What Are Anger Myths And How They Affect Us?

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Anger ManagementAnger is an unavoidable part of being human. Anger is especially based on myths.

All myths of anger give good reasons for anger and aggressive behavior.

Myth 1: Anger and aggression are natural for humans

The idea that humans are born with a basic instinct for anger and aggression has been used to explain just about everything from marital arguments to global warfare.

The thinking here is that instinctual biological pressures can push people past some built-in anger threshold. Even the APA – the American Psychological Association – contributes to this point of view:

  • The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively.
  • Anger is a natural adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and defend ourselves when we are attacked.
  • A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.

Although this way of thinking makes some sense, it has one major flaw.

Successful evolution has been based on cooperation, not destructive conflict and aggression. Even primates fight in an organized manner.

They fight to preserve the species, not to kill their opponents. Acts of violence among species tend to occur in defense of the group, typically for purposes of protecting territory or resources.

What causes people to feel anger?

When people feel threatened, it is natural for them to feel anger. But this feeling does not justify anger behavior. As human beings, we have always lived in small clusters of closely related members who have nurtured and helped rather than destroyed each other.

Nurturing actions promote growth and survival. Violence aimed at one’s own group or family undermines the survival and overall well-being of the group and everyone who belongs to it.

By looking at the pattern of existence from birth to old age, it is quite clear that humans seek nurture and thrive when they are nurtured. Humans and other primates deprived of basic nurturing fail to thrive.

According to research, there is no scientific evidence to support the belief that humans are naturally aggressive. Waging war and other violent behavior is not genetically programmed into our human nature.

Except for very rare situations, genes do not produce individuals that are prone to violence. There is nothing in the wiring of our brains that makes us act violently.

Aggression versus anger:

Despite popular belief, aggression can occur without any feelings of anger. Violence (even murder) can occur for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with feeling angry. A prizefighter aims to hit another fighter without feeling angry.

Soldiers in the military train to kill other human beings, but they may experience guilt and sorrow more often than anger.

You can feel angry without acting that anger out in violent ways. In fact, experts say that anger feelings seem to be followed by aggressive behavior only about 10 percent of the time.

Aggressive behavior is one among many choices you can make when you experience anger. You can learn to make other choices.

Myth 2: Frustration always leads to aggression

The idea that frustration leads to aggression was made by the famous Sigmund Freud, who believed that individuals are born with an innate aggressive instinct.

How to handle your anger?

  • Sigmund Freud also thought that blocking the instinct for aggression only leads to it being redirected somewhere else.
  • So, when you perceive whatever makes you angry as being too risky to attack (your boss, for example), you redirect your anger toward someone or something else that is less risky or threatening.
  • You may redirect your aggression toward your boss by picking a fight with one of your coworkers, yelling at your kids, smashing something, or even kicking your dog.

This idea that frustration leads to aggression received quite a bit of research support back in the 1950s and 60s, but we now know that aggression is not the only behavior that can follow frustration and hurt.

For instance, many Tibetan people were suddenly displaced from their homeland after the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1952. Most of these people now live in exile.

Yet, despite the hardship they’ve endured, the Tibetans have refrained from taking any aggressive action toward the Chinese. In fact, their leaders shun violence and consistently encourage their people to practice nonviolence and compassionate understanding.

Different ways in responding to frustration:

You will find that people respond in a variety of different ways to frustration.

  • Some people will curse, hit, or kick something after losing money in a vending machine.
  • Others will write down the name and address of the vending machine and request a refund by mail.
  • Many more people will simply shrug their shoulders and walk away.

Despite new evidence that shows this myth is false, the persistence of believing that frustration leads to aggression is surprising. An unfortunate consequence of this misperception is that people use it to explain and excuse the anger they express when they don’t get what they want.

Frustration is far too often seen as a direct route to provoking anger and aggression, and anger is rationalized as an automatic and natural response.

Many people assume that anger is the only possible way to respond when things go wrong and they feel frustrated. This myth leads people to buy into the idea that they have no choice about how they respond.

The truth is that there are always choices; anger is only one of several possible responses to frustration. This article will show you a whole new range of choices and ways to respond when you feel anger and experience frustration.

Myth 3: Venting your anger is healthy

Anger ManagementThe idea that venting anger to let off steam is necessary and helpful has become a part of popular culture.

It originates from misunderstood statements by Sigmund Freud.

How to overcome from frustration?

The myth is that frustration can build up over time; that it must be released one way or the other.

  • Bottled-up, unexpressed anger supposedly festers in your mind and body, creating both physical and emotional disease and poisoning relationships in all areas of life.
  • The presumed basic cure is to express your anger by letting it all out; to cleanse and purify your body and mind. This cleansing is supposed to clear the air, resulting in healthier and happier communication with the people around you, giving you a good clean feeling, and increasing your self-esteem.

