Anger management and worrying about losing their temper is a reason clients regularly come to see us for hypnotherapy to get help. Seeking help is a significant mindset shift and the one that has to happen before anyone can even start to get it under control and it is the shift from blaming others to taking responsibility for it.
Of course, some people do only seek help because they have been cornered into it by a partner, family or friends, in which case, unless they open their mind, they won’t change because they quietly continue to believe it is something or someone else’s fault and you can’t change or control someone else, you can only change how you deal with things.
Changing how you are deal with things is the key to changing how you react, so why do you get angry?
You can probably list the things which make you angry, but we’re going to take a look at it from the brain’s point of view because it is not about people and things, it is what you are doing to yourself to create the anger – understanding this is fundamental in taking control of your anger.
Anger is a primitive opt out clause, It comes from the part of our brain responsible the fight flight response and is a way of increasing our strength so we can fend off wild animals and other wild tribesmen.
You’ve probably heard, just as I have, the reports of incredible feats of strength in the face of adversity and danger; you may also have seen strong man competitions where the competitor shouts angrily just before lifting an impossible weight. So anger, has its place as a way of increasing strength, but in most situations is inappropriately applied in our everyday lives. Unless you are getting into a physical fight of some sort you don’t need that increased strength, it is so much better, If you’re going to have an argument, to argue from your intellectual brain and not your angry brain.
As humans we have our conscious brain, the bit we use to interact with people and the world in general and our intellectual brain, something uniquely human and will always come up with the solution based on a proper assessment of the situation and is generally very positive. When we work off the intellectual part of our brain we generally get things right in life, we are happy, calm, in control, approachable and generally in the moment getting on with life.
But we also have another part of our brain and this part is the primitive part. The central or influential part of this brain is the amygdala, the part we refer to as the fight/flight part of our brain and is associated with two other primitive parts; the hippocampus which holds our primitive and sometimes inappropriate behaviour patterns and the hypothalamus which regulates the chemical responses in our body and mind.
So to put this in a bit of context if you were to go outside now a bump into a Polar Bear, you would move from the intellectual part of your brain, to the primitive part; your heart rate would go up, you would get all sweaty and you’d be off like a shot. For polar bears this would be appropriate, but if you were confronted and cornered by an angry neighbour and not a Polar Bear, you may well have to deal with confrontation and not run away and for some people this is when they still lose intellectual control but instead of running away their fight or flight engages and they react with anger.
Losing intellectual control is appropriate when faced with danger but the same thing tends to happen in life as our anxiety levels go up; we start to lose intellectual control and, to a greater and lesser extent, this primitive brain steps in and reacts with anxiety, depression or anger.
So what causes us to lose this intellectual control? Well, it’s not events in our lives, if it was every student at University would be having panic attacks, and it’s not other people because not all call centre employees have restraining orders, but it is the way we think about things. The primitive brain is very negative brain and it will negatively forecast the future and it will also hijack our imagination and use that imagination to decide how other people think or why they are behaving the way they do. The reality is that we have no idea what’s in other peoples minds, but we seem to think we do, we judge them from our own perspective, make up what they’re thinking and why and then get angry at them when actually it has all come from our own imagination.
The brain doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality so when we are thinking in a negative way our brain believes us but interprets the feelings we create as crisis, danger or emergency, anxiety levels go up, we lose intellectual control and the primitive brain steps in reacting with anxiety, depression or anger.
When the primitive brain does step in, it takes precedence and behaves in particular ways: –
- It will look at the worst possible scenario
- It will obsess
- It won’t be able to forget
- It keeps repeating the same patterns of behaviour
- It is not an intellect so it can’t work out what to do about it all it can do is refer to what ever you did last time and if you survived, you’ll be encouraged to do the same thing again
- It is not rational, how it thinks or behaves doesn’t have to make any sense
- It tends to think in all or nothing extremes, global thinking. It comes from a time of eat or be eaten, kill or be killed so there’s no half measures.
- It will apply everything to you; it is very self-centred so your primitive brain will assume something somebody has said is about you it will take everything as happening to you.
- It is also paranoid. In primitive times other while tribesman would have been a threat, so the primitive brain can become paranoid about other people and their intentions.
So you can see that reacting angrily from your primitive brain is neither helpful or appropriate, but as your anxiety levels rise you often have little choice – this is not an excuse, but does explain why you sometimes see ‘red’ then wonder afterwards why you reacted in that way.
The secret then is to make sure you are working from your intellectual brain and not the primitive brain and you’re not doing so much negative thinking that the primitive brain is in precedence much of the time.
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