Anger is a strong emotion designed to send the
clear message “something has got to change”. It is an urgent plea for
justice and action. If we exercise enough self control
to overcome our immediate impulse to lash out and do harm, we can calm down,
reflect, and analyze the causes of our anger. Careful analysis can identify what
change is needed and can lead us toward constructive and lasting change that
fulfills our needs. When
cooler heads prevail anger's energy is channeled in a positive direction, and
the anger motivates constructive changes. When we act on our impulses in the
heat of passion, the results are too often destructive and tragic. There are
many myths and misconceptions about anger and how to cope with it. The most
destructive misconception is that it is healthy or effective to display anger
violently and “vent”. Contrary to this popular misunderstanding, the most
healthy way to deal with anger is to stay in control, analyze the message it is
sending, and harness the energy it provides for positive change. Another
misconception is that revenge can lead to positive
change. Unfortunately revenge usually leads only to a cycle of destructive escalation.
Expressing anger with violence breeds more anger. I hope the information
presented here helps channel anger into positive change.
Forms of Anger
Many words in our vocabulary describe forms of anger. They often differ in
the intensity of the anger they express, but the basic archetype is the same.
Here is a partial list, in approximate order from the most mild to the most
intense: annoyance, irritation, aggravation, agitation, frustration, peeved, annoyed, miffed, sulking, offended,
exasperation, incensed, pissed, outrage, hostile, spite, vengefulness,
resentment, wrath, rage, fury, ferocity, and livid.
Bitterness describes a long-lasting result of unresolved anger. Hate is a form
of anger because you blame the other for your
difficulties when you decide to hate them.
In addition to varying over a wide range of intensity, anger has a variety of
forms. These include:
- Indignation: Self-righteous anger,
- Sulking: Passive anger,
- Exasperation: anger at having your patience unduly tried, and
- Revenge: A deliberate response to an offense, delayed until after a period
Definitions and Analysis
Many definitions of anger have been proposed. These include:
- An unjust insult, an unfair slight, or
- A conspecific threat, or
- Response to thwarted goals, or
- An agent causes loss of a goal, or
- Loss attributed to an agent, or
- An urgent signal to prepare for change, or
- A plea for justice, or
- A biological core related to combativeness, or
- Judging another person as being wrong or deserving to be punished, or
- Blaming another person for our own unmet needs, or
- Displeased by the appraisal of an event while disapproving of another’s
- an aroused, often heated state in combining a compellingly felt
sense of being wronged or frustrated, or
- Response to trespass
However, the definition that seems to be most precise, and provides the most
- Anger is an emotion,
- resulting from a perceived loss,
- attributed to a willful agent, and
- judged as unfair.
Let's examine this definition closely. Because anger is an emotion, it evokes
a physiological response. In the case of anger, this is usually a strong
arousal. Often the arousal is so strong it can lead immediately to an ugly,
destructive, and unnecessary “anger display” of shouting, threatening, and even
violence if it is unchecked. A wide variety of perceived
trigger anger. This may include having your possessions stolen, abused, or
destroyed. It can also involve loss of stature or ego, such as when you lose a
competition, suffer an insult, or are humiliated. The idea of “trespass”
is important here, because the person trespassed against often considered it as a
form of loss. Sadness, as well as grief and depression, are other emotions arising from a loss. The distinction
between anger and sadness is the role of the “willful agent”. An agent
is someone who acted deliberately. For example, if
you lose your pet because it dies of natural causes, you are sad, but not angry.
If your pet is killed by a malicious or even a careless person, you are angry at
that person. You are angry because you believe that person acted with the
deliberate intent to cause you harm. Now it has become a deliberate act and a personal
affront. Often the willful agent is yourself. Extending the previous example,
you may blame yourself for the loss of your pet if you believe you did not take
sufficient care of the pet, or if you believe you could have done more to
protect the pet and prevented the loss. Finally, to result in anger, you have to
judge the willful agent as acting unfairly. If you lose a tennis match, you may
be sad. If you believe the opponent cheated, or the referee made a mistake, this
is unfair, and you become angry.