Through many years of research, the venting idea has been put to rest. Blowing off steam is not beneficial. Carol Tavris, a well-known anger researcher, found that people who are most likely to vent their rage actually get more, rather than less angry when they do.

And those at the receiving end of anger outbursts get angry too. You may have noticed this with yourself in your interactions with colleagues, with friends, or perhaps with your partner or children at home.

It all starts with some trigger event [Anger Triggers], which is followed by an angry outburst, shouting, screaming, or crying; a climax that include physical violence; exhaustion and finally withdrawal and/or eventually an apology.

Have you noticed how this cycle can be replayed over and over with no decrease in your overall level of anger?

When anger is let out, it is typically met with anger right back. Negative energy breeds more negative energy. Behavior such as yelling or even talking out an emotion doesn’t reduce anger feelings.

Numerous studies have shown that venting anger typically serves to “freeze” a hostile attitude or opinion. Venting does not make hostile feelings go away; instead they tend to stick around longer and haunt you.

The bottom line is that venting is really useless. Expressing anger does not reduce anger. Instead it just makes you even angrier.

Venting feeds an angry attitude and state of mind, escalates anger and aggression, and does nothing to help you or the recipient of your anger to resolve the situation.

Sometimes people do feel relieved after they vent their anger, yet several studies have found that such relief is not a natural consequence of anger, but rather a learned reaction.

Some people have learned to feel relief following expression of anger, just as other people learn to feel shame or increased compassion after venting. You can learn new responses and change how you respond to your anger feelings.

Your response to anger feelings with anger actions becomes a choice rather than a certainty. Acting on anger is not natural or something you need to keep doing.

Myth 4: Anger is always beneficial

  • Because it triggers a surge of adrenaline, anger can mobilize you to defend yourself or escape when you are physically threatened or attacked. This is called the fight-or-flight response.
  • Anger can help you set appropriate limits and overcome any fear you may have about asserting your needs.
  • Anger is also a common middle step in the healing process following sexual or physical abuse.
  • Anger is only beneficial when it serves as a warning signal that something is wrong.
  • It can increase your sense of control and most importantly prepare you for action.
  • This type of anger involves situations in which people have clearly been hurt or are at risk of being harmed. Anger in these circumstances isn’t fueled by general hostility. Instead, it is an appropriate reaction to a real threat or danger.

Situations in which anger is not helpful:

In some tough situations, anger isn’t helpful when the abused person is unable to let go of it. Consuming anger can actually leave you stuck and unable to move beyond your pain. [Fear – Main Cause of Anger]

Fear is an appropriate emotion upon seeing an approaching gang of hoodlums while walking alone on a city street at night. When the danger passes, so does the fear.

Constructive anger can function much the same way. But when anger spills over into other life situations where it is uncalled for, it can become a problem for you.

Take a moment to think about how often your anger occurs in response to situations that have little or no chance of causing you physical injury or risk of death.

Most harmful form of anger:

  • Anger fueled by hostility is anger in its most harmful form. Hostility or cynical anger is a state of mind of ill will fueled by strong judgments about yourself and other people.
  • This type of cynical or hostile anger, let alone hatred, is never useful or helpful. It can easily lead to aggressive behavior, verbal or otherwise.
  • Hostile anger damages areas of your life you care about; harming other people at the same time it harms you.

Myth 5: A person’s anger is caused by others

Anger experts say that they consistently notice that angry clients come into therapy with one or more reasons to explain and justify why they are so angry.

Though the stories may differ, the message is the same: “My anger is caused by someone else or something else. I’m not to blame.”

When you’re in pain, it’s logical to ask yourself, “Who did this to me; who’s responsible?”

As soon as you decide that someone else is responsible for your hurt or physical tension, the focus shifts from you to them. You can then feel justified in releasing your pain and hurt with anger directed toward those you believe to be responsible for it.

Anger is triggered by people and events outside your control. However, how you react to your anger thoughts and feelings is up to you.

By shifting the blame to others, you rob yourself of the opportunity to make changes in your behavior – and you keep yourself stuck in a cycle of anger behavior triggered by anger feelings.

Posted in: Anger Management

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  1. J.Wells says:

    Ego and pride have a lot to do with anger. The more personal we take the comments or actions of someone else, the more likely we are to feel offended. On the other hand, when we avoid taking things personally we are in a better position to help or encourage others.

  2. whaffle says:

    The notion of justification and social acceptability
    plays a large part in this sort of thing.
    Ever seen an angry person? They run as if possessed
    to do what their anger bids them.

  3. paulo says:

    Why isn’t there an author listed? I’m pretty sure I read this before in the intro to a book my dad had.

  4. Hi Pailo,

    You can find the list of our authors in the right menu…

  5. HB says:

    Anger comes from comments that a person says which may pertain to another person which makes them angry. Anger comes form low self-esteem and insecurity.. Anger can also come from a cause where one may want to retaliate

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