Mad, as feeling, has been discussed a lot lately. I have written about a few angry episodes in my journal, and Bea reads it and talks. It wasn’t until she suggested, via email, that anger and rage are two different things and that I’m maybe talking about rage and not anger when I say the word “mad”. She had said we would talk about it all on Monday, so I spent some time researching the difference between Anger and rage. The following is not written by me, but it is copied and pasted from various internet sites. I wants to put all this information into one place, so I could share it with Bea.
Anger is signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right.”
“Anger is one of the most basic human emotions. It is a physical and mental response to a threat or to harm done in the past. Anger takes many different forms from irritation to blinding rage or resentment that festers over many years.”
“Anger is a feeling. It is just like any other feeling like sadness, joy, excitement etc. we are born with it.”
“Anger is a response to a perceived threat – past, present or future.”
According to its dictionary definition anger is strong feeling of displeasure aroused by wrath or wrong done. It is a response to threat or fear or of being wronged or response to some unfair treatment.
Anger can be characterized as follows:
It is respectful of yourself and others. Anger doesn’t mean shouting and screaming – it means taking care of yourself.
Anger alerts us to the fact that something in the environment around us needs addressing.
Anger can prevent us from being exploited or manipulated – it’s a kind of self-preservation mechanism.
Anger protects our sense of self as a unique individual.
Anger is an emotional response to a real, felt or imagined grievance. It may have its roots in a past or present experience, or it may be in anticipation of a future event. Anger is invariably based on the perception of threat or a perceived threat due to a conflict, injustice, negligence, humiliation and betrayal among others.
Anger can be an active or a passive emotion. In case of “active” emotion the angry person lashes out verbally or physically at an intended target. When anger is a passive emotion it characterized by silent sulking, passive-aggressive behavior, and hostility.
Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person or event (a traffic jam, a canceled event), or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.
Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.
People use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. Expressing your angry feelings can be done in violent destructive ways or in an assertive, but non-aggressive, manner. Hopefully, the person who is angry has learned, or will learn, how to make clear what their needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others.
Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it, and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression. Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger.
Anger is not a dissociative experience. We usually are very aware of our anger and how it affects us. We are in contact with our thoughts and emotions by and large. We might not always act in our best interests, but we are in contact with ourselves is a good way to think of it. Anger also allows for a semblance of logic to appear where a good rational self-talk can often diffuse the anger very quickly. We can be talked down from our angry state, made to laugh and so on. Anger is far more malleable than rage.
Anger does not necessarily involve trauma, shame, guilt etc. Anger when used constructively can be a great energizer, it also can relieve tension and gives us information about what’s important to us. However if anger is stored and not dealt with appropriately it can have many negative effects. It can affect our health, relationships and career. Consequently it is important to learn to use anger appropriately
Rage, however, is disrespectful to others. It doesn’t solve a problem but only serves to make it worse. Rage can be both hot and explosive or cold and seemingly ‘reasonable’. In both cases however it remains a highly destructive emotion.
Unlike anger, rage is an unconscious process, which cannot be tamed by pure willpower or by attempting to alter behavior. These approaches will not result in a longer-term resolution to ongoing anger and rage issues. As an individual is unable to deal with more and more life’s experiences in a healthy way, they experience more and more stress. This in turn can lead to a feeling of a whole raft of different emotions trying to get out, which then explode in an uncontrollable rage.
Rage primarily is a dissociative phenomenon in that one of its prime features is a loss of contact with self. This type of loss of contact with self is not to be confused with ego loss. Rather it is a very primal form of self which for all intents and purposes operates with barely any consciousness. It is the lack of contact with thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations which are good indicators of a rage episode. Often people will remark I do not know what came over me or it was as if I was blinded with anger when they experience a rage episode. Sometimes people will go blank and suffer from amnesia. It is common for people to be out of touch with the situation, where the situation seems to get completely out of hand.
