Anger and the Brain

125_0542Anger therapy is not a waste of time. Dealing with anger issues has never been more worth it. Did you know that science has looked extensively into anger and depression brain chemistry? The findings have been quite interesting. We are closer to knowing what causes anger in the brain. A Harvard study found that when subjects revisited tapes they recorded about events that made them angry or enraged they had measurable chemical reactions in the brain. Only when we unravel that can we know the way to anger management. Many people in the media and in the everyday world struggle with anger and rage and so I’m tackling this issue in hopes it might offer understanding and direction to open minded people who are concerned with their anger and rage.

Here is a somewhat long quote (for me anyway) that explains what happened in the Harvard study better than I could. It is fascinating:

A look into the brains of normal subjects revealed that anger increases blood flow to a reasoning part of their brains, an area over the left eye just behind the forehead, technically called the orbitofrontal cortex. This flow inhibits thoughts of rage. At the same time, blood flow increased activity in the amygdala, an almond-shaped knot of tissue deep in the brain that deals with emotion and vigilance.

Angry feelings arising in the amygdala are normally cooled by activity in the frontal cortex, part of the thinking region of the brain. However, in some severely depressed people a lack of both recognition and control of anger, can lead to violent rage.

“All of us get angry from time to time,” comments Darin Dougherty, an assistant professor who led the research. “At such times, feelings of wrath in the primitive parts of our brains seem to be balanced by inhibitions of our will to act on those feelings.” chemistry of anger

This process is like a miracle. Of course, the brain itself is a composite of so many apparent miracles it boggles any brain that seeks to understand it. Still we try. While one part of the brain is fed blood and reacts in anger, in unison other blood is fed to an area that controls inhibition that sort of keeps the angry thought under a lid. Of course, brain damage and mental illness can upset the balance of this process. This is why we see movies of people in mental hospitals screaming in rage without stopping. Somehow the delicate balance their brain was meant to have has been disturbed. When this is the case, there is anger management medication. In fact, many people find medical help with their feelings of uncontrolled anger through prescription drugs for anger treatment.

So what does anger in the brain mean to me and you? Once again, it points us to the truths of Phineas Gage: our mind is a delicate instrument that needs care to stay in balance. When we are getting angry often we should ask ourselves: “Is this chemical?” Is there something disrupting the balance between those two parts of the brain? If so, there are likely drugs that can help … see a psychiatrist or a psychologist that has a practice in concert with a psychiatrist. There are so many triggers that make us angry and even despondent.

If you feel the issue has more to do with behavioral issues such as a recurring annoyance in the form of a memory or if you are suffering from some of the cognitive distortions, get to a therapist and discuss those issues. Or, you can go to a book store or library and do your own study of the brain and anger. Personally, I would recommend going to a professional instead but just make sure you tend to the problem in some way. It should not be ignored.

Your brain is your lens to the rich pageant called life. Don’t let anger steal anything from you, there is no reason for that. Brain chemistry drugs can save lives when used properly.

32 thoughts on “Anger and the Brain

  1. How the brain works is completely fascinating to me. Everything happens so instantaneously, too. If one thing kicks in like pain or anger, for example, another part immediately responds. As you’ve so correctly stated, it really is a miracle.

    Jessica The Rock Chicks last blog post..Sweet Dreams

  2. When I am suffused with anger, it’s amazing how totally different I will perceive the world. Taking steps back and trying to decompress myself helps; the next day I just cannot believe the emotions that were raging about earlier.

    Truly human beings are capable of creating their own reality. It’s when you try to mesh YOUR reality with the rest of the world’s reality that, ahem, opportunities for character-building grow….

    Data points,


  3. Barbara that is an excellent point. Check out this quote:

    To be angry is to revenge the faults of others upon ourselves. -Pope

    Thank you for your comment. I hope you’ll stop by again.

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  5. I’ve been thinking about this article you wrote all day as I’ve been trying to keep breathing while getting screamed at about things that are 100% not my fault at work. I totally realized that some of what I consider to be stress is probably anger at having to listen to this stuff all the time! I’m convinced now that the reason I don’t get much relief from stress relievers is because I’m more angry than stressed!

    You are so right, you can’t carry anger around with you and let it steal from the good points of your life.

    Anger, though, is a necessary emotion, as I understand it. It’s a response to a threat and is necessary for survival. Of course, this response can get to extreme, but if you don’t express it, it can cause high blood pressure, depression and a host of other things.

    This post has really inspired me to reevalute things!!!

    Jessica The Rock Chicks last blog post..Sweet Dreams

  6. Jessica: I’m so glad to hear the post made you think. Sounds like a rough day!

    I think you make a great point about some anger being positive. To me, it’s an issue of balance that we have to keep testing and asking ourselves through what might be called “the good life.” When we let our anger steal from those precious moments of life with our kids etc. – then we are letting anger get the best of us and that’s just not necessary for smart people.

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  26. Well – I think asking yourself “Is this chemical?” every time you get angry is not necessarily a good idea, because it can easily lead to the idea that there is a chemical solution for it too.
    And that is convenient of course – pop a pill and the anger is gone. But we really don’t have a clear enough understanding about brain chemistry to try to influence it in my opinion. There are many other ways to work with anger that don’t require drugs.
    Apart of that – pretty much everything that happens in your brain, and every of your emotions are chemical. That’s just how the brain works. But that doesn’t mean that we should tackle it with chemicals.

    • True but many people are anti-medication and when I wrote this a few years ago I was concerned about that and how many people don’t consider that there are chemical imbalances. I am not pro-medication in every situation but it has its place and some people really do need it. I haven’t heard much about hypnosis but the idea of going under into that state I must admit doesn’t get me interested, sorry. Still, I will check out your link when I get some time this week. Thanks for your comment.

  27. Thanks for taking the time to answer. It’s true that many people are anti-medication – but it’s still a minority. The vast majority of people do take medication, because it’s easy. I think those who don’t are just the ones who are more vocal about it, because they take the time to inform themselves.
    However – we both do agree that medication has it’s place and it does help a considerable amount of people.
    What makes you opposed utilizing hypnotic states to faciliate positive change?
    Anyway – it’s not just hypnosis. That’s just the field I specialize in, but there are many other effective non-medication treatments for managing anger :-)

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