Anger, Hostility, and Rage
“What do you mean? I don’t have any anger!”
“I’m just being assertive when I tell my boss off for his micromanaging.”
“I can’t help it! I just get so angry. I have to punch something.”
The above phrases belie misconceptions common in our society. These errors are due to the misunderstanding of the difference between anger, hostility, and rage.
Many people are afraid of anger because they mistake it for hostility or even rage. Therefore, they say they do not experience the emotion, or they are afraid to express it because of the scary images they have of it in their minds. Others may believe they are only being assertive when, in fact, they are closer to feelings and behaviors associated with hostility. Finally, those who have the inability to control their outbursts may inadvertently call rage by the wrong name, thereby adding to the confusion.
What follows are some ways to tell the difference.
This emotion is the warmth you feel in your face, the tension in your neck, or butterflies of energy in your core. This is the energy it takes to push you to ask for what you want and to say no in difficult circumstances. Anger’s voice is firm and persistent but never degrading, intimidating, or condescending. Anger will bug you and try to persuade you to act, but it will not beat you up. Anger comes from injustice and boundary crossing. When expressed in a healthy manner, anger can motivate us toward conflict resolution. Anger should not seethe or last too long.
Typical anger thoughts: “This is unfair.” “I don’t this to happen again.”
You will know this by the heat in your body, restless, pressured energy, all-over body tension, clenched fists and jaws, and the like. Behaviors associated with hostility include insults, aggression, intimidation, malicious manipulation, coercion, and oppression. These behaviors not only push you to address an issue, they compel you to do so, with vehemence. Hostility’s voice is loud and often inconsiderate. It belittles others and makes you feel bigger and stronger — but in a way that actually makes you smaller, often appearing more insecure. Hostility comes from the belief that others are out to get us and that we are not worthy, capable, cared for, or some other self-abasing belief. Some people feel it is their right (or even duty) to be hostile in the face of offense or difficulty. Hostile behaviors are an unhealthy way to meet our needs. This set of emotions can simmer and boil and come out towards others who are not the source of the problem.
Typical hostility thoughts: “This is unfair, they need to pay.” “No one cares about my needs”
This is loss of control. This is storming out, punching walls, screaming, threatening, and other such behaviors you would most likely never endorse when you are calm. Many say that rage “just hits them,” but the truth is, there is usually a build-up over time that can be learned to be recognized and diffused. Rage generally comes after hostility (and, for some, loads of it), though if it is a habit or there are trauma triggers, it can be quick or even feel “instant.” Rage often comes from years of pent-up aggression. It can also come from trauma.
What’s the Point?
Each one of these emotional states has a purpose. People who exhibit these states are not crazy, and none of these randomly happen.
The goal with anger is to push you into action to protect yourself and/or others or set things right. Anger’s big, scary brother, hostility, is meant to scare others away. If you are being mugged and acting “big and bad” will scare the bad guys away, then hostility may seem useful. However, research into something called polyvagal theory shows that the best way to manage difficult situations is with something called, “the social engagement network.” This is a system in the brain that helps us connect to others, whereas hostility is more of a mid-level, “fight or flight” response that we generally do not need in modern-day society. If you are in danger, by all means, do what is necessary to protect yourself. However, as a tool for every day difficult interactions, hostility will rarely solve the problem. In fact, the use of it can actually make even a dangerous situation (where it may seem warranted) worse.
Finally, rage is the volcano explosion after the impacted fumes of simmering anger or hostility have reached their limit. It is the pressure valve blown off. Few of us will argue the hazard of acting out of rage. It is far better to deal with situations at the anger level than to allow them to get this far. For some of us, it may feel too late. You may even categorize yourself or someone you love as “a rageful person.” If this describes you or a loved one, do not despair. You can learn to release the anger (which is often quite appropriate) in safer, smaller doses. Seek out anger management or other professional therapeutic services to help you. Make sure whoever you work with uses both cognitive and somatic (“of the body”) approaches to anger management (a misnomer, sadly. It should be called rage management).
So, What Should I Do If I’m Angry?
If you feel you have anger and you struggle to express it in a healthy way, taking communication classes or going to therapy to learn how to ask for what you want, say no in a healthy manner, and learn to tolerate the discomfort of disappointment, waiting, and other inconveniences is important. You may also need to learn to draw and enforce boundaries. This is not easy when your patterns and relationships are already established. Chances are, though, if you have acted out of hostility or rage, then you already have the skill set needed to do hard things. Give yourself some credit and do not be ashamed to reach out for help. It is no more a weakness to ask for help with overly strong emotions than it is to seek out care for arthritis or heart disease. Mental health issues are, after all, health issues and all of us need help with our health from time to time.
Written by book author, blogger, & educational/motivational speaker, Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP. Founder and owner of Potential Finders Network, Hannah provides consultation, training, and personal development services. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. If you have topics you want to suggest, please don’t hesitate to contact her at Hannah@PotentialFinders.com and check out www.PotentialFinders.com or Facebook to learn more.