Anger Management and Psychological Self-Defence
It is not at all uncommon to see this phrase; it is a combination of two words which carries a lot of meaning. Among us all, anger is well known, it’s familiar. We might well assume that for others anger is something that needs to be managed because for some other people dealing with or not dealing with their anger has led to problems in their life.
Certainly when anger has become a problem-though ideally before so- it is sensible to take action in managing it. When anger gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems in different areas of our life.
The point is that when we see the term ‘anger management’ we usually interpret it as something like “someone has a problem with their anger and they need to manage it”. Perhaps an even more common meaning we take from these two words is that anger itself is a problem which needs to be managed, and at that, managed into near extinction.
There probably is an underlying assumption in these points of view - that we are just better off without anger-it’s bad, unlike let’s say, the feeling of contentment-that feeling can’t ever be seen as a problem which needs to be managed - right? Well maybe, though maybe not. Maybe anger is not all bad, maybe when we see ‘anger management’ we could think of it in terms of harnessing our anger – managing a valuable resource!
When Anger is a Problem
When is anger a problem? The most common and probably widely accepted answer to this question is that anger is a problem when it becomes destructive, when it negatively impacts on our quality of life and when it begins to damage our relationships with those involved in our life.
Few people would dispute this. Of course in the above sentences the word it could be replaced by the word I –it might not read as grammatically correct but the point is that a whole new meaning emerges from a whole new point of view.
Anger is simply a feeling and therefore neither good nor bad; it is how we behave or what we do with the anger that defines anger as a problem.
Or does it? Change our perspective again this time from the inside-out point of view, from the perspective of someone who experiences the anger feeling intensely, frequently and repeatedly and now anger itself can be described as a problem. This need not be limited to anger in the social or interpersonal domain. There are other areas of our lives where anger had the potential to present us with problems.
Think of the sports-person or anyone trying to master skill or discipline. Sometimes our performance is hindered by being angry BUT ONLY if that feeling is too little or too much. While it is fair to say that a strong lack of interest is going to impede our performance it is equally true to say that “the harder you try, the better you’ll do” just isn’t right.
To sum up it’s fair to say that anger is commonly experienced but is also private and therefore different for each person. Yes, too much anger is a problem, what we do when we experience anger can be a problem and anger itself can be a problem. And anger has the potential to be a problem when it’s not even there!
When Anger is not a Problem
So the idea that no anger means no problem, is not really true, but what does this mean? Below is a chart displaying the approximate relationship between performance-let’s say ‘successful completion of tasks’, and emotional arousal which can also be described as anger depending on the situation.
Here is where the most important part of anger management might be (depending on your goals of course).The concept of flow in sports or in any task is becoming well known and when known highly sought after. It can be described as a state of mind in which there is a perfect or near perfect match between the perceived demands of an activity and the abilities of the performer.
Flow, also described as ‘being in the zone” is accompanied by feelings of being energized yet calm and focused, a sense of timeless-ness and effortless-ness. What is important to note is that to get there, some degree of emotional arousal is required. And different activities might require different levels of arousal. So a total lack of anger can be linked to a poor performance whenever it is that anger is needed-not too surprising to state that now. But how often is it that a person can reasonably claim that they need to be angry? That might depend on the type of life we live and the environment we generally occupy.
Is this linked to Self-Defence?
Maybe in some way it can be linked to physical and psychological self-defence. According to the American Psychological Association “Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires…feelings and behaviours, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked”. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival when that survival is threatened.
The flip side is that we may be our own threat by our misuse of our anger. There is a large amount of information and evidence linking anger (and its biological components e.g. cortisol) to a range of physical and mental health problems. One of my favourite pieces of information in this regard is of the study which found that those who had less control over their anger tended to heal more slowly from wounds!
Fascinating to know perhaps that this is old news to some of the more established eastern philosophies and ‘ways’ - as Buddha himself (supposedly) stated…”Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”
____Buddha (about 2500 yrs ago)