What Causes Anger?
By Tristan J. Loo
Anger is a strong emotion of displeasure caused by some type of grievance that is either real or perceived to be real by a person. The cognitive behavior theory attributes anger to several factors such as past experiences, behavior learned from others, genetic predispositions, and a lack of problem-solving ability. To put it more simply, anger is caused by a combination of two factors: an irrational perception of reality ("It has to be done my way") and a low frustration point ("It's my way or no way"). Anger is an internal reaction that is perceived to have a external cause. Angry people almost always blame their reactions on some person or some event, but rarely do they realize that the reason they are angry is because of their irrational perception of the world. Angry people have a certain perception and expectation of the world that they live in and when that reality does not meet their expectation of it, then they become angry.
It is important to understand that not all anger is unhealthy. Anger is one of our most primitive defense mechanisms that protects and motivates us from being dominated or manipulated by others. It gives us the added strength, courage, and motivation needed to combat injustice done against us or to others that we love. However, if anger is left uncontrolled and free to take over the mind and body at any time, then anger becomes destructive.
Why We Need to Control Anger
Just like a person who is under the control of a street drug"-a person under the influence of anger cannot rationalize, comprehend, or make good decisions because anger distorts logical reasoning into blind emotion. You become unable to think clearly and your emotions take control of your actions. Physiologically speaking, anger enacts the fight or flight response in our brain, which increases our blood pressure and releases adrenaline into our bloodstream, thereby increasing our strength and pain threshold. Anger makes us think of only two things: (1) Defend, or (2) Attack. Neither of these options facilitates a good negotiation.
Internal Sources of Anger
Our internal sources of anger come from our irrational perceptions of reality. Psychologists have identified four types of thinking that contribute to anger.
1. Emotional reasoning. People who reason emotionally misinterpret normal events and things that other people say as being directly threatening to their needs and goals. People who use emotional reasoning tend to become irritated at something innocent that other people tell them because they perceive it as an attack on themselves. Emotional reasoning can lead to dysfunctional anger in the long run.
2. Low frustration tolerance. All of us at some point have experienced a time where our tolerance for frustration was low. Often stress-related anxiety lowers our tolerance for frustration and we begin to perceive normal things as threats to our well-being or threats to our ego.
3. Unreasonable expectations. When people make demands, they see things as how they should be and not as they really are. This lowers their frustration tolerance because people who have unreasonable expectations expect others to act a certain way, or for uncontrollable events to behave in a predictable manner. When these things do not go their way, then anger, frustration, and eventually depression set in.
4. People-rating. People-rating is an anger-causing type of thinking where the person applies a derogatory label on someone else. By rating someone as a "bitch or a "bastard, it dehumanizes them and makes it easier for them to become angry at the person.
External Sources Of Anger
There are a hundreds of internal and external events that can make us angry, but given the parameters of a negotiating situation, we can narrow these factors down to four general events.
1. The person makes personal attacks against us. The other side attacks you along with the problem in the form of verbal abuse.
2. The person attacks our ideas. The other side chops down our ideas, opinions, and options.
3. The person threatens our needs. The person threatens to take away a basic need of ours if they do not get their way i.e. "I'll make sure you'll never work in this city again."
4. We get frustrated. Our tolerance level for getting things done might be low or affected by any number of environmental factors in our lives.
Factors That Lower Our Frustration Tolerance
1. Stress / Anxiety. When our stress-level increases, our tolerance for frustration decreases. This is why there are so many domestic disputes and divorces over financial problems.
2. Pain. Physical and emotional pain lowers our frustration tolerance. This is because we are so focused on taking care of our survival needs, that we do not have time for anything or anyone else.
3. Drugs / Alcohol. Drugs and alcohol affect how our brain processes information and can make a person more irritable or bring forward repressed emotions or memories that can trigger anger.
4. Recent irritations. Recent irritations can also be called "having a bad day." It's the little irritations that add up during the course of the day that lower our tolerance for frustration. Recent irritations can be: stepping in a puddle, spilling coffee on your shirt, being late for work, being stuck in a traffic jam, having a flat tire.
Recognizing the Physiological Signs of Anger
By recognizing the physiological signs of anger, we can attune ourselves to know when it is time to take measures to make sure that our level of anger does not get out of control. Here are some symptoms of anger:
1. Unconscious tensing of muscles, especially in the face and neck.
2. Teeth grinding
3. Breathing rate increases dramatically
4. Face turns red and veins start to become visible due to an increase in blood pressure
5. Face turns pale
7. Feeling hot or cold
8. Shaking in the hands
10. Heart rate increases
11. Adrenaline is released into your system creating a surge of power.
Am I Right to be Angry?
Damn right you are. You have your own perception and expectation of the world that you live in and when the reality that you live in fails to meet your expectations, then yes you have the right to be angry. Afterall, if everyone thought alike, then the world would be a pretty dull place to live. You are going to run into situations that you don't enjoy. You are going to run into people who don't respect your views and ideas. The feeling of anger is totally justified according to your beliefs and so don't repress or deny those feelings.
Having to right to feel angry does not mean that you have the right to lash out in anger by attacking the other person. You can't change the views of other people to conform to your own because, like you, they have their own right to uphold their view of the world. The best thing you can do is recognize your anger and focus it on the problem instead of your counterpart.
Being angry or frustrated is just like being under the influence of a drug. It prevents you from rationalizing and thinking logically.
Anger is caused by a combination of an irrational perception of reality and a low frustration point.
Anger is a natural response and you have every right to be angry, but you must learn to keep that anger in check during a negotiation because once you react in any negotiation, then you lose the agreement.
About The Author
Tristan Loo is an experienced negotiator and an expert in conflict resolution. He uses his law enforcement experience to train others in the prinicples of defusing conflict and reaching agreements. Visit his website at http://www.streetnegotiation.com
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