The emotion of anger is a normal and natural human emotion that we all experience. It serves a variety of adaptive functions. From a survival point of view, anger helps signal that there is impending danger, which then triggers psychological and physiological processes related to goal-seeking and/or self-preservation. Anger may also become apparent as a secondary emotion. For example, if an individual feels threatened they may experience a level of fear that is deemed unbearable. The emotion of fear is often accompanied by the perception of not being able to control their environment or self, which leaves the individual feeling vulnerable. This state of vulnerability in an uncontrollable situation or environment then elicits the secondary emotion, anger. Anger is therefore associated with both approach behavior (i.e. goal seeking) and avoidance/escape behavior (i.e. protective response to real or perceived threat-oriented behavior. An individual's ability to appropriately respond to both threatening and goal-related demands from their environment requires awareness, understanding, and the utilization of healthy responses to the subjective experience of anger.
The experience of anger falls on a continuum and ranges from mild irritation to extreme rage, and includes cognitive, subjective, and physiological (biological) factors. Clinical anger is assumed to occur when an individual experiences the emotion anger excessively, which ultimately results in that individual being in a "fight or flight" mode too often. The time and resources one spends on trying to monitor and control the external environment, as well as, one's own internal processes (thoughts, emotions and physical sensations) can eventually lead the individual to act in an aggressive or violent manner towards friends, family, or even strangers.
Clinical anger has many long-term costs, some of the costs associated with clinical anger include:
- Personal health problems (i.e. cardiovascular disease)
- Significant interpersonal problems (i.e. poor relationships with family/friends, trouble maintaining gainful employment)
- Societal costs (i.e. judicial, correctional, public health outcomes)
If you or someone you know is suffering from clinical anger, please contact Dr. Smyth. Dr. Smyth specializes in the assessment and delivery of an evidence-based treatment, Contextual Anger Regulation Therapy, for individuals suffering from clinical anger related problems.
Source: Gardner, F. L., & Moore, Z. E. (2014). Contextual anger regulation therapy: a mindfulness and acceptance-based approach. London: Routledge.
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