The Times Live Q & A on Anger
Florence Terry was on the panel of experts answering readers’ questions about anger.
Ask the experts: how to make anger work for you
Your questions about its problems and possibilities answered by the experts in a live Q&A today
To turn on the news, you would be forgiven for thinking that we live in an age of anger. Whether it’s over migration or climate change, Brexit or Black Lives Matter, anger seems to have become the norm.
Yet how we view anger depends on who expresses it. Studies show women who get angry are seen as overemotional and less competent. Interestingly, both genders disapprove of angry women at work. White men have more leeway to express anger.
However, men are also more likely than women to express their anger violently, through verbal attacks or physically assaulting objects.
But anger is not the same as aggression or violence. Expressed healthily, anger is a reasonable response to an insult or injustice. It is a tool that can inspire, enlighten and prompt change.
So how can we use anger productively in our own lives?
We’ve invited a panel of experts to join us for a live Q&A to answer your questions about anger today from 1-3pm BST. To submit a question in advance, please post it in the comments below.
Below are the edited questions and those answered by Florence. For the full transcript of all questions asked and all the answers given by each of the experts please go to the Times website where you can subscribe to view the full Q & A.
How can I control my anger about the multiple lies and deceits of our government and the fact they have set our country back decades, alienating our allies, weakening the U.K. and limiting the life chances of our children? Particularly when our democratic system is broken and now controlled on both sides of the political spectrum by ideological fanatics with no pragmatism leaving the sensible majority in the U.K. politically homeless. Before answering please bear in mind Edmund Burke’s quote – “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I’m not interested in ignoring the problem as a solution. Yours, Angry Man.
I can see that your question has struck a chord with a lot of people. For me, there is a huge difference between out-of-control anger and ignoring a problem. I consider anger as useful information – that there is something we want to change. We are not in a good place to take decisions about what to do to try and bring about change when we are furious: in all but a life-threatening emergency situation, if we “act out” our anger – being aggressive without giving a thought for the consequences – we give away our power. However, if we take the time to calm down, we can then “think straight” and be in a position to use reasoning and logic to decide on action and implement it.
How do you cope when righteous indignation turns to frustration and in turn to an anger that has nowhere to go because you are powerless to affect the situation?
Hi Simon, I am an atheist, but I like the thinking behind the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I see it as tying in with Jane Frost’s comment, below, when she talked about the stages of grieving. “Anger is one of those stages. Eventually acceptance follows and we put our energies into something new. But the grieving tunnel is hard.” I have heard it called an emotional injury and, like a physical injury, there are things we can do which help. One thing which can help is to share our pain with people who understand and care about us.
Is it normal to hardly ever feel anger? I mean, maybe once every few years? I’ve looked at the Thesaurus to see whether I am just calling it something else but the nearest synonyms I can relate to are Frustration, Irritation, Displeasure. Other synonyms such as Fury, Hatred and Rage seem as elusive to me as Anger. I just don’t seem to ‘get it’.
Hi, I see anger as a feeling of differing degrees of intensity, with mild irritation and displeasure at one end of the spectrum and fury and rage at the other. We all have different temperaments and life experiences and therefore have different reactions. If you’re happy with your life and feel broadly contented, it makes sense to me that you wouldn’t “get” rage and fury. If, on the other hand you’re depressed, or dissatisfied etc and don’t know what to do to make yourself happier, it may be that your anger and rage are out of your awareness and you may find talking therapy helpful to get you in touch with your feelings. I hope that helps.
I know one aspect of anger that often gets discussed between my friends is that of their workplace (not The Times!) Sometimes they might feel like they cannot speak up about a situation and then end up making themselves upset or even distressed. Of course, the situation may be exasperated by the lack of mentioning it. Is it better to assertive in that situation?
Hi Kevin, I am a great fan of assertiveness. In my experience, most people are reasonable and will listen to us if we approach them in the right way. Often, we don’t need things to go our way, but to have been heard. On the other hand, if we aren’t assertive, the strength of our feelings tends to increase, which makes it less likely that the conversation will go well if and when we do raise it. This is the vicious cycle Giray Cordan referred to in one of his comments below. Maybe you could offer them to role play the assertive conversation with you as preparation? What we think we “can’t” do can seem more possible if we have practiced it beforehand.
Mrs Mary Giles:
What techniques can I use to switch my anger off, particularly when I’m trying to sleep? Often going for a jog and having a bath just does not cut it!
As you obviously know, exercise (providing it’s not within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime) and having a bath before bed are both recommended for healthy sleep. It’s also important to spend time unwinding before bed. I’d recommend making a practice of having something soothing and enjoyable to look forward to every evening before your bath. I’d also recommend using Mindfulness apps: redirecting our thoughts from the subject of our anger is easier said than done, but we can get better with practice. Engaging with our thinking in the middle of the night is unlikely to be helpful. You might also want to experiment with spending, say, 15-30 minutes writing about what you’re angry about – to get it down on paper and out of your head – as the start of your bedtime routine. (I see from HFJ’s post that they find this – “journaling” – helpful.)
I am an ex professional sportsman and now work in commercial sport. I have read a lot around the connection between the limbic system and Pre-frontal cortex as described in Steve Peters ‘Chimp Paradox’. It has helped me in performance terms and generally in my professional life. I’m interested to know how you describe the difference between emotional and rational anger and how best to control or channel the former perhaps into the latter. Is this well enough taught in schools at an early enough age so that children can learn to understand the difference?
Hi Angus, I like Prof Steve Peters’ “Chimp Paradox” model. I frequently recommend his book to people. I share your view that it is important for children to learn how to understand, manage and respond to their emotions. Ideally, they will learn from parents who have already done the learning and model it, and ideally schools will be on the same page. I recommend Prof Steve Peters’ comparatively new book, “My Hidden Chimp” to parents who are familiar with “The Chimp Paradox” and want help teaching their children.
Brown Girl Trauma Londonite:
I use anger release processes like journalling as I’m a firm believer in anger medicine. I’d like to know how I can dial down my anger from within my amygdala. I’m good with olfactory processes that work directly with the amygdala and use therapeutic grade essential oils for this purpose to rebalance my nervous system in times of stress. If you have any other suggestions for working directly with my physiological and biological impulses to reduce emotional arousability before it becomes angry emotion I’d really like to know. Thank you
I like Giray Cordan’s response. I’d like to add that Angus Buchanan’s post refers to Prof Steve Peters’ book ‘The Chimp Paradox”. I don’t know if you’ve read it. It is a book I particularly like and has useful chapters on how to “dial down” our automatic responses from our amygdala. Working with a therapist who specialises in trauma is something I’d also recommend if you consider your reactions are excessive.