Anger, often connoted as ‘the fire within’, idyllically symbolises the POWER of the emotion – It can have tremendous impact on others, and create huge changes on the outside environment - like no other emotion can! It is therefore not surprising that the cost of Anger in the workplace is estimated to be Billions of Dollars.
The emotion has lived with us from prehistoric times, serving as a great survival skill, helping us deal with the threats like ferocious animals. Interestingly, our BRAIN still generates the same amount of ENERGY to deal with the current day’s challenges such as an unrelenting boss, non-subservient co-worker, violated rights, and prejudices etcetera. Sadly, we no longer have the privilege to growl and scare them away! Thus, if not expressed astutely, anger may result in a cacophony of grumpy bosses, unhappy customers, broken relationships and even cost us our Jobs, our businesses, our lives – both personal & professional.
Scary. Right? That’s precisely why people choose to suppress, ignore, deny and defy anger. Often arising from hurt, loss of pride, and causing rage, sadness, guilt, and shame – anger is frequently associated with a lot of negativity. It is because we fail to recognise that the latter are result of “Aggression, Rage, etc.” -an expression or shall we say inappropriate expression of Anger. Anger never kills anyone – it is only what a person does while experiencing anger that creates all the issues.
A research in 1994 by Northwestern National Life Insurance Company found that Violence affects one in four employees. Another research conducted by Chicago-based Safe Workplace Institute in 1993 revealed that anger and violence in the workplace cost businesses $4.2 billion each year. As per a report by Bureau of Justice Statistics (1994), almost 500,000 victims of violent crime in the workplace lose an estimated 1.8 million workdays each year! Another study in 2008 by CPP Inc found that US Employees spend 2.8 hours each week in dealing with conflicts.
As a matter of fact, Anger is a perfectly HEALTHY EMOTION. If you were to classify anger, it paradoxically falls in the same club as love and joy, is no more destructive than sadness or loneliness, and often much less damaging than fear. Being primitive in nature, it is rooted in the limbic brain that triggers the Fight, Flight, Freeze response. It is triggered when one’s sense of self is violated in an important way, and is focused towards the unfair nature of the situation or the person. It is the fight, the cry to get justice!
Anger gives us POWER! Similar to other emotions, anger is accompanied by physiological and biological changes. When one gets angry, heart rate and blood pressure go up along with the levels energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, engendering immense ENERGY! As we all know, as per the First Law of Thermodynamics “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can be converted from one form to another”. To relate further, it is like nuclear energy that can either be used for building a Power Plant Or a nuclear bomb! You can use it to bring about a Revolution or inflict a War!
Problem is not Anger itself: it is the USE, MISUSE, and ABUSE of the ENERGY it generates!
Suppress Anger? Doesn’t Work! Since, energy cannot be destroyed, refusing the power of Anger by denying, ignoring, or suppressing it - is NOT an option! Blocked energy can have severe repercussions. Just as the blocked magma of a molten rock bursts as a volcanic eruption, suppressed anger can take ferociously destructive form and cause severe harm.
Research has shown that emotions are represented in physical forms as peptides, which are found in the brain, in stomach, muscles, glands and all the major organs. Peptides carry messages to every cell of the body thus creating the body-mind link (Dr. Candace Pert, Chief of the Section on Brain Biochemistry, Clinical Neuroscience Branch, at the National Institute of Mental Health).
If strong emotions like anger are suppressed they can block the biological system, causing both physical & psychological disturbances, which may include -heart attack, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, colds, flu and problems with digestion, obesity and eating disorders etc. That is the reason why we feel relieved and light after sharing a bad experience with someone. As the feelings are processed and the peptides move through the system unhindered, they create an energy outlet, contributing to feeling of happiness.
Problem begins when the Old Mammalian Brain takes over…
The story (or history) goes this way: Our old mammalian brain (let us refer to it as Monkey Brain for easy reference) evolved around two hundred million years ago, when small mammals first appeared & the threats were perhaps worse than Dinosaurs. The “old mammalian brain” lies in the Limbic area, and works closely with the brainstem (Reptilian Brain) and the body proper to create not only our basic drives but also our emotions. It helps us evaluate our current situation & gives it a sense of meaning - Is this good or is this bad. We move toward the good and away from the bad. The amygdala, which is the emotional part of the brain, regulates the fight, flight or freeze response. When threatened, it can respond irrationally - and secrete a stream of stress hormones that fills the body before the prefrontal Cortex – i.e. the evolved Homo sapiens Brain, can mediate this reaction.
With the evolution of human beings, the brain expanded greatly, and we became proud owners of ‘prefrontal cortex’, which gives us new capacities to think— imagine, recombine facts and experiences, to create a world of opportunities and possibilities.
The problem begins when the Monkey Brain, bypasses our Human Brain and triggers responses that we later regret.
What happens to IQ in such a state? Any strong emotion, whether- anger, joy, anxiety or disloyalty trips off the amygdala and impairs the prefrontal cortex’s working memory. The power of emotion overpowers rationality. Thus, when we are emotionally upset or stressed we are unable to think straight!
We often associate the two, anger & aggression. It is important to understand the distinction - Anger is an emotion, a feeling. Aggression is an enactment of anger and can be verbal or physical. Under its influence we can feel like a steroid inoculated evil twin whom we may not be able to recognise later on.
The Power lies in using the ENERGY that anger generates, to create the right impact it needs to change the situation!
Empower yourself & create a new YOU! Anger is so powerful that it has the capacity to change other’s behaviour. No other human emotion has the capacity to bend the will of another the way anger can, especially when it turns into aggression.
Below steps will help you tame the tiger emotion, but remember – Old Habits Die Hard – it needs determination and STRONG WILL to rewrite on old scripts!
1. Try to cool down- Use what ever works best for you - focusing on breathing, distracting yourself, music whatever.
2.Understand your bodily reactions to anger – Recollect last few times you got angry. How did your body react? Our Prefrontal Cortex gives us the ability to remember the same emotion and experiences the entire episode all over again! Tabulate those reactions as your trigger responses.
3. Reinterpret the situation – What are you thinking? Is it the best perspective or are you being irrational? Can a new perspective, empower you to use the energy in a more effective way? Reframe it in a way that helps you to restrain yourself from reacting immediately.
Remember – for every action there is a reaction- but the power lies in ‘ability to choose the reaction’ NOT succumbing to the old patterns that never worked!
4. Take appropriate action – Don’t let the energy fade away; suppressing anger can have grave consequences, USE it to empower you to take appropriate action, with suitable preparation at an appropriate time!
Use, Abuse or Manage: What’s your choice?
Needless to mention, Energy gives us Power. Anger is considered the most powerful emotion because it is the only emotion that can bear such an impact on the others that it can actually bring about a change in the person, or the system it is directed towards. Use Thy Energy!