A constant stream of bad news, arguments with friends, disrespect from relatives and colleagues can cause anger that develops into aggression. On the one hand, anger is an absolutely normal reaction that used to help people survive. On the other hand, excessive anger can cause health problems, and aggression can harm other people. We understand how anger and aggression arise, whether they should be suppressed and whether they can be controlled.
What is the difference between anger and aggression
Anger is a type of feeling, whereas aggression is a type of behavior. However, these two concepts are often confused.
Anger is a negative emotional state that is usually associated with hostile thoughts, physiological arousal. Angry thoughts may be accompanied by muscle tension, headaches, or a rapid heartbeat. Anger usually arises in response to disrespectful, humiliating, or threatening actions by others.
Anger can be expressed verbally or physically. People may yell, swear, argue to show their dissatisfaction, or throw and break things, slam their fists on a table or wall.
Aggression is behavior aimed at causing physical or psychological harm to other people.
Psychologists divide aggression into impulsive and instrumental. Impulsive aggression is also called affective. It is she who is most often caused by anger and is accompanied by strong emotions. Such aggression is triggered by the acute threat response system in the brain, which includes the amygdala and hypothalamus. In this case, aggression may be unconscious and uncontrollable. Instrumental aggression is a behavior that a person resorts to in order to achieve a certain goal, for example, to demonstrate their dominance. This is planned, not spontaneous behavior.
Since anger is more often expressed through swearing, it is cases of aggression that end up in the criminal justice system. According to a study conducted by American psychologist and anger management specialist Dr. Howard Kassinov, approximately 90% of aggressive incidents are preceded by anger. However, only in 10% of cases, anger flows into aggression.
How is aggression expressed?
Aggression is used to achieve different goals:
- expressions of anger;
- response to fear and pain.
Aggressive behavior can be expressed physically in the form of punches, kicks or other objects, as well as damage to things. However, there are also verbal forms of aggression: for example, spreading false rumors, deliberately discrediting another person. This is also considered aggression, because the purpose of these seemingly calm actions is to harm the other person.
There is also a type of behavior called passive aggression. This is an indirect expression of aggression: a person does not directly show that he is angry or angry. Sometimes he can even convince others that everything is fine, but at the same time act coldly with people, ignore other people’s requests or not talk at all without explaining his behavior. The reasons for this behavior may be a parenting in which the child is punished for showing negative emotions, lack of communication skills, or fear of open conflicts.
How anger and aggression can harm your health
Anger is a normal, healthy human emotion. Evolutionarily, it performed an adaptive function: it caused strong emotions and aggressive behavior that allowed people to defend themselves when they were attacked. Therefore, a certain amount of anger is necessary for survival.
In today’s world, anger can also be a reaction to injustice. For example, if a person watches a movie where the characters suffer, then he feels angry, and when good triumphs over evil, he feels satisfaction.
However, if we get angry a lot and often, then the autonomic nervous system is highly excited. This can provoke hormonal and neurochemical changes. Physiological responses can lead to increased cardiovascular responses, respiration and sweating, blood flow to active muscles, and increased strength. If a person is constantly angry, it can lead to an increased risk of hypertension and stroke, heart disease, stomach ulcers and bowel disease, as well as slower wound healing.
Some research shows that there is a link between anger and chronic inflammation. They, in turn, can lead to problems with the cardiovascular system.
Anger and aggression are also associated with mental disorders. However, it is not yet clear what comes first: unregulated anger causes these conditions, or whether disorders initially make it difficult to manage strong emotions.
Why You Shouldn’t Suppress Your Anger
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with anger. The three main approaches are expression, suppression, and soothing.
Anger can be suppressed. To do this, you need to contain it, stop thinking about this feeling and focus on something else. The goal of this approach is to transform anger, the energy it generates, into more constructive behavior. The danger of this type of reaction is that if it is not allowed to express itself outwardly, then the anger will turn inward. In such a case, anger can cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression. Suppressed anger can also lead to passive-aggressive behavior.
Women are more likely to suffer from anger suppression. Stereotypes forbid girls to actively express negative emotions, and female anger is not taken seriously and branded as “hysteria”. We have a separate article on why it is important for women to regain the right to be angry.
Why “letting off steam” is also a bad idea
In the past, therapists have advised people who are experiencing fits of anger to give it a physical outlet, but without contact with other people. For example, hitting a pillow. It was considered a good way to control anger.
However, more recent research has shown that this type of emotional release does not so much calm anger as it intensifies it. If a person is angry and hits the pillow, then he does not really calm down, but gets tired. Through the physical manifestation of anger in the body, he strengthens the neural pathways in the brain – the next time he experiences the same emotions, he will need a physical release, but there may not be a pillow at hand. And otherwise a person will not be able to calm down.
According to research on the expression of anger, a person needs to be heard, accepted his position, showed respect. This can be done verbally or electronically. But physical outbursts of anger without feedback are meaningless.
How to express anger
Expressing anger in a assertive but non-aggressive manner when interacting with others is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you need to learn how to articulate your needs without harming others: be assertive, but at the same time show respect for yourself and the interlocutors.
- Avoid words like “never” and “always”. Statements like “You always forget everything” may bring satisfaction to you, but for the interlocutor sound insulting. It will be more difficult for him to have a dialogue and solve the problem with you.
- Use logic. Anger is often irrational. It is important to remind yourself every time that the whole world is not against you and that what is happening has understandable and local reasons.
- Make requests, not demands. In anger, people tend to demand justice, consent, gratitude. Try to change the form of your statements and ask for the same. Be prepared to be disappointed that you do not get what you want, so that an unexpected rejection does not provoke a new wave of anger.
How to be less angry
- Move regularly. This is a preventative measure – physical activity is useful before you experience anger. Walking in the fresh air or exercising in the gym will help release accumulated energy and prevent it from flowing into anger.
- Take a break from your triggers. Avoid contact with people who make you angry. Read less news that causes a feeling of injustice and provokes anger.
- Write down emotions on paper. Write down how you feel, what makes you feel negative. This will help you calm down, focus on feelings and understand the nature of your emotions.
How to prevent anger from turning into aggression
Attacks of aggression are warned by physical reactions: clenching of the jaws, rapid pulse, excessive sweating. If this happens, you can consciously reduce the risks of aggressive states so as not to harm other people.
- If you are in a situation or with a person that becomes a trigger for anger, try to stop it. Leave the event that makes you angry, stop communicating with the person who annoys you.
- Tell loved ones that you are experiencing anger, that it is difficult for you to control yourself.
- Use breathing or muscle relaxation techniques: alternately tighten and relax the muscles, starting from the face and ending with the feet.
- Try to focus on your feelings: music around, pleasant smells, food or drink. It can be distracting.