This is a lot of complexity to incorporate into the split second assessments
that so often lead us to anger. Perhaps the useful folk
wisdom to “count to ten”
recognizes these assessments can often be wrong. Fortunately we can analyze our
anger rationally and learn a lot about ourselves.
Analyzing our anger can provide valuable insights into knowing yourself. To analyze the anger, begin by examining the perceived loss. Ask yourself:
- What have I lost? Is the loss real?
- What is its value to me?
- Why do I perceive this as important?
- Was this my loss or was it someone else's? What are their views regarding
this loss? How do you know? Why do you care?
- Do I feel insulted? Why? Has my ego been attacked? Have I lost some dignity?
Was I ridiculed or humiliated? Has my reputation been damaged? Do I feel less competent? Was
I denied fair recognition or reward? Is the insult groundless or is it an
accurate interpretation of my behavior? What is the
asymmetry that bothers me so much?
- Do I feel powerless? Have I lost autonomy? Do I feel cheated? Was I taken
for a sucker? Was a trust betrayed? Was privacy breached?
- Was I coerced into submission or obedience?
- Have I been threatened, injured, struck, abused, attacked, or intimidated?
- Has anyone trespassed on my territory?
- Have my goals been thwarted? Have my freedoms been abridged? Is my safety
or security reduced? Is my legacy diminished?
- Have I lost power? Have I lost
stature? Have I lost strength? Have I lost
influence? Have I lost access? Has a relationship been damaged?
- From a rational point of view, how big is this loss? What impact will it
have? How can I recover? Can I just ignore the issue?
Your answers to these questions will provide valuable insights into
your values, beliefs,
goals, and needs. Based on what you learn, complete the following
sentence: I am angry because I have lost . . . This loss is important to me
because I [value, believe, want to achieve, or need] . . . Then evaluate how
strongly you still assess the loss.
Now identify the willful agent who is the target of your anger and examine their
intent. Ask yourself:
- To what agent do I attribute this action? Who do I hold
- Did they act deliberately? How do you know? How can you check your
assumption of intention?
- Do they consider themselves responsible for the action?
An agent is someone who acted deliberately. If you are angry because you stubbed your toe on the door your choice of
agents is limited to: 1) the door, 2) the floor, 3) yourself, 4) someone who
pushed you, or 5) Some innocent person who was not even in the room at the time.
Note that the first two agents on the list cannot act willfully,
and the last did not even act! The Fundamental Attribution Error—incorrectly
attributing an action or intent to an agent—is
a common mistake. If you find yourself blaming an un-willful agent (e.g. the
door or the floor) for your anger, perhaps the change that is needed is that you
need to take more responsibility for your own actions.
Finally, work to understand if the willful agent acted unfairly. Ask
- Why do you believe the action was unfair?
- What would you consider fair?
- What was the agent's point of view?
- How do they justify their actions? How do you know?
- If the willful agent had a strong sense of empathy, what would they
How do you know?
- What would a good friend have done in this situation? How do you know?
- What would you have done in this situation? How do you know? What did you
do the last time you were in a similar situation?
- What is the basis for your sense of justice? What standard do you use to establish “fair and just”? Is it a
standard? Is it a widely accepted standard? Is it a standard the willful agent
- How can you check your assumptions? What is the
Fairness and justice and are remarkably difficult concepts to define. While
we all have some inherent sense of right and wrong, attempts to write a
comprehensive code of ethics, a set of rules, or a code of laws have eluded the
best scholars, lawyers, theologians, ethicists, philosophers, and even parents over the millennia. I
recommend using the standard of empathy—a deep appreciation for another's situation and point of view—as the basis for fair judgment, but you probably have your own standard for
judging fairness. Certainly the principle of symmetry—apparent balance—is an
important basis for fairness and justice.
Origins, Archetypes, and the Plot of Anger
Anger encourages us to act on our sense of justice. Anger may be interpreted
in many of the following ways:
- A demeaning offense against me or mine.
- Interference with what we are intent on doing. Thwarted
- Intentional physical harm toward us; actual, threatened, or
- Intentional psychological harm toward us, including insult,
intimidation, or rejection,
- Disappointment in the performance of others we care about; we get most
angry at the people we love the most,
- Witnessing the anger of another, especially when it is directed at you.
