How to make sense of your anger?

In recovery from an anger problem, there are hardships encountered and inevitable setbacks experienced. The reward for hanging through the rough times is the expansion of emotional freedom that prepares an angry person for full human expression.

Anger deserves lots of Self Love! In part one of this Biweekly series, my hope is to shed some light on the nature of underlying mechanisms and emotional experiences that produce and maintain anger in a person. Shame and other primary emotions will be briefly presented. In part two, we learn how anger is sustained in our own psychology as well as in relationships. In part three, I will provide the Biweekly readers with a step-by-step inner-work guide towards healing shame and resolving anger.   

Anger, similar to fear, is generated in the emotional processing center of brain, known as the limbic system. This is the primitive part of a more advanced nervous system, known as the neo-cortex. When balanced, together they enable us for advanced rational processing of diverse emotional experiences and be at ease with ourselves. When imbalanced, well, anger becomes a forceful desire for discharge as the limbic system undercuts our access to brain’s more advanced neo-cortex. The outcome disrupts our emotional regulation, accurate judgment and consequential thinking.

To understand anger, therefore, it becomes important to know what primary emotion is behind it that is being avoided, neglected, or defended against. Then in two weeks, we focus on specifically changing our thinking about emotional experiences and the ways in which we label ourselves and others while evaluating and judging them.

Step One:

Read each case below and see for yourself how much space for acceptance and openness you can hold in with honor for each of these primary emotions existing beneath your anger. No matter how painful they are, they are real signals that deserve your loving attention – and not blaming rejection.  


Consider a scenario wherein a partner, knowingly or unknowingly, expresses something that leads to his partner to feel demeaned. Rather that, assertively sharing her hurt feelings which would mean risking to make herself more vulnerable to him, she may react instead by forgetting to iron his shirt that he needs before his important meeting the morning after – she has found something to attack him with.


A fuel for lowering or diminishing self-compassion, shame is the central emotion that is distorted when anger is staged at the front. While guilt is when we have done something wrong, shame is when we are something wrong. In high intensity, we hear us say “I hate myself”. Surveys on shame directed at self also confirm that we feel a lot of shame after having been angry. Anger directed at their children has even loving parents report honest feelings of being ashamed of themselves.     


Anxiety is a physiological response to perceived stress that is the opposite of relaxation states. It can be a normal and even adaptive part of life – studying for your finals is surely anxiety-provoking which also motivates you – though its excessive presence might mean being in a fight-or-flight state at almost all times. Being excessively uneasy and worried in life is exhausting and can push a person to become angry – in an attempt to reduce excessive frustration experienced internally, we can disown it by projecting it onto an object or person that is available to receive: “I hate this traffic!”   


The sparks of jealousy can ignite fierce anger. Its principle triggers are self-judging beliefs that create false self-image based on feelings of insecurity. The story we tell in our mind shape our beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. The insecurity stems from the false image of being “not good enough” that, in turn, creates self-rejection in mind. The emotional consequence is feeling afraid and insecure. Jealousy and anger then partner up to help us get someone else’s attention and control their behavior. We learn this early life: when we were punished, the punisher had our attention.  


Embarrassment is a self-conscious emotion that happens in relation to other people when they observe you noticing yourself with regret. Such an experience alerts us to our failure to uphold positive evaluations from others as well as ourselves. The social context determines whether we experience embarrassment – being exposed in front of siblings versus strangers. In addition and according to spotlight effect, we tend to overestimate how much others are preoccupied with our fault or mistake. Such skewed perception may lead us to interpret their behavior as mockery and travesty, leading to feelings of anger directed at the observers.


Suppose you are impatiently waiting behind the closed doors wherein a vital surgery is being operated on a loved one. Next things happens, you are not given an answer and feel ignored by the nurse who has just come through the door. How do you feel towards her as her behavior makes her appear not care about you worrying about your loved one inside?   


A way in which sadness is experienced is through the emotional reaction to an outcome that does not match up to expectations. Disappointment is the recognition that you didn’t get, don’t have, or will never achieve what you expected. It becomes easier to protest with anger than to experience the sadness about the course of events. Anger based on disappointment allows us to continue idealizing what could have been, but pushes us away from taking personal responsibility or acceptance of the outcome. This emphasis sets us up to anticipate more letdowns in future.    


Similar to shame, guilt is stimulated by the belief that there is something wrong with us; that we have done wrong, and we should have done differently. After a while, we get tired of feeling guilty so we change the focus to finding faults in others. In doing so, we get angry. Adrenaline starts to rush in our veins and we feel alive and vibrant again. It can convince us that we are in deep connection with life, where in fact we are not even connected with our needs. To our own detriment, the risk of disconnection from what we actually need engenders thoughts and actions that serve nobody.


You might have heard the saying “frustration begets anger and anger begets aggression”. Both direct and indirect anger proceed if the feelings of frustration are not tolerated and addressed in healthy ways. Direct aggression is the expression of anger towards the object identified as the source of frustration. Indirect anger resulting from frustration occurs when the object of frustration is too powerful or threatening, leading to displacement: the boss is annoying but too threatening to get angry with; the employee nods in agreement but comes home to kick the dog that has pissed in the living room.


Fear paves the way for anger for it evaluates a situation to have a high likelihood of negative outcome. So when noticing anger coming up for you, it’s helpful to ask yourself “what am I afraid of? An employer who gets angry with his employee might be afraid of his company poor performance. Similarly, shouting at a driver who seems to neglect your presence on the road might stem from being afraid that your car might get damage.


A full expression of sadness allows us to pay authentic tribute to the missing parts of our lives. We miss the chance of accessing the significance of the lost parts by not feeling our sadness. We inquire into the lost value or missing quality when we grant permission to ourselves to kindly and curiously, contain our sadness. This is difficult work as we repel anything unpleasant but it’s the way to reengage in life after loss. Suppressed sadness turns anger inward and against self – a recipe for depression and passive aggression.

So, the next time you notice feelings and sensation of anger you might want to ask yourself:

“What’s behind it?”

I will be back in a couple of weeks! 

Dr. Hessam