Rage and anger differ markedly because rage is a flight/fight response in action but without any of our normal constraints. For example, I might walk past an unseen dog and the dog frightens me. I would feel this fright somewhere in my body, e.g. elevated heart rate etc. My body is preparing to either run (flight) or fight and is beginning to release chemicals in the bodily system to do that. If it was a real threat say like a lion instead of a dog, then that flight/fight response.
In a raging episode the response differs in that the normal constraints are not intact. Someone experiencing a rage episode may well injure the dog, or its owners or even strangers. Quite literally the mechanism that would normally be in place to prevent that sort of behaviour has been lost. The person who is experiencing the rage attacks acts as if it is actually a life threatening situation, rather than recognizing that no harm was really done other than a minor scare.
In the brain of the person who is raging there has been a physiological and neurological pattern which has developed over time. Synaptic pathways and inhibitors have developed differently through over stimulation and repeated episodes of the attack. In other words what was meant to a simple flight/fight response to a real life threatening situation has been so overly stimulated that the brain now responds to many varied situations as if they are life threatening even when clearly they are not.
The onset of a rage episode is almost instant. People will often talk about snapping or seeing red and going into a blind rage. Anger by contrast has a much slower build up. It can take anywhere between minutes to hours to days for anger to build up. This is because anger works through the parasympathetic system which by necessity require a buildup. Rage works through the adrenal glands which dispense powerful chemicals that hijack the body and mind immediately.
What is really important to understand about a rage episode is that once it is underway it cannot be stopped. There is no technique that will subside the rage and it has to run its course. This is because effectively the person is under the control of the mind chemicals that have been released into the body. They temporarily have lost the ability to effectively manage the situation and are logically incoherent. This is an extremely important point to remember because it has implications as to the best methods to utilize to help the person.
For example, asking a raging person to get in present moment awareness or to accept what is will likely exacerbate the problem. Mindfulness techniques are close to useless in this particular scenario as are cognitive behavioral strategies or any emotion based therapy. Similarly asking people to consider the consequence of their actions just will not apply. It is because the person is in an altered state that normal methods will not succeed.
When the response to a certain situation becomes inappropriate, this may be termed as rage. Rage is actually an intense form of anger which expresses itself in the form of an inappropriate response. Anger can be mild and positive, rage is not.
When we hear about road rage, the concept becomes clear.
Rage can make us blind to the truth and unable to accept what’s sensible and correct. When rage is the primary emotion being felt, we become less able to think and act rationally and in some cases, even our senses do not work properly because of extreme rage.
I had this email conversation with Bea about anger, rage and mad.:
Bea: Mad is just a feeling. It can be described in terms of how it manifests physically, emotionally, and in thoughts.
Me: It’s not JUST a feeling. At least not for me. Mad is mean. Mad is out of control. Mad is scary. The same way happy is smiling and feeling warm, and sad is tears and feeling empty in your stomach/chest.
Bea: Scary and mean and out of control are really separate from mad. I think that’s what we’re working towards–and so is Kat. Mad is just mad. Learning to say “I’m mad” and take ownership of it is what we need to be able to do. Then it feels less scary and out of control.
Me: I can’t just say “I’m mad”. The thing to do with mad is……idk, hide it away, pretend it away. I don’t believe it is okay to be mad. So maybe that’s the problem.
Bea: There is this part that’s just bursting to be seen and heard. Mad is energizing that part. I think it’s a good thing–
Me: Mad might be energizing that part, but it’s not…..it’s not okay. It’s not a good thing in my mind. It’s this not controllable thing. It means I make choices, say or do things in this unthought out way. It’s not okay
Bea: That speaks to what i just wrote above. We need to explore mad in its pure form!
Me: Maybe. Maybe I need to understand feelings in their pure form now. Idk.
Bea: the question is, where will that mad ultimately take you, and will it be useful in resolving anything?
