Anger is a paradox. We all, except for saints, feel anger or think angry thoughts some of the time. Anger is a reaction to a perceived injustice or injury; it feels manly and justified. It is so much more satisfying to retaliate than to turn the proverbial other cheek.
When that road maniac buzzes past and cuts in front while I am patiently waiting my turn. I feel like ramming him. I’m angry; I want revenge. Most of us most of the time can inhibit the impulse to act on the wish.
The paradox is that anger while it feels good is radio-active like the A-bomb. The fall-out effects everyone within range. It damages relationships and lasts for years. Think of battered wives (sometimes husbands) and abused children.
I had a coaching client who suffers from post traumatic stress due from violence in his childhood. Americans have coined the term “going postal” to describe outbursts of uncontrollable rage.
According to Dr. John Ratey in “Shadow Syndromes”, the psychiatric establishment recognizes anger as part of many conditions but does not consider it a problem in itself. DSM-III had a category called Intermittent explosive Disorder, but it was removed from DSM-IV because no one used it.
If Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is also present, the combination becomes doubly toxic. Anger is not specifically part of ADHD, but many ADHD traits contribute to trigger a rage event.
Anger starts with a feeling of insult or injury which triggers an impulse to defend oneself aggressively by attacking. When a person has ADHD, his perceptions are frequently faulty because his wandering attention system misses key information and his active mind fills in the blanks according to his personal, often negative, view of the world.
The perceived insult creates shame shutting down the ability to inhibit the explosive reaction. ADHD impulsiveness ignites the bomb frightening weaker adversaries and by-standers or triggering the fight reaction in those who dare to resist leading to real injury. Dr. Hallowell tells of a father and son fighting at 3 am with a baseball bat and hockey stick.
Because anger feels right and appropriate, people who anger have difficulty understanding the problem until they see it. I had a coaching client who finally understood why his wife was threatening to leave him when he saw a video she made of him in one of his moods. His reaction “I had no idea what I was like. I never want to behave like that again.”
Dr. Daniel Amen in “Healing ADD, the 6 Types of ADD” identifies ADHD with Anger as one of his six types called Temporal ADD chronic anger like ADHD starts in the neurology of the brain. Anger as a way of dealing with life can also be learned from the family and the culture.
To avoid traumatizing your loved ones, here are six steps to help you manage anger.
1. Anger is your responsibility. Observe yourself to learn what triggers your anger.
2. When you feel yourself getting angry, walk away. Excuse yourself; just say that you would like to talk about the problem later when you have had time to think. Take a walk or go to the toilet
3. If you are a parent who seems to be angry with your kids much of the time, learn alternative parenting skills. A program called STEP, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting teaches other ways to solve problems. http://www.stepinfo.ch
4. Take an Anger Management program like the 12-Step program or try Yoga and meditation.
5. Therapy, especially behavioral therapy, will help you understand the family and cultural origins of your anger and help you to identify triggers that lead to rage and ways of controlling your reactions.
6. See a doctor who is experienced with ADHD. Drs. Amen, Hallowell, Ratey and Brown all tell about patients with uncontrollable anger who were helped with the proper medication. If ADHD is involved, it also needs to be treated, but a stimulant for ADHD may make the anger worse; different medications are used to control anger.
Bonus: Learn to laugh. Join a laughing club.