The message to others is “get out of my way” or “I want to hurt you”
Benefits and Dangers of Anger
The anger mechanism would not have survived millions of years of evolution if
it did not provide important survival benefits. Here are some of those benefits:
- Anger tells us that something needs to change.
- Anger can provide the motivation to constructively change whatever it was that caused the anger.
It can energize the fight for legitimate rights. It contributed to eliminating
slavery and apartheid, and lead to women's suffrage and civil rights.
Anger can motivate us to overcome oppression and topple a
- Anger can provide the motivation to constructively correct an injustice.
It urges us to act on our sense of justice.
- Anger can provide the motivation to constructively teach offenders what they did to make you
angry, and to learn to act differently.
- Anger can help to reduce or overcome fear and provide the energy needed to mobilize
- Anger sends a powerful signal that informs others of trouble. It notifies
the offender that you have perceived an offense.
- Anger helps us to preserve our ego and think good of ourselves.
- Anger is a normal response to an external stimulus that needs to be
One of the most dangerous features of anger is that expressing anger
increases the anger of others. This can lead to a rapid and dangerous
escalation. We may try to harm the target of our anger. We often wish them harm.
The impulse to harm is probably a central part of the anger response for most
people. While anger can be dangerous and must be constrained, it cannot and
should not be eliminated.
Anger as an Imperative for Change
Considering anger as an urgent imperative for change provides a useful point
of view for analyzing our options, actions, and effectiveness. This viewpoint
raises these questions:
- Why am I receiving this signal for change? What does it tell me about my
own beliefs, values,
goals, judgments, sense of justice, and
- What has to change?
- What steps are needed to carry out the change?
- Who needs to act to make the change?
- When does the change need to take place?
- Will the change be effective?
- Will the change be lasting?
- Will the result be constructive?
Let's look at each of these questions and examine how thoughtful discipline
and impulse control can overcome the strong impulse to lash out now.
Why am I receiving this signal for change? What does it tell me about my
own beliefs, values, judgments, sense of justice and needs? Think this one through very
carefully. At the deepest level of my consciousness, beliefs, values, and
what is it about my self that has caused this event to make me angry? Are my
goals, and judgments well founded and helpful?
What is the basis for my sense of justice? What is it I
I am not getting? Is the need valid? How can I form a request to best obtain
what I need? What are the actions that are most likely to get what I most need?
(Hint, revenge is not a need).
What has to change? and Who needs to act to make the change?
Our viewpoint is intrinsically our own, and our impulse is to insist that
you have to change now to accommodate my
needs. But a constructive response to anger requires overcoming this
self-centered impulse to
allow a broader and deeper analysis of the information and options. Begin by
focusing on the constructive steps you can take to move forward. If your
actions in responding to anger, for example indulging in a dramatic anger display, will not cause the
needed change then that action is not a good choice.
What steps are needed to carry out the change? Our attention is
fundamentally limited. As a result, we are selective in what we can observe, and
we always make judgments based on our past experiences, beliefs, and
we interpret observations. Also, our memory is limited, and our
based on simplifications used to interpret the original observation in the
context of our present set of beliefs. Because our experiences and point of view
are self-centered and unique, our judgments will reflect this intrinsic bias.
As a result of this inherent bias, the options for change we first see are
limited and often require others to change to accommodate our preferences.
Again, a constructive response to anger requires overcoming this impulse and
allow a broader and deeper analysis of the information and options. Test the
effectiveness of your planned changes by examining why you believe they will
result in the needed change.
When does the change need to take place? Anger can be an immensely
strong emotion with an almost overwhelming urge to act immediately. Although
nearly every part of your being is screaming for you to act now, it is essential
for you to find the strength to resist this powerful urge. Be patient. Calm
down. Control you temper. Take three deep breathes. Count to ten, slowly. Allow
the refractory period to end, and allow reason to
prevail. Take your time to accurately assess the situation. Be skeptical and
take the time to verify your assumptions using thoughtful inquiry and
rigorous evidence obtained from several reliable sources. Consider a variety of
points of view, including an empathy based point of
view of the person who provoked your anger. What would you have done? How do you
Will the change be effective? Will the change be lasting? Will the result
be constructive? Keep in mind that acting in anger inevitably creates more
anger. Understand what you can change and what you
cannot. Create options for mutual gain. Invent more options for mutual gain.
