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Toxic Anger Part 2

by Dr. Barry Lord, Psy.D

In over 30 years as a counselor, I have witnessed numerous times where marriages and relationships have been undone because of some kind of abuse. Whatever the abuse is called, whether its disagreements about money, in-laws, child-rearing styles, infidelity, domestic violence, or even taking the other person for granted, the main culprit is abuse in some form.

Power vs. Control (Leader vs dictator)

Power is the ability to get someone else to accept your definition of reality as their own. Power cannot be taken, it can only be given. My faculty, staff, clients and students and even my family give me the power to define their reality to the degree that they trust me, and no further. Nor should they. Power views others as valuable persons.

Control means getting someone else to do something they don’t want to do, with the use of force or fear, no matter how slight. Manipulation and abuse are forms of control. Like power, control can only be given, it cannot be taken. Control sees others as objects to be manipulated.

Power and control are on a continuum. The more you receive power the less you need control techniques (force and fear). The more you use control techniques of force or fear, the less power you have been given in that particular relationship.

Control has short term duration in its affect.
Power has long term duration in its effect on others.

Dr. Lord

Because all anger is used to control, being angry is not necessarily right or wrong, rather it just exists. A better question might be to ask, what does my anger get me. This requires the person to become self-aware of what is going on in their thinking vs. feelings; to be aware of the purpose or motivation for the anger. A lack of awareness of one’s emotions is like riding a wild horse without having reins to direct where you want the horse to go.

Anger is an emotion; a major driver of choices and behaviors. The brain center where we find this emotion is the Amygdala in the limbic system. Actually the word Amygdala means almond because it’s about the size and shape of an almond.

Keep in mind that emotions don’t just happen. First, is an activating event; then we think about it by using self-talk; then we evaluate it in the (Schema) found in the Anterior Cingulate area of the brain (this is where awareness needs to begin); then we emote feeling (emotions) (Amygdala) then depending on the intensity of the emotion; store the memory for future reference; then we make a (sometimes rudimentary choice from the Hippocampus, or horse monster); depending on our degree of awareness, we choose a behavior (a habit) that has consequences such as ruining a relationship or getting us put into jail.

Interesting tidbit: Researchers who examine the relationship between the Amygdala and the intellectual thinking part of the brain’s neocortex have found that whenever the person is actively problem solving, the Amygdala shows colder (less blood flow). However, when the person is angry, the MRI shows more blood flow in the amygdala and less blood in the problem-solving part of the neocortex.

Stress occurs when the Amygdala is activated. Said another way, stress is the activation of the Amygdala. Toxic Anger is anger aimed at a person and is wear and tear on the body. When anger happens, depending on the intensity and duration of the emotion, it does several things:

First, it dissociates from the thinking or higher functioning portion of the neocortex and less blood flows in the direction of the neocortex.

Next, it seeks memories of possibilities from the Hippocampus where short term memories are stored for possible rudimentary choices. Remember this is not the highly refined section of the brain. It’s like thumbing through a rolodex of memories to find a possible solution. Even a second-rate solution will do. Whatever works. It could become the worst choice for a behavior. But that’s what you will do. Time elapsed 1/16th of a second.

In the meanwhile, the Amygdala will activate the sympathetic nervous system by way of the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and then the endocrine system. All of this to get you ready for fight or flight.

Unhealthy styles of expressing and managing anger

  • Toxic anger’s effect on your heart health is greater when expressing an angry outburst towards people.
  • “In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles,” According to Dr. Chris Aiken, M.D. a professor of Medicine and instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Fernandez and Ephrem. 2018)
  • Contrary to unhealthy episodes of angry outbursts is a different kind of toxic anger. It is when you hold anger in for long periods of time. Whether you turn it inward (Stuff your angry feeling) or blow up in a fit of rage, this can wreak havoc on your body.

A basic law of psychology is “that which we suppress, that which we push down, that which we push away out of our consciousness, we magnify.”

