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Anger, Anxiety and Control

Anger is an instinctual emotional response from a real or imagined threat.

Anger is painful and we need to get relief. We almost always feel something else first before we get angry: afraid, hopeless, hurt, disrespected, disappointed, or guilty.

We use anger to protect/cover up these other vulnerable feelings. We learned to deny and suppress our feelings so we will not be in emotional pain anymore. However, when something happens in the present, it reminds us of unfinished business in the past and compounds it.

When we suffer an intensely painful feeling, the body releases hormones into the bloodstream as part of the fight or flight response. These hormones turn our experience of the intensely painful emotional event into strong memories. These memories are strong to ensure we do not forget such an episode and promote our survival.

This makes sense for our hunter gatherer ancestors who had to remember the constant threats to their survival. However in our modern world, threats to our physical safety are rare, but threats to our emotional safety are omnipresent.

Threat and safety detection has been linked to the amygdala, and emotion regulation seems to be the domain of the prefrontal cortex. These regions of the brain release hormones that tell our body something potentially painful just occurred, so don’t forget it or let it happen again. So the hormones give a heightened significance to these emotional memories. As we grow, these emotional memories play a disproportionate role in shaping our personality, and makes us think, act and feel in certain ways.

However when we feel the same emotion in the present, it triggers our emotional memories for the past experiences when that feeling occurred. The problem is that we have lost sight of the original anger-provoking event that stimulated the secretion of these hormones in the first place. In counseling, our task is to restore the connection between the past and the present so that the anger will be relieved properly, and the “pumping” can stop.

We cannot be happy when we keep turning our thoughts around and around in our head. This is called obsessive thinking.

People obsess when they have a problem that they cannot solve. For people who feel inadequate to solve problems, life is one obsessive thought after another.

Some people are very good at solving problems. When they finally run into a problem that they cannot solve, they too, fall into the trap of obsessive thinking.

For some people, control means “preventing bad things from happening.”  But, this belief toward control, breeds endless stress because:

•           It requires you to know what is going to happen before it happens.

•           It requires you to solve the problem before it arises. It sets you up to feel inadequate to cope with life because you cannot possibly predict the future with perfect accuracy.

•           It requires that you prevent the disaster perfectly.  Nothing less will do.

•           If the “disaster” happens, you blame yourself for “failing” to prevent it:  “I should have seen it coming.”

•           You blame yourselves for “failing” to know what the other person was thinking and planning to do to you:  “I should have known.”

In an ambiguous or unpredictable situation, the brain is going to look for clues in the environment, things it knows from past experience are associated with threat or safety. If this is unsuccessful, and the brain can’t tell what is dangerous and what isn’t, then anything could seem like a threat.

To add another arrow into the mix, despite a general human preference for certainty, the unknown isn’t always anxiety-inducing. Uncertainty has its upside, especially regarding temporary uncertainties or unknowns. We don’t want to know the endings of all the books we’re going to read, the movies we’ll ever watch, or all our future birthday  presents. We like a sense of mystery and suspense as it fuels desire, anticipation and hope.

Anger, Anxiety and Control

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2019). Anger, Anxiety and Control. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Feb 2019
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