Emotion Series Anger

Anger, like other emotions, acts as a form of behavioural regulation, built into the neural architecture of humans over evolutionary time. Essentially, anger is an emotional response that produces a surge of energy and motivation within the minds of humans when specific situations or events demand such behaviour to be used. There are three forms of anger, and they each create a different outcome.

Primary (Adaptive) Anger

From a purely biological/evolutionary standpoint, primary adaptive anger arises to protect oneself or others from harm and intrusion via aggression and territorialism, and as such it is one of the most potent emotions. Our ancient ancestors would use anger as a valuable tool akin to the spear, wheel, or flame. It would be purposefully used against threats to dispel any preconceived sense of weakness, discouraging wildlife and enemies from attacking.

Secondary Anger

More complex but equally powerful, secondary anger is particularly effective due to the addition of distress, desperation, grief, or regret in some cases. In essence, anger serves as a reaction to another emotion or cognitive process. Occurring when the subject is essentially short-circuited or overwhelmed, anger acts as the initial response to a situation or event that outpaces rational thinking. The phrase “think before you speak” is derived from precisely this principle. For example, a parent angry at a child for running out into the street, is afraid but responds with anger. Anger is secondary to the primary driver — in this instance, fear.

Instrumental Anger

This is a more toxic expression of the emotion, used as a means to manipulate, control, or intimidate others for secondary gains. Instrumental anger is a learned behaviour and it differs from primary/secondary anger, which are natural reactions. Instrumental anger is used as a means of psychological manipulation to achieve another end, be it control, power, revenge, or retaliation. Instrumental anger can also be used as a defence mechanism.

Ways to Tame Your Temper

Of course, anger is an entirely natural and vital aspect of the human condition. It is perfectly normal to experience such an emotion, particularly when faced with common stresses, from small daily frustrations to anger about financial issues, employment, and relationship problems. However, aggressive behaviour is unnecessary and unacceptable.

This doesn’t mean a person who reacts with anger is “bad” in any way, or incapable of learning to respond differently. It is a matter of identifying patterns of reaction to external and internal circumstances and then, instead, establishing patterns of healthy response to these circumstances that do not lean on our instinctual reactions of primary or secondary anger, or the learned use of anger as a tool.