R.N., T.S.T.A., 2/18/11
Anger is part of our human
condition, which means we need to figure out strategies for recognizing it and then for managing
it. We may experience it as a surge of inner heat as blood courses through our veins or a vague,
unnamed discomfort that later breaks into consciousness. Or we might erupt like Mount Vesuvius,
only then realizing we feel angry.
But whichever way it manifests, we can
become destabilized when angry, and then we are vulnerable to harming ourselves, others or both if
we allow it to overtake reason and caution. Therefore we can reap huge dividends and prevent major
negative outcomes by knowing what to do when we feel angry.
First, some understanding. Anger is an emotion wired into every human
being to serve a survival purpose. Feeling angry is a sign that we’re responding to a threat,
whether real or perceived. It is not just an emotion; it has a corollary physical response because
our body is mounting a defense to meet the danger. When we’re feeling angry, blood is being removed
from our sustaining systems (digestion, elimination, immunologic, circulatory), and poured into our
skeletal muscles to ready them for action. Our liver releases massive amounts of glucose to supply
energy to our muscles. Our pancreas secretes insulin to burn the glucose. Our respiration rate
rises to provide oxygen for the metabolic fires. Never mind if we just ate, digestion will have to
wait: surviving in response to threat is the current biological priority. Our stress reaction is in
full swing. We are ready for action!
The key to managing anger effectively is to use this natural,
biological process to achieve goals instead of turning anger into a threat to the very goal it was
designed to fulfill. We need to learn to act in a way that resolves the threat and reestablishes
our physical and emotional internal balance. In other words, we need to learn to use the energy of
this roaring physiological furnace for an effective response, one which identifies and responds to
the threat in such a way that real safety is established, the anger is resolved, and the bodily
responses mitigated so our bodies can shift back from basic survival mode to "thrive" mode. This
re- energizes our sustaining systems, improves our digestion, respiration, circulation,
elimination, and immune function.
How to do this? As there are three kinds of anger, three types of
strategies are required – insights I learned at a Transactional Analysis Seminar at what was then
the Schiff Rehabilitation Institute.
Anger Arising from Unmet
All of us humans have basic things we need to survive
and thrive. These include both physical and emotional needs: air, water, food, bonding and
connection with others, trust relationships. Meeting these needs supports not only the survival of
the individual, but the species as well. Frustrate these needs and anger is the result.
Effectively resolving this kind of anger means addressing the basic
need. The fundamental question is “What is needed here?” Air, water, food, space, connection,
stimulation, relief of pain? Provide what is needed and the anger is resolved, the stress removed.
Our needs are fulfilled and we begin once again to thrive.
The second kind of anger is that used as a tool to construct a
boundary so individuation can take place. Developmentally this kind of anger is that used by two
year olds who are beginning to emerge as individual little people, separate from their parents.
Just as with two year olds, in adults also, it is motivated by our need to be individuals, to be
unique, to break away from oneness. This anger is saying “I’m not you; I’m me, a separate
The inner question to be resolved becomes whether the ties that bind
(the need for connection) will withstand the desire to separate; will the person be accepted and
loved as an individual if separate?
Because separation anger is a tool used to become an individual, its
resolution involves simply giving it up. Once the individuality is established, the tool is no
longer needed and can be put away.
The third kind of anger is a mask for another feeling,
usually fear, often hurt, sometimes grief and sadness. Essentially this kind of anger covers
something else with an angry front, which is why it’s often referred to as racket anger.
Strategies for resolving this kind of anger involve making it safe to
uncover the feeling beneath it so it can be resolved. Then anger rackets become unnecessary, the
person can calm down and recommit to solving problems in a straightforward way.
Learning to deal effectively with these three kinds of anger is not
only beneficial to the health of individuals, but also to the world. As people learn to deal
effectively with anger, they are no longer hooked on the temporary but destructive "high" of anger
dramas played out in warring responses. (Imagine a world in which the world leaders dealt with
their anger in these ways!)
Each person who learns to do this models for others that making peace
is better, that we can resolve our differences peaceably and that we can support each others’ basic
humanity and uniqueness. Each one of us who does so brings world peace that much closer to
How can we handle anger and the process of
individuation so it results in victory rather than disaster? This aspect of life is so important
that we devote an entire class to it in the Emotional Development 101, Click this link to
view the outline and further details.
Pamela Levin is a Teaching and
Supervising Transactional Analyst in private practice 40+ years. She teaches her award-winning work
on the process of healthy emotional development throughout life in the