I wonder if you believe TRUST is important to your closest relationships. I bet you would say “Of Course!” Ok, then let’s talk about anger. I know that’s probably the last thing anyone wants to discuss, especially if you’re having a really good day and want to keep things happy-go-lucky. Not to mention, our library of blog posts has become a haven for plenty of practical, feel-good ways to keep your marriage safe and connected. So who wants to start the day with a downer? We certainly don’t. But whether we like it or not, a common occurrence in many couples or family interactions is anger. And it very well could be that if you are struggling with trust in your marriage, anger may be a part of the problem.
So let’s discuss. We promise you won’t regret it.
In our next series of posts, we will cover everything from where anger comes from, how quickly things can become volatile and spiral out of control, and, yes, how it impacts our relationships — especially a five-letter word called trust.
“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” — Proverbs 29:11 11
Anger is defined as a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. We experience it regularly, and while sometimes we have control over it, most of the time, we do not. As a result, it is easy to see anger as a behavior more than an emotion.
But anger is 100% an emotion! It’s important to differentiate between the feeling of anger and expression and behavior of anger.
Anger is an emotion of self-preservation. It is also a secondary emotion in the grand scheme of things. In reality, there are more primary emotions at play — all of which contribute to us losing control and getting angry.
- Hurt — Your heart is wounded.
- Injustice — Your rights or someone else’s is violated.
- Fear — There are so many different fears. Your future or even identity can be threatened, leading to anger.
- Frustration — Your performance is not accepted. You just can’t achieve what you want or need.
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life
that God desires.” — James 1:19-21 19
When anger gets out of control
A rising concern that I see more and more these days with couple interactions is excessive anger. Most of us are going to have some anger now and again. It is a regular emotion. Jesus had anger. God had wrath. Of course, God’s is always out of righteousness. What I am really talking about is a pervasive, consistent, and intense anger that blocks couples from making progress and prevents close emotional connection. It affects everyone and everything around them. It takes over — literally and figuratively.
Here’s what this looks like around the angry person:
- Spouse and kids are always “walking on eggshells” because the angry person could blow up anytime.
- No one talks about what’s going on in their life because it’s not safe!
- The least little thing said or done can cause an explosion. The smallest things become nuclear.
- Differences of opinion or not doing what the angry person wants leads to dire consequences.
- Everyone has to try to “control” what happens around the angry person.
- Vacations and family outings are tolerated.
- Family often tries to “avoid” the angry person.
- Family members “band together” for comfort from the angry one.
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Anger and the brain
Now that we have a solid understanding of what anger is, what causes it, and how it affects people, I want to spend a quick second talking about anger and the brain.
Fear and anger are closely connected in the brain. And so, anger can become the brain’s default option. Angry brains do not assess, judge, or evaluate events well at all. There’s a physiological response over time during anger where an angry person continually trains themselves to become angrier. As a result, their brain changes positive neural circuits into negative ones. This happens in the Prefrontal Cortex, where impulse control and an ability to prioritize behaviors originate.
This is where anger can turn to rage, an out-of-control experience where we lose awareness and control of our “normal self” and have an inability to explain what is happening or what happened. As wild as this sounds, people with angry brains continually train themselves to become angrier. The more an event is triggered, the easier it is to trigger in the future. And the more it’s triggered, the more powerful it can become. Basically, what happens is that over time, the angry person’s perception of a threat becomes more and more sensitive, and their emotions (Limbic System) override their ability to reason. This is not just the normal emotion of anger happening. It is something much more serious.
Some of the reasons for an angry brain include the brain’s chemistry, hormones (high levels of testosterone, estrogen, cortisol), genes, trauma or injury (dangerous events, abuse, physical injury), and family or cultural training.
How do I change my “angry brain?”
The good news is that we know from decades of research that neuroplasticity or brain change is possible. Brain change happens through effort, commitment, time, thought, and practice. It is a lifestyle change! Angry people can change their brains and improve their lives, so there is a low likelihood of relapsing into anger.
And as you become better at it, you create a core sense of safety — consciously turning anger off, increasing empathy and understanding, and challenging negative thought patterns. The key is effort, time, and PRACTICE!
All we are saying here is that while anger is a natural emotion that we all experience, it’s important to understand why it is happening and find a way to maintain control over what is our most volatile emotion. Check back with us next week as we continue this conversation on anger and begin to relate it to how damaging out-of-control or consistent anger can be to trust in a relationship.
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Did we leave anything out? How are you recognizing ways to eliminate anger from your marriage and interactions? And how is that benefiting your marital journey together? Please send us a quick email and help us keep this conversation going at Mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.