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Theory: Anger of today

What was once a ‘primitive physical survival’ response, now is a mask for emotional pain

Ever get angry? Most people do from time to time; a few even wear it around like armor … everyday, waiting for a reason to fight.

The way that people use anger is much like the sport of boxing. Two opponents are in the ring together; their motivation is either to win or do some damage. Even if they spend time in their corners, they are strategizing and readying themselves for the next round. Each fighter is equipped with an arsenal of techniques that they hope will assure them a victory.

Anger was never intended to be used for everyday conflicts.

Prehistoric man displayed this anger response to protect his family and himself from harm. It was and still is a survival response. But because most modern society no longer has to defend itself from saber-toothed tiger or wild boar attacks, we have found a different use for it. Anger has become a tool that we use to protect ourselves from a different sort of pain – emotional pain.

What is anger anyway? Anger is a “primitive physical survival” response that we use to express a different emotion entirely.

I describe anger as a physical response because there are physical changes that take place in our bodies when we get angry.

These changes start in the brain through the release of a chemical called adrenaline.

The brain triggers the release of this chemical because we perceive ourselves as being threatened somehow and our brain is preparing our body to respond.

Our perception of any given situation is based upon our life experiences leading up to the event, and our belief system. Complicated, I know. But, bottom line, our perception is our reality. And guess what? Everyone perceives things differently. Same situation plus a different perception equals a different response. It isn’t the situation or event that causes us to get mad. It isn’t what he said or she said that triggers our anger. It’s how we perceive the situation.

And we can change our perceptions. We control our emotional response.

I mentioned earlier that anger is a response to a different emotion entirely. We allow ourselves to trigger the anger response when our feelings are hurt, or we are afraid, disappointed or things simply aren’t going our way. This is a misuse of our physical survival response; and unfortunately we misuse anger all the time. It’s become a habit, a knee-jerk reaction to our emotional pain. Like the boxer, we engage in the fight with the victory or injury as our goal.

Our arsenal is full of emotional strategies like insults, dredging up the past, put-downs, threats and manipulations designed to level our opponent. Ask yourself this: Is this outcome positive? Do the long-term effects of this habit of ours enhance our life and our relationships? Is there a better way to resolve our conflicts?

I believe that aside from survival, anger has no place in our lives.

*This is part one of a two-part column about anger. For part two, read the Kane County Chronicle on Saturday, June 14. 

• Jamie Palmer is a Batavia resident and a licensed clinical professional counselor and senior mediator with more than 35 years of experience in the field of psychology working with families, couples and individuals. She can be reached at

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