Causes of Anger and Aggression

Anger is an emotion we all feel. When things do not go our way, it stirs anger in us and we react to people, situations and events in an angry manner. Writer has covered this topic in detail in some other blog posts. Here, I will highlight the factors that can provoke us to be angry.

Anger has been studied by many researchers. According to Dr.  Ronald Potter- Efron, there are following factors that can give rise to an angry brain:

1. Frustration

2. Excessive stress overtime

3. Physical and Emotional Trauma

4. Alcohol and drug abuse

5. Excessive harmone release

6. Problems with neurotransmitters

7. Genetic personality factors that promote anger

8. Families and culture that promote anger and aggression

9. Brain malfunctions

Let’s look at frustration first. In our every day situations we often get frustrated. Little things can make us vulnerable to get frustrated. For example, your children missed the school bus, your appliances do not work, you have to spend money on major repairs in the house, and many more. Some people can deal with these situations in a calm manner but there are some people who react angrily to such situations. When things do not go our way and there is an obstacle, it makes us frustrated. If  our life becomes full of these frustrations, overtime, we learn to become negative and our brain begins to associate these situations with angry feelings. It is important to perceive these situations objectively and with a rational mind to avoid angry reactions.

Similarly if we experience stress repeatedly, the cumulative effect is angry reaction. Stress can affect our health adversely and it weakens our immune system too. As a result, we become prone to diseases like ulcers, cardiovascular problems, asthma, hypertension, and GI problems. Writer has covered this issue in another blog post on this website namely, “How thoughts Affect Mind and Body”. Examples of long term stress can be unemployment, serious medical conditions, marital problems, financial problems and legal problems. Under stress, there is an excessive release  of cortisol and adrenalin , which triggers the “fight or flight ” response. Excessive stress overtime can make a person angry and resentful. People become very reactive and have difficulty concentrating. Mindfulness exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation help in reducing the intensity of anger and aggression

Another factor that adversely affects our health is trauma. When people are subjected to traumatic events like abuse, domestic violence, losses, they become angry and have trust issues too. They are always irritable and little triggers can provoke them emotionally due to having intense memory of the trauma. A part of the brain called hippocampus gets affected with traumatic experiences and it affects the person’s capacity to have a proper perspective of viewing things. Victims of trauma have difficulty maintaining stable relationships, become socially avoidant and withdrawn. They also tend to stop taking care of themselves Additionally, they lack assertiveness and sometimes this kind of  passivity leads to intense anger and aggression. They need professional help for resolution of their trauma issues in order to manage anger adequately.

Alcohol and drug abuse can also alter the physiology of the brain and cause a person to become angry and aggressive. Our judgment is impaired under the influence of alcohol and drugs so we become more impulsive and react angrily to our situations. Drug and alcohol tend to alter our mood by impacting our frontal lobe in the cortex. It is very crucial to get professional help if the person has become dependent on alcohol and drugs to relieve stress. Sobriety is the key to remedy the angry outbursts. There are so many outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation facilities to treat alcoholism and substance abuse disorders and one should take advantage of them versus being in denial and trying to minimize the problem.

Harmonal imbalance can also make a person highly vulnerable to angry reactions. For example, people sufferimg from hypoglycemia can become very irritable, confused and aggressive.  A harmone called Testosterone is often associated with male anger and aggression according to Dr.Potter- Efron.  Also, when women go through menapause, there are lots of harmonal changes that happen in the body and sometimes moods are altered due to these changes in women. Balance of estrogen and progesterone is important for stabilty of mood. However, when this balance is disturbed, the mood is affected and people become more impulsive and act out in anger.

Neurotransmitters also play an important role in causing us to have anger and aggression. Lack of serotonin causes the person to become depressed and anxious. Similarly lack of GABA can cause anxiety and anger. Dopamine and norepinephrine are also associated with anger and aggression. Alcohol and drugs can affect the inhibitory system adversely and cause the person to become aggressive and angry.

Some people are born with personality traits that make them more angry and aggressive. They exhibit low frustration tolerance, are extremely sensitive,  have rigid thinking patterns and are extremely impulsive. For such personalities, little triggers are enough to provoke angry reactions. However, just because the person is born with these personality traits does not mean that they cannot do anything about their anger. They can also learn to become calm, using the cognitive behavioral techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, affirmations, meditation, mindfulness training, cognitive restructuring of dysfunctional thought patterns, and challenging irrational beliefs. Writer has written blog posts on these techniques, as well.

There are also some social factors that make a person more vulnerable to angry reactions. Children raised by abusive parents, overly strict parents who tend to do a lot of shaming, can cause their children to become angry as adults. Verbal and physical abuse can cause them to become very apathetic, angry and aggressive. Children learn from imitation and they begin to adopt the same reaction style that they received from their parents and care givers. Therefore, it is very important for parents to raise their children with adequate and effective parenting techniques without resorting to abuse and violence. There are some cultures who encourage anger, retaliation, and fighting back. Children growing up in these cultural backgrounds tend to be at a higher risk for showing anger excessively and becoming more aggressive.

Another factor that causes anger and aggression is, minimal brain damage. People who have been victims of accident and  injury to brain,  exhibit intense anger and aggression. Brain injury can cause permanent changes in the mood, causing people to become more irritable, and grouchy. Furthermore, it also breeds low frustration tolerance in the victims.

Frontal lobe malfunction is another cause of anger and aggression. It can cause poor impulse control and lack of organization skills. Frontal lobe is responsible for higher level of thinking and when there is malfunction due to alcohol and substance abuse, the ability to think and organize is affected negatively. The impulse control mechanism gets damaged and causes people to react angrily with aggression. Some people with frontal lobe malfunction are diagnosed with ADHD and this affects the impulse control capacity of the person. Stroke or a blow to the brain can also impair the person’s impulse control mechanism.

In this way we see that there are several factors that can affect our mood and make us angry and aggressive. It is crucial to learn impulse control techniques to reduce the intensity and frequency of angry reactions and aggression. Taking time out, retreats, deep breathing exercises can buy time and make you think before you act. There are triggers in our environments that can provoke us to be angry. However,  we have a choice to accept or reject the invitation. By acting out angrily we only destroy our relationships and fail to accomplish what we want in our lives. It is totally counterproductive to act out on anger. Therefore, it is important to know the triggers and have the mental set to accept the adversities and problem solve versus reacting angrily.
Hypnosis can also help reduce anger and aggression by calming techniques and power of suggestions. Please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page to learn how hypnosis can help reduce symptoms of Anxiety disorders.



Reference: Healing The Angry Brain by Ronald Potter- Efron, MSW, Ph.D




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