What are the best options for getting your needs met? What can you
Anger as Hurt, Hate, or Fear
A general feeling of anger may result from more specific feelings of hurt
(due to loss, sadness, shame,
or humiliation), hate, or
fear. It can be helpful to examine your anger to see if
has these more specific origins or meanings.
Related Moods and Traits
Irritability is the mood associated with anger. If you are in an irritable
mood, you require less provocation to become angry. You may also be described as
having a bad temper. This may also be described as grouchy, grumpy, or
being in a bad mood.
Hostility is the personality trait associated with anger. Hostile people are
more likely to become angry.
A hot head or someone with a bad temper, is anyone who has poor
impulse control and moves quickly from anger toward rage, dramatic anger
displays, and even overt violence. These people may also have hostile
personalities. They often have a fragile self-esteem and are hypersensitive to
criticism or disrespect. Privately they see themselves as weak, vulnerable, and
not particularly strong, capable, or worthy. They fear
humiliation. To bolster their own opinion of
themselves they believe others should show them respect and acknowledge their
high stature. If others fail to demonstrate
are dismissed as unfriendly, critical, and hostile.
You actually feel anger, partially as a result of these
involuntary changes in your body:
- Increased heart rate,
- increased blood pressure,
- reddened face,
- tensed muscles,
- a tendency to move forward, toward the target of the anger.
Much of this is caused by activating the
autonomic nervous system
as a primal survival strategy.
Myths and Misconceptions
The Hydraulic Model of Anger—describing the need
to vent dramatically and “let off steam”—is unfounded. “Getting your anger out” almost
always makes matters worse. There is no evidence that suppressed anger is
harmful if we feel in control of the situation, and if we interpret the anger as
a grievance to be corrected constructively. Unless the source of your anger can be
corrected by expressing anger, don't. Although anger itself does not accumulate,
the urge for revenge can. It can be harmful to accumulate and intensify the urge
for revenge without reconciling your feelings of
injustice. Choose a constructive path to resolve
your quest for revenge. Expressing anger is necessary; but do it by standing up
for your rights clearly and assertively, not violently. Suppressing legitimate
anger is unhealthy. Continually venting anger is also unhealthy.
The excuse “You made me do this, I had no choice” is always false. Self
control is the difference between acting destructively in anger, and responding
calmly, constructively, and rationally. You are always
responsible for your actions.
It is false to believe: If I don't act out the anger, I have given in, lost face, wimped out, become
a coward, and disgraced myself. Actually the opposite is true. It takes greater
strength, self restraint, introspection, and analysis to constructively resolve
Expressions of Anger
- Shouting, raised voice, threatened or actual violence.
- Passive withdrawal, stonewalling, lack of cooperation, sabotage,
- Throwing a tantrum—a violent and objectionable demonstration of
rage or frustration that is often considered quite childish.
Anger is distinct from aggression. Anger is an emotion and is
most evident in how you feel, while
aggression—an offensive action or attack—is how you choose to act.
The Paradox of Anger
If anger is so destructive, why is it so common? The enduring benefit of
anger is that it urges us to act on our sense of justice. Unfortunately the
powerful urge it provides is primitive and is too often dangerously misused.
Carefully choose a constructive path for your anger, as described in this next
Paths of Anger
Events that can trigger our anger are common and frequent occurrences. How we
respond to those provocations and the choices we make critically affect our
peace of mind, well being, and our lives. The following figure illustrates
choices we have and paths we can take to either inflame or resolve our anger.
Use this like you would any other map: 1) decide where you are now, 2) decide where you
want to go, 3) choose the best path to get there, and 4) go down the chosen path.
If you can arrange a constructive meeting with your adversary, use this map to
discuss where each of you are now and choose a path leading to resolution of
your conflict. Keep in mind: as you walk you make your path.
You may wish to print out this
one-page version of
the Paths of Anger map.
