“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
Sages, philosophers, scholars etc since remote ages have touted emotional self-control as one of the stronger suits of any individual. Being able to control or master emotional explosions is a virtue that is utmost essential for a person’s existence but very hard to adopt.
Regulating one’s emotional outbursts is often misunderstood as suppressing emotions or killing emotions all together. However, the key to a fulfilling life does not mean a life without emotions but expressing feelings to an extent that is demanded by a given situation.
This is because subdued emotions lead to a life that is sad and dull. On the other hand, too extreme feelings that are un-retiring in nature lead to modern diseases like depression, anxiety, anger and agitation.
In a quote by Buddha mentioned above, Buddha points out the extreme side of one of the strongest negative emotions in an individual known as ‘Anger’. He says that when an extreme form of anger is not kept in check, it leads to self-devastation in addition to causing harm to the person on whom it is targeted.
Read All: Buddha Quotes for successful life
As we already know, amygdala, an almond shaped cluster of neurons inside the human brain, is the seat of all emotions. Given the Amygdala’s function and its association with other brain areas, the individual has neither control over the time at which he or she would be in the grip of an emotion, nor will he or she be aware of the emotion that took them over.
The only thing that an individual can regulate is the time period for which such emotions can persist or last.
So before getting into understanding the physiological and biological effects of anger, it is important to know how damaging such a distressing emotion can be for human life. One of the best examples of its devastating effects can be taken from the greatest ancient Indian epic ‘Mahabharata’.
It quotes numerous instances where extreme and persistent Anger not only lead to the destruction of people on whom it was directed, but also destroyed people who were in its grip.
What is Anger?
American Psychological Association (APA) defines anger as an emotion marked by antagonism towards someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.
Anger as an emotion is necessary for a man’s survival because it is a way through which:
- One can express negative feelings
- Defend or protect oneself when attacked given it being an autonomic response to threats
- One can come up with solutions for problems
Thus, anger as an emotion is absolutely normal to occur and in its appropriate degree is necessary for a man’s survival. The challenge with anger is that it more often than not goes out of control.
In its extreme form, Anger becomes pathological resulting in anxiety, depression, insomnia, agitation; has serious implications on personal and professional relationships and one’s health.
Anger and Mahabharata
Numerous emotions laid the foundation for Mahabharata, the great Indian epic war, famously called as the Kurukshetra War. One of these emotions was Anger which is demonstrated in a number of instances throughout the epic.
One such instance takes place towards the end when ‘Pandavas’, one of the Kuru clans, defeat the opposite Kuru clan ‘Kauravas’ and visit Dhritaraashtra to celebrate their victory. Dhritaraashtra was the King of Kuru Kingdom and father of Kaurava brothers whom Panadavas defeated in the battle.
Blind Dritaraashtra, in order to congratulate each of the Pandava brothers, asks them to come and meet him one by one. When the second Pandava brother Bheema in his turn attempts to hug Dhritaraashtra, Lord Krishna intervenes. He intelligently asks Bheema to place the nearby solid metal statue of Bheema in blind Dhritaraashtra’s arms instead of Bheema going himself to meet him.
The moment Dhritaraashtra hugs the statue presuming it to be Bheema, the statue is reduced to ruins. Such an intense hug not only signifies the strength in his arms which is equivalent to a hundred thousand elephants as a result of a blessing given to him by sage Vyaasa but it also signifies the anger that burns inside him for Bheema.
This is because it was Bheema who killed his dearest son Duryodhana in the Kurukshetra War. Despite losing all of his hundred sons in the war, King Dhritaraashtra was still burning in rage and wanted to kill Bheema to take revenge for Duryodhana’s death.
Had Lord Krishna not intervened, it was certain that Dhritaraashtra’s intense Anger would have lead to Bheema’s demise.
Thus, in this article you will learn what is anger, its nature and how is it caused.
Nature of Anger
Anger is the most passionate of all the distressing emotions. When in its grip, an individual takes his anger out either on a person or an event in which he feels is wrong or unjustified.
Also, anger is marked by certainty that is unfounded one, thus making the person in its grip believe that whatever he is doing is correct. It convinces the mind for venting that rage out on people, events, circumstances, etc.
Further, where dejection leads to weakness, dullness and inaction, anger is stimulating and exciting. Therefore, anger makes an individual ready for action, making him react in violent ways such as fighting, hitting, pulling a trigger, slapping etc.
Moreover, anger leads to certain physiological and biological changes in an individual. Therefore the physiological changes include:
- Increasing heart beat
- High levels of blood pressure
- Stimulation of energy hormones such as adrenaline and nor-adrenaline
Likewise, the biological impact of anger is seen when it persists, exists in extreme form and eventually becomes pathological leading to anxiety, depression, insomnia, agitation etc.
What Causes Anger?
Certain experiments have been undertaken to understand how anger builds up in the brain. As mentioned above, anger is a negative emotion that stimulating or exciting. Therefore, one of the typical triggers for anger is the feeling of being put in danger.
Now, this feeling can be aroused not just by physical attacks such as physical violence imposed by a person on another. However, it can also be stimulated by attack on one’s dignity or self-respect by another, being embarrassed or wrongly treated by others or irritation on one’s incapacity to achieve his goals.
All these impressions lead to stimulation of the Limbic Brain which eventually results in two kinds of effects. These threats first result in the release of hormones by the adrenal glands that lead to general surge in the level of energy in the body.
Such hormones include adrenaline and nor-adrenaline that prepare the body for the fight or flight response. However, the energy released by such hormones is short-lived.
In addition to the release of the adrenal hormones, the adrenal cortex, which is the outer layer of the adrenal gland, also gets stimulated. It prepares the body for action. But such energy stays for a longer time as compared to the one generated by the stimulation of adrenal glands.
Thus, these release of hormones by the adrenal and the adrenocortical region together create energy that can stay for hours and sometimes even days. That is the reason why individuals who are provoked stay in the state of arousal for days and hence react instantaneously to the series of triggers that follow the original trigger.
One of the things that cause adrenocortical arousal is stress. For instance, a person who had a fight with his spouse earlier in the day has a higher chance of getting angry at the slightest of mistakes committed by his employee at work.
Another trigger that builds up anger is anger itself. When a person is already enraged, the level of existing anger increases given the series of provocations that follow the initial trigger. Since the level of anger keeps on increasing with each provocation in the series, the last trigger in the entire sequence builds up anger of greater intensity relative to the previous triggers.
Thus, such a level of stimulation makes people heartless and any kind of reasoning just doesn’t work. All they think of is revenge at this point of time not understanding the implications of such a reaction.
As said earlier, anger is marked by certainty that is unfound one. It takes away the ability of the person to reason as a result of which the person resorts to reacting in a way our ancestors used to react when faced by a physical threat.
How to Control Anger?
There are many ways in which anger can be controlled. Read our detailed article on controlling anger to know about the therapeutic ways in which anger can be managed.
Our emotional legacy includes a set of negative emotions which when left unchecked lead to serious implications for our health, relationships and life. No doubt anger is automatic in nature and takes you in its grip uninvited, however, one can certainly manage control such autonomic responses resulting from anger if he is aware of the triggers and the cues that lead to its coming.