The Psychology of Anger (Part 3 of 4)

Continued from yesterday’s Daily Dose of Reason

When There Are No Solutions

Another issue with anger involves the solution-oriented approach. Although focusing on solutions over being angry is a psychological cornerstone of anger management—for example, finding different routes to work or bringing books on tape/favorite music to address the traffic issue—another problem can develop when there are no solutions. Some problems don’t have solutions, or at least not ones that can be easily discovered. A rational, mentally healthy person needs to be able to handle this fact. Punishing oneself or others through angry rages will not magically bring solutions into existence. Only a commitment to continuing thought will.

As a small example, think of when you have lost something in your house or office and can’t find it. What’s more likely to lead to success: going into a rage, or really trying to map out where you last left the misplaced item, where you most likely would have put it, and so forth? As with lost keys, so too with all of life. Anger is not a replacement for thought.

What’s Good About Anger?

Anger is a reasonable and very important response to injustice. Anger, rationally handled, can help an individual keep his head out of the sand and take necessary action to correct problems in his life.

A parent, for example, is angry with his child for being lazy. A purely emotional response would be simply telling the child he’s lazy and expecting a change, as if the child should change for the parent’s sake rather than his own. The purpose of calling the child lazy, even if it’s true, would be to vent the parent’s anger but not to accomplish anything else (other than to create resentment in the child).

A rational response would be to recognize evidence of the child’s laziness, and to confront him rationally and honestly with this fact, telling him why it’s not in his interest to stay this way, and to make requirements (e.g., less television time, less time with computer games) to address the problem. Without anger over the child’s laziness as the original cue, the parent could never have taken constructive action.

Notice, however, that it’s not enough to merely express anger. Expressing anger without first taking responsibility for establishing a valid basis for the anger and then coming up with an intelligent way to respond to the injustice is worse than useless. The onus is on the angry person to establish an objective basis for his action, or even for merely expressing the anger. Expressing your feelings merely because you feel them is not the productive solution many psychologists claim it is. With anger, it generally makes matters only worse.

Anger and The Entitlement Mentality

The American Psychological Association makes a very important point on its website about the management of anger:

‘Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is ‘not out to get you,’ you’re just experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it’ll help you get a more balanced perspective. Angry people tend to demand things: fairness, appreciation, agreement, and willingness to do things their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and disappointed when we don’t get them, but angry people demand them, and when their demands aren’t met, their disappointment becomes anger. As part of their cognitive restructuring, angry people need to become aware of their demanding nature and translate their expectations into desires. In other words, saying, ‘I would like’ something is healthier than saying, ‘I demand’ or ‘I must have’ something.’

This is all true, but raises a fascinating question: What causes the mentality described above? What is the name for it? I call it the entitlement mentality. The entitlement mentality is a common cause of irrational anger. It refers to a sense of being owed things that you’re not really owed. The anger flows from a sense that one is not getting what one is owed.

If you pay $500 for a television set, for example, you expect that television set to work. If, after a week, it breaks down – then you will likely become angry. If the company refuses to honor its warranty for repair, you will certainly become angry, and justifiably so. The irrationally angry person with the sense of entitlement feels like most of us would feel about the broken television—only he feels this way all of the time. He feels he’s not getting what he wants from people and that people owe more to him. Disappointment, which we all experience, immediately converts into anger. There is no valid basis for what he demands and expects. For example, he expects his wife to have the same amount of energy for him as if she had no career. Yet her career is important to her, and they both benefit from it financially. She would also be a boring and depressed person without a career. His anger involves an expectation of sacrifice from her that she is not obliged to give and that is not even rational from his own logical, self-interested point of view.

Some people feel, irrationally, that the world is out to get them; or that all of existence is, by its very nature, malevolent and somehow against them. Consequently, they experience painful and irrational anger because they hold mistaken viewpoints about what is owed to them. A rational person understands that nothing is really owed to someone in life except the right to be free from physical force, coercion or deception. To expect more as an entitlement guarantees an angry, disappointing and unhappy life.

Concluded in Part 4 tomorrow.