This diagram is an example of a type of chart known by systems analysts as a
state transition diagram. Each colored elliptical bubble represents a state of being that represents the way you are now. The labels on the arrows
represent actions or events and the arrows show paths into or out of each state. You
are at one place on this chart for one particular relationship or interaction at any particular
time. Other people are likely to be in other places on the chart. This is
similar to an ordinary road map where you plot where you are now, while other
people are at other places on the same map. Begin the analysis at the green “OK”
bubble, or wherever else you believe you are now.
OK: This is the beginning or neutral state. It corresponds to two
people who may be meeting for the first time, or who don't have a history of
animosity between them. It also represents people who may
have been angry with each other at some time in the past, but who have now resolved their differences.
The green color represents safety, tranquility, equanimity, and growth
Insult: We were OK until something happened to provoked our anger.
We know the feeling; our heart beats faster, our eyebrows pull down together, we
are somewhere between frustrated, annoyed, and enraged, and we have this almost
uncontrollable urge to lash out and act now. Although the cause could be any number of
things, perhaps we were humiliated, we will use the term “insult” to describe any of these provocations.
After reflection and reappraisal, the offender who made the original insult may
decide it was unjustified and could later feel shame or
guilt for his attack.
Angry: Now we are angry, and we have to decide what to do about it.
The importance of the choice we make here cannot be overemphasized. We can
retaliate and take a path leading quickly to escalation and
violence, we can
remain resentful for days, months, or years, we challenge an advisory and ensure
a destructive outcome, or we can carefully resolve the problem. If the message of anger is that “something has got to change” then it is
essential to accurately determine what it is that has to change and what actions
you can take to effect that change. If your actions, for example an anger
display, will not cause the needed change, then that action is not a good
choice. Do not take other action until you have a chance to cool off, calm down,
and reflect. The yellow color indicates the need for caution in choosing the
Retaliation: The most common, and most destructive, response to anger
is some form of retaliation. This is too often in the form of the familiar
“anger display” where raised voices, yelling, threatening, insulting, and even
physical actions such as clenched or raised fists are used in some attempt to assert
dominance and intimidate or coerce someone. The retaliation may be delayed and often escalated
into some form of revenge, spite, or “getting even”. More subtle, but equally damaging
forms include sarcasm, wise guy responses, mocking, tit-for-tat, and other
verbal or psychological insults. The inevitable result is increased
anger, shown here as the path leading from anger to enraged, from
enraged to overtly violent, and from resentful to angry. Attempts to justify retaliation are often based on a
mistaken belief that it is necessary to “let off steam”, “teach a lesson”,
“get even”, or
“save face”. We recommend you look at the map, decide where you want
to go, and choose another path to get there. Although an “anger display” is not
helpful, it is often important to describe to your advisory why you are feeling an urgent need
for change. Describe your needs constructively, referring to factual
and recommending an effective course of action.
Enraged: Tempers are flaring. You are obsessed with anger. Yon are not
thinking clearly and revenge, retaliation, getting, even, teaching a lesson, and
other form of retaliation, revenge, and escalation are the only alternatives you can think of. You better
calm down and think this through again. De-escalate the hostilities now and avoid
further destruction. The orange color represents moderate to high danger levels.
De-escalation: Walk away, calm down, count to 10, or 100, or 1,000,
take deep breaths, ask for help, hold your arms and hands down at your side,
pray, apologize, fawn, or ignore the provocation. Do not continue an anger display, make threats,
communicate insults, mock, retaliate, vent, use sarcasm, snipe, get in the last
word, or provoke violence. Tips for dealing with angry people that can help
de-escalate a situation are provided
by Marrek Solutions, Inc.,
Mitchell and Rachel Green. When experiencing anger in another, acknowledge it and calmly help the person
analyze and express it. These phrases may help:
- “I see you may be angry. I regret that. Please tell me if there is
anything else I can do that would be helpful to you.”
- “I would be happy to talk to you now or at later time about how you feel
Overtly Violent: Ranging in intensity from a tantrum, to disrespectful
or obscene gestures, verbal abuse,
grabbing, shoving, slapping,
hitting, biting, punching, destroying property, bar room brawls, road rage, terrorism, lynching,
thermonuclear war, this unfortunate violent condition is where too many anger paths
lead. De-escalate now. The red color represents high to extreme danger levels.
