Chronic and addictive anger is no laughing matter, even if it does seem to make you feel more in control of your environment for a short time. The operative word is “seem” because although it may feel like you’re experiencing something positive, it’s fake. We will get into greater detail further down, but first, it’s important to cover the mechanics of anger and how the brain processes this emotion, particularly when it’s developed to the point of an addictive rage.
What Does Your Brain Do with Anger?
During any given day we are bound to experience many emotions; some positive, some negative. Your brain is a very fine-tuned instrument and offers a boost of dopamine, the happy chemical, when it determines something should be repeated. Without getting into a deep chemistry lesson, you are basically tricked into thinking you want more of whatever caused the dopamine spike.
Picture an adrenaline junkie. Someone who loves the thrill of skydiving or bungee jumping, doing something risky or dangerous. They get a shot straight to the head of dopamine, and it makes them feel good! It’s a high. A rush. And it’s highly addictive.
Chronic anger is no different than any other dopamine-inducing event. The thing we need to remember is that anger is a secondary emotion. There is always an underlying causative emotion, but when anger and rage turn into an addiction, we aren’t even the slightest bit interested in understanding where the anger is actually coming from.
We want the release! We want the anger to make us feel good again!
Why Anger Makes Some People Happy
Anger requires action to invoke any additional emotions, including the illusion of happiness. If you think you might be battling with anger addiction, you’ve probably experienced one (or all) of the following:
Control Feels Good
Very often what angers us is the feeling of loss of control. We feel we’ve been wronged or offended or lost control of the situation. Then anger shows up and we feel powerful, and even happy, when we manage to regain control. It’s not really control we’ve retrieved though; it’s power. We feel powerful when we hurt feelings or insult the wrongdoer. Sometimes it goes as far as physically assaulting the other party. If you win, you then feel like the bigger person, and anger got you there.
Angry Outbursts Provide Emotional Relief
When you’re mad, to the point of wanting to break something or scream, but don’t act on it, you become even more irritable and tense from holding everything in. When we allow an outburst of anger to have its way, there’s a sense of relief.
Great tension and pent-up aggression have just left our mind and body – and that feels good. You can’t constantly inhale, right? There has to be an exhale at some point. So instead of rational response, the built-up frustration and anger come flying out in a rage, thus providing emotional relief – and the façade of happiness, or what counts for it.
The Anger “Fix”
Those of us who struggle with anger addiction usually need a fix daily. We need that dopamine rush, the high, or we are an absolute terror to be around. It might be as simple as snapping at a loved one for leaving the toilet seat up or it could be a dangerous road rage episode. Whatever the “fix”, it’s got to happen. When it’s over, we are satisfied and okay. That is, it’s okay until the next time we need that same rush.
How to Manage Anger Addiction
Just like we are all different people with different reactions, we also respond to things differently. Therefore, one treatment might work wonders for one and the same treatment be ineffective for another. The key is, if something doesn’t prove to be helpful, don’t give up! Keep pushing until you’ve found what works for you and your situation. Professional help isn’t always necessary, though in some cases it’s the best and most rapidly effective answer.
The following techniques should at the very least help you understand your chronic and addictive anger and give you better, if not complete, control.
Figure Out the Primary Emotion
Sometimes we mask the primary emotion, such as hurt or sadness, because it makes us feel vulnerable or like we’ve lost control. Try to identify your primary emotion and start to learn to deal with it, rather than letting it fester into full-blown anger.
Is Your Anger Actually Situational?
For instance, you might really be hungry, exhausted or stressed and it is manifesting itself in anger. Other situations might be an unhappy marriage or a job you have grown to despise. Look for other potential culprits for your rage. Sometimes it’s not simply based on the here and now.
When we get to a boiling point, instead of acting on it in the moment, take the time to breathe through it and delay a reaction. Often, you’ll find your initial reaction is disproportionately much more than what the situation might call for and could lead to a much more damaging outcome.
After a few times of holding back for a beat, it becomes easier to bite your tongue. Like any other addiction, this is a habit that can be and needs to be broken. It requires discipline and dedication to overcome, but it’s worth it in the end!