As part of the fight or flight instinct we share with all mammals, anger activates every muscle group and organ of the body.
The biochemicals secreted in the brain during the experience of anger—most notably the hormone epinephrine and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine—are experienced much like an amphetamine and an analgesic. They give a surge of energy while they numb pain.
Epinephrine is an especially powerful hormone. It’s sometimes injected directly into the stilled hearts of cardiac arrest victims to revive them. It evolved for aggression and territorial defense, not for use in traffic jams or arguments with a spouse. As with any amphetamine, once the surge of anger burns out, you crash. (That surge of energy is borrowed from the future.) The experience of anger is always followed, to some degree, by depression.
Think about it: The last time you got really angry, you likely got depressed afterward. The angrier we get, the more depressed we get once it wears off. And that is merely the physiological response, regardless of whether you do something while angry that you're ashamed of, like hurting the feelings of someone you love.
So an addictive trap is sprung when the energy surge of anger is used frequently. In no time at all, anger will seem necessary to escape depressed feelings, even though it inevitably means more depression. In other words, the brain will look for excuses to get angry and make you an anger junkie.
You may be an anger junkie if you use anger...:
- For energy or motivation. This often takes the form of getting mildly angry to do a job you don't like to do, like your taxes or raking the leaves. Anger gives you the energy to get through the task, even though you won't do it as efficiently.
- For pain-relief. It hurts when you're not angry.
- For confidence, or a stronger sense of self: You only feel certain when angry, probably because you're oversimplifying.
- To ease anxiety, especially in new or uncertain situations. If you get irritable when things depart from the norm, or if you're critical of others in new social situations, you may be using anger as an anxiety-reducer.
- To militate out of a depressed mood. This can put you on a wicked rollercoaster ride. Pretty soon, you'll have only two feeling states: one of the many forms of anger, such as grouchiness, irritability, or resentment on the one hand, and depression, lethargy, or weariness on the other.
The Anger Junkie Test
Please put a check next to all that apply.
I use anger or resentment:
- For energy or motivation. (I can't get going or keep going without some degree of anger.) ___
- For pain relief. (It hurts when I'm not angry.) ___
- For confidence. (I only feel certain when angry.) ___
- When I'm nervous. ___
- When I feel down. ___
- To enforce a sense of entitlement/to get what I deserve. ___
- To punish or inhibit disagreement with my opinions. ___
- More than once a day, and it lasts for more than a few minutes. ___
Any checkmarks indicate a dependence on some degree of anger.