Non-resolution: When you hear “Oh, its nothing, really it isn't” for
the 100th time, it seems it must be something, really it is.
Whether through inaction, avoidance, submission, or rumination, you have not
taken action but you certainly have not forgotten the insult. You are holding tightly to a
grudge and doing nothing to resolve it. You dream of
revenge. Stop paying the price every day and
learn from St. Augustine when he said: “Resentment is like taking poison and
hoping the other person dies.” Take effective steps now to reconcile the
Resentful: Unresolved anger leads to resentment and often
revenge. You are not over it,
there is no denying it, you remain bitter and still harbor negative thoughts,
bad feelings, plans for revenge, and ill-will
continues to fester. You are holding a grudge and are “hooked on
anger”;. The anger has become a destructive recurring pattern. It may even
be affecting your health. Resignation is not a solution, so end your suffering with a
reconciliation. St. Augustine said: “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping
the other person dies.” Take effective steps now to reconcile the grievance.
The orange color represents moderate to high danger levels.
Resignation: You are resigned to resentment when you tell
yourself: “Well I guess I'll just have to ignore it or live with it”. But if you
are still bothered by unresolved anger, you are resentful and not OK. Take steps
toward a reconciliation.
Challenge: The slight could have been ignored or easily resolved, but
instead it was used as an opportunity to create a show down, the classic
“dominance contest” where someone has to lose. If I can prevail, I may be OK,
although you are not. But if you prevail and I capitulate, then I become
resentful, and the problem is not resolved. “It is often better not to see an
insult than to avenge it”.
Declined: When a challenge is offered you can often decline; just
don't take the bait. If the gauntlet is thrown down, either ignore it or reach over, pick it up
and simply say “you seem to have dropped your glove”. Be careful not to
smile, gloat, show sarcasm, or otherwise humiliate or insult your adversary here, or you
will quickly escalate the situation.
Dominance Contest: This is also know as the “show down” or “stand off”. A
dominance contest either establishes or challenges the present dominance
hierarchy. It is a public test, generally of fighting ability or some other form
of power, to determine the relative ranking of the two contestants. It is often
a form of rebellion. Rams butt horns, wolves may fight to the death, countries
go to war, Coke and Pepsi spend millions on advertising. Don't play this costly
game unless you know you can win, and if that is the case why even bother? The
orange color represents moderate to high danger levels.
You Prevail: and I capitulate. You win and I have lost the
contest and run away with my tail between my legs. I am now resentful and my
first thoughts are of revenge and retaliation.
I Prevail: and you capitulate. I win and you lose, but the problem is
Take time to empathize and understand how this feels to the loser.
His first thoughts
will be to retaliate. The only way to win is not to play this game.
Resolution: This is the difficult path to the only satisfactory
solution. Anger is urging you to act on your sense of justice. Take the time to
calm down, cool off, reappraise and revalidate the justice principle, gather evidence
and share your viewpoint thoughtfully with your adversary, and plan a
constructive path to change. The beginning of this web page describes the analysis steps that can
lead to a satisfactory resolution and constructive change. It is likely that a
resolution will require you to change.
Passive-aggression: Wanting to look good while doing bad is a popular
response to anger. But this passive-aggressive behavior leads to a covertly violent state that can be as
destructive over time as an overtly violent state.
Covertly-Violent: Who me? I didn't do a thing. Inaction can be as
hostile as overt violence when it is done as a covert form of retaliation.
Passive-aggressive behavior has been refined to a fine art form by some very
angry and insincere people who work hard at appearing polite, kind hearted, and
civilized. Stonewalling is
an especially destructive form. Passive aggressive-behavior is particularly
volatile when it is used in a relationship with an overtly violent person. The
red color represents high to extreme danger levels.
Venting: You'll gladly tell anyone who will listen about your
grievances, so why won't you take steps toward an effective resolution? Talking
about your adversary is not helpful, unless you are developing a
plan for a constructive resolution. Talking to your
adversary can be very helpful.
Reconciliation: Remove your burden of unresolved anger. Ideally you
will have the opportunity to accept a sincere, complete, and timely
apology from the person you are angry with.
