Sure, you just blew up at your spouse, but it will blow over, right?
Not so fast.
People who are prone to angry outbursts tend to rationalize that no lasting harm is done, and all will be forgotten tomorrow. They tend to excuse themselves by thinking, “At least we cleared the air” or “They needed to understand how seriously I feel about this” or “It was for their own good.”
But that reasoning rings hollow to the target of your anger. The harm of explosive anger can last for years or decades:
- Anger hurts others. Most often, angry outbursts create in the recipient great amounts of hurt, fear and shame. While some adults may be able to diminish the effects through filtering and putting things in perspective, children and adult victims of trauma can easily be overwhelmed by devastating emotions. Your outbursts are creating (or recreating) trauma pathways in the brain that can last for a lifetime. This pattern can create Is your temporary annoyance really worth doing that to another human?
- Anger diminishes your reputation. People can’t trust you to handle stress without an explosion. Their admiration for you plummets. Instead of a person in control, you are a “hothead” unworthy of respect.
- Anger can generate addictions. Family members (especially children) who experience adverse events like a habitually angry or abusive parent are many times more likely to become a drug or alcohol abuser later in life. When a person is overwhelmed with powerful negative emotions, and feels helpless to stop them, they will often “self-medicate” the pain away. Drugs and alcohol do the job – for awhile. But a lifetime of devastation can result.
- Anger can damage your health. Including heart health, type 2 Diabetes, bulimia and traffic accidents.
- Anger can kill your career. Underlings won’t stay for the abuse and may sabotage you. Colleagues won’t want to collaborate and you will be isolated.
- Anger can ruin your marriage. Unfortunately, many people take out their frustrations at home, but this can destroy a marriage. Even when you feel justified in your “righteous wrath” the results are the same.
- Anger begets more anger. Often, the target of our anger becomes angry, too. This fact can create a cycle of escalating anger with devastating results including prison time.
- Anger becomes generational. Your family members notice how you use anger to “get what you want” and may adopt the same tactics in their own life. Your example perpetuates generations of angry, wounded family members.
- Anger masks the underlying problem. In my experience, anger is most often a mask for other, more painful emotions like hurt, fear, unworthiness, loneliness and shame. While those tender emotions make us feel vulnerable and weak, we often shield ourselves with a veneer of anger that appears powerful. Because anger cloaks the REAL underlying emotions, we simply can’t solve the underlying issue because we remain unaware of the underlying issue.
One of my clients was an extremely angry man who had served prison time for assault and road rage. Everything about his exterior connoted an angry, defensive male. He had been fighting almost everyone and everybody with devastating results since he was a teen. A number of missing teeth testified to his beat-downs. He had never been able to maintain a romantic partnership. His children were hostile and distant. He survived on a series of temporary menial jobs even though he was a fiercely hard worker in the construction trades. He had abused alcohol and drugs since adolescence. He had a rap sheet for violent offenses.
As time went by, he began to trust our relationship. He gradually allowed himself to become a little vulnerable as we searched for the past trauma that often underlies such dramatic anger. Then, one session, he said with tears welling in his eyes, “I’ve never told anyone this, but. . . when I was five years old, my father raped me in a bar.”
And his coping method was to promise himself that when he was in a position of power, that nobody would ill-use him, ever again. In significant ways, his anger ensured he would not feel powerless and abused like he felt as a sweet, little 5-year old little boy at the hands of his drunken father.
When we were able to unmask the source of his pain, we were able to do some significant work around that trauma. Finally, he was able to stop using anger as defensive armor, peel it away and start to heal the childhood wounds that had been festering below the surface.
So, the downsides to anger are serious. If you find that you are experiencing anger and hostility on a regular basis, you may want to get some professional support to overcome that damaging pattern. The first step is to be honest with yourself about anger’s hidden costs.