Dr. Lord

Here are a few examples of toxic anger

Physical Aggression happens when anger is expressed in physical behaviors towards another person. It can also include the destruction of property. It becomes a need to control others.

  • Domestic violence, fistfights, aggressive driving, and road rage are types of destructive behaviors, although relatively infrequent for most people, because of their potential frightening, harmful or deadly consequences.
  • Aggressive behaviors can also generate a response from law enforcement or child or adult protective service professionals.

Abusive verbal behaviors include temper tantrums, terrorist threats, cursing, bullying, intimidation, and browbeating. Again, all of these behaviors are methods to control others using force or creating fear. If it has worked in the past, you will probably do it again.

These are much more common. They can result in divorce, in a civil lawsuit or in the case of terroristic threats become criminal. These kinds of behaviors may require an official inquiry by management or HR professionals, including required “anger management in the workplace” training.

Repressed anger, by contrast, includes people who are too afraid to assert themselves and who may repress their angry feelings rather than think realistically about what they need to do to assert themselves in a healthy way.

  • This repressed anger can build up and erupt against others or themselves at a later time.
  • Anger turned inward is a defensive strategy in which one punishes oneself.
  • People use repressed anger as a way to avoid directing their anger at someone else.
  • In many cases as the person is unable to express their healthy anger, they are left with feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Depression is a likely outcome in any case.
  • In this scenario, self-harm may become an acting out result.

Resentment is anger on a low boil.

  • It can lead to blaming, hatred, loathing and enduring resentment.
  • Chronic resentment primes the way for passive-aggressive behavior, acting-out, and rage reactions.
  • It also consumes one’s psyche and damages health.

Passive-aggressive behaviors include a form of sarcasm and purposeful neglect expressed in a cold manner toward significant others.

  • Those who employ a passive-aggressive coping strategy toward others can often avoid direct confrontations.
  • Passive aggression is a form of covert yet active hostility toward another.
  • Unintentional or surreptitious kinds of physical or verbal abuse impose damage by providing deniability or shielding that gives cover for the aggressor.

Condemnation means to disparage someone in order to elevate one’s self.

  • The goal may be to make one self-feel better or to control or damage others. The harsh criticism of righteous anger can mask malicious intentions towards the person who is being blamed while holding oneself blameless.

Retaliation is a very common anger dynamic, especially in families and other close relationships.

  • Retaliatory or payback anger is an angry reaction or response towards a person who is perceived as directing something hurtful towards oneself.
  • It is as if the target of our anger had poured something toxic into our bucket (for no valid reason that we can see).
  • To feel better, we must “get even.” So, we pour the toxic feeling back into their bucket.
  • Retaliatory anger may be automatic and/or intentional. In either case, it tends to lead to a reciprocal payback cycle that keeps the problem going.
  • Escalation can make the dynamics of reciprocal anger much worse and create an emotional vendetta. Remember the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Obsession; Can involve paranoia, fears, jealousy, envy, as well as habitual fears of betrayal, rejection, or imagined humiliation.

  • An angry obsession can ruin a person’s feelings of self-worth and obsessive worry creates a ruminative hostility.
  • Ruminating anger can set the stage for periodic angry outbursts, rage reactions, and health problems.

Note: Anger problems are a matter of their degree, duration, and consequences and serve a purpose. In any case, it is much easier to address a current or potential anger issue when we can identify and describe it clearly. This requires awareness and purpose.

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https://waterfallmagazine.com June 3, 2020 - 5:12 pm

Hi there, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one
and i was just wondering if you get a lot of
spam responses? If so how do you protect against it, any
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Dr. Barry Lord, Psy.D June 14, 2020 - 6:49 pm

When someone responds, You should be able to see a spam button when you put your icon on their comment.

We also have a magazine publication called Health and Weakness and Living Well. We have about 250K readers in the Lexington KY area. Feel free to email me. [email protected]
Dr. Barry Lord


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