Me: I don’t get it. I don’t get it. This doesn’t make sense to me. Where is mad supposed to take me? How is it useful? How is it suppose to resolve anything? I wish I could understand it when you say this. I just don’t get it.
Bea: Maybe I’m thinking of external action. Will it ever allow you to act externally as part of your healing? This could take a variety of forms. Advocating for Kat is one, for example.
Me: I feel like we are on different pages about mad. Or maybe even different books, in separate languages. I think the problem is, you see advocating for Kat as being driven by mad energy. Is that right? And I wouldn’t call that mad. When I plan and write and speak on Kat’s behalf, it’s carefully thought out, planned, put together, and done in a calm, firm, directed, clear manner. The energy driving that advocating action, I would call it maybe fairness, or care/love, maybe frustration that Kat isn’t being given what she needs. If this is a kind of mad, I would consider it a cold clear headed mad, a detached from the feeling kind of mad.
Bea: I think we need to separate anger from rage. That’s the disconnect in what we’re saying, I think. It took a while for the lightbulb to go on, but finally it hit me! (And she sent a link to an article about the difference between anger and rage).
Me: Funny….I read this last night. I’ve read a lot online yesterday/ last night that I could find about anger and rage. It seems to boils down to “anger is a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right and when it is used constructively anger can be a great energizer. Rage seems to be a flight/fight reaction, that is explosive and sudden. It is mean and out of control (everything I say mad is). It is typically a much bigger reaction than is needed and many people experience a lack of contact with thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations.”
Is that right? Is that the difference between the two? If so, I think I have been calling rage anger. Is that what we are saying? When I say I was mad or that I got so mad I yelled and was out of control, I’m calling it mad but I’m talking about rage. And because I’m calling it mad, you are thinking “anger.” Is that right? If so, I don’t like that at all. The idea of rage….it makes me feel like a horrible person. It’s like my idea of mad, and all the bad feelings I have around mad, multiplied by 1000. Just the word itself paints a terrible picture. Rage seems bad, awful, even more not okay to feel than mad. It’s embarrassing or shameful or something. Like people will think I’m this really awful, no good person for feeling this way and will have this awful perception of me, like I’m the worst person in the world.
And now I’m not sure I really feel anger. Maybe in order to feel “mad” I have to have such a big out of proportion reaction/feeling such as rage.
I don’t know. I don’t really understand mad, anger, rage. Can you help break it down, help it make sense? Why don’t I understand or feel these emotions like a normal person? I’m really lost in this, and there is a lot of shame over even discussing the idea of being mad.
So Bea and I talked about this a little bit Wednesday.
Bea said that all the stuff in the news about Trump and his awful comments about women, they have triggered a lot of women to be very angry, and women have used that anger to speak out, to take a stand against the injustice in his words/beliefs/behavior. Bea said that is anger, and it’s why anger is energizing, it propels us to act. She said rage would maybe make people just blow up and scream, or like when people riot and destroy things. It’s not action that leads to change.
The other example she gave was personal to her. She told me that when she was younger and sometimes now, that anytime she gets hurt, she used to react with rage, like even if she had hurt herself. She said once she stubbed her toe and then turned around and punched a wall because she was so full of rage that she got hurt. That is rage. There is no real purpose to it. Anger, she said, would be like if she noticed she stubbed her toe because of a crack in the floor, and that anger propelled her to fix the crack.
I said i think i don’t feel— or maybe recognize anger– but I do feel rage because it is such a stronger, over powering feeling. Bea said that was possible, and she also pointed out that I only scream and yell when I’m in rage, I don’t harm others or destroy things, so I do have some control. She said the first thing would be for me to notice anger so it doesn’t have a chance to turn to rage. I said that I wasn’t sure I knew how, and Bea started talking about body cues, and that’s when I said I didn’t want to talk about this anymore, so we dropped the subject for the moment, with plans to maybe pick it up again Monday.