Unfortunately a true apology may never happen, or may not happen soon. Short of an apology, perhaps you can recognize that the person you are
angry with is truly remorseful even if they do not apologize. You may reappraise
the situation and recognize that the insult was unintended, unfounded, trivial,
meant in jest, or sincere and useful feedback. You can always take steps
yourself to reconcile your anger. Why not forgive
the grievance and let go of your anger; this is about you, not them. Let go and get
on with your life. Don't require that: 1) you teach them a lesson, or 2) they
make the first move, or 3) they show true remorse, or 4) they change. Take
responsibility for how you feel and how you live your life, forgive them and
move on. St. Augustine said: “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the
other person dies.” Take effective steps now to reconcile the grievance.
Shunning: Many years ago when people struggled to survive in small
groups or tribes being shunned or cast out of the group was a very severe
punishment that often resulted in death. Human nature and social customs seem to have held on to
various forms of ostracizing as punishment. Severing communications, choosing a
scapegoat, and withdrawal are common forms of shunning. Today it
is counterproductive and dysfunctional approach to resolving differences. Problems are solved by increasing communication, not through isolation,
transferring blame, severed
communication, or withdrawal. The most important conversations may be the ones
that are the most difficult.
Isolated: While communications are severed there is little or no chance
of solving problems and reconciling differences. Open up the communications
lines, perhaps through some peace offering. Don't make the mistake of replacing
resentment with alienation. The blue color represents the
coldness of isolation.
Peace Offering: Make the first move. Offer some small gift (e.g. olive
courtesy (e.g. a sincere smile) to your adversary. Open up the communications channel and begin to
reconcile the grievance.
Sniping: Poking and jabbing your adversary at every opportunity,
including a barb or insult in every conversation, and constantly finding
opportunities to renew the resentments will not resolve any problems. If you
have an issue to resolve, or something to say, address the person directly and explicitly.
Display rules guide us in making the distinction between what you are feeling
and what you are sharing. Most of us learn not to express anger visibly to those who hold power over
us. Anger is also generally not displayed in polite company.
An angry expression sends the clear signal: back off, I am prepared to attack.
The facial expression of anger has these distinctive
- Eyebrows pulled down together,
- Wide open, glairing eyes,
- Upper eyelids raised in a stare,
- Lips wide open to form a rectangle, or
- tightly closed with the red margins of the lips becoming more narrow, and the lips becoming
Sharp angles, loud sounds, discordant sounds, and the color red represent
A typical response to anger sends the primal
messages of: retreat, dislike, unsafe, halt, displeased, dominant, strong,
unfriendly, aggressive, defiant, foe, fearful, threatened, urgent, important,
Examples and Experiences
Please send us your stories
describing how you experienced anger, analyzed its origins, and responded constructively to the situation.
The paradox of anger has inspired many thoughtful quotations. Here are
- “An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes.” ~
Cato the Elder (234
- “Keep cool; anger is not an argument.” ~
Daniel Webster (1782–1852)
- “When a man is wrong and won't admit it, he always gets angry.” ~
Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796–1865)
- “Anger is seldom without argument but seldom with a good
one.” ~ Lord Halifax (1881–1959)
- “It is often better not to see an insult than to avenge it.”
Lucius Anneaus Seneca
- “The best work of the world is done in the tension between anger and
control.” ~ G. Stanley Hall
- “He who angers you conquers you.”
Sister Elizabeth Kenny
- “A lost temper usually means a lost argument.”
- “Have you noticed that an angry man can only get so far / Until he
reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be / With the way things are?”
~ Don Henley
Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions,
by Richard S.
Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus
Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, by Paul Ekman
The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins
Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values, by
Marshall B. Rosenberg, Arun Gandhi
Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence,
by Aaron T. Beck
Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope,
by Robert D. Enright
[Ste]Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History,
Carol Zisowitz Stearns and
Peter N. Stearns
Compassionate Wrath: Transpersonal Approaches to Anger,
Aversion, a Buddhist view.
Shared Values for a Troubled World: Conversations With Men and Women of Conscience, by Rushworth M. Kidder, Jo Spiller
Anger -- Before It Controls You, An American Psychological
Association on-line topic.