do not see how they react to Anger; they do not know how to identify it and what people around them see or hear.
We have different reactions to Anger.
Perhaps you’ve heard about freeze, fight, flight? And Flop and Friend? They are reactions human bodies can have when they feel threatened and when we are angry.
Freeze is when you chock, and you feel you cannot open your mouth, not even to speak, or to scream, or to say anything at all. Something is blocking your through, and you barely breathe. The body feels paralyzed and unable to move. If it moves, you can think that it is doing movements you have no control over. Perhaps you have heard someone saying, “I don’t even remember how I’ve got out of there”, or maybe you have experienced a situation like this yourself.
It is because your body was paralyzed and reacting instinctively, programmed by the brain to protect and get you out of danger. Yet, you have no memory of when did you moved.
This situation is only dangerous to yourself if you cannot come out of a challenging situation.
Fight is when your first reaction to threats is to shout, yell, or to hit something or someone. Words are coming out of your mouth without control. It doesn’t matter who hears you or who do you shout at. The person just happened to be there. Your body can shake and moves without control, either hitting someone or something or hearting yourself (squeezes the fist until the nails are hurting the palm, bit your tongue, you grit your teeth). The breathing is either heavily and fast, or stops altogether, or remains on the top of the chest, just enough to keep the body alive.
This reaction to Anger is dangerous both for ourselves and for the people around us, especially if they do not cause our Anger. Often we tend to “kill” the messenger who brings us bad news, and we have a hard time distinguishing the context.
Flight is when you just run away from the situation or the threatening people that made you angry. It is difficult to speak, like in the Freeze case. You prefer to walk away; you go for a walk to calm yourself down and regain your senses and speech.
Flop is when you do not react in any way when you’re angry. You act as nothing is happening. This is the most “wanted” reaction, and it is considered mature. Yet, it doesn’t mean you are not affected at all. The stress is still there, just that your body has learned to block it and not feel it. Eventually, it shows up later in the form of physical pain or illness in the body. It can only hurt yourself.
Friend is when you laugh when you are angry. It is better to hide the Anger behind a smile or a joke. Laughter is also a defense mechanism that says, “please don’t kill me” to the situation or the threatening person. This, too, is a preferred reaction to Anger. It is more agreeable for people around you to see a smiling face than an angry one. It is suitable for yourself as well, as long as you can laugh at the situation that makes you angry. But if it is only a facade, and the laughter is not genuine, the effect is the same as in Flop: it shows up later in the form of physical pain or illness in the body.
Anger hides many feelings. It is like the tip of the iceberg, that comes up first above the water. Underneath the water, usually, there are many complicated feelings and emotions that people are not aware of. To name a few of them is overworked/very tired/burned down, working a job you don’t like, being hungry, unhappy with your achievements or life situation, etc. Anger covers them all.
The best way to deal with Anger is actually to name it when it shows up. Recent neuroscience research shows that when we are putting words to the feelings passing through our bodies, we overpower them. We know their names, and we can own them. To acknowledge Anger is a big step. Naming the emotions and feeling them in the body is an excellent way to deal with them. When Anger is named and felt within the body, it tends to go away, and we can get in touch with the other feelings hidden under the water.
I am putting here a picture I like and which represents the Ager Iceberg, so you can have a visualization of how your emotions can look like.