The evolution of anger
Anger seems like an inconvenient truth of daily life, but there may be a reason behind the madness from an evolutionary perspective. Understanding the emotion’s origins could help manage it during times of hostility or frustration. Otherwise, chronic anger can threaten daily functioning and the mental health of relationships.
Aaron Sell from the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara, and his cohorts explained anger as a function of bargaining for the benefit of the aggressor. Sell called this the recalibrational theory of anger, which also “creates incentives in the target of the anger to recalibrate upwards the weight he or she puts on the welfare of the angry individual.”
Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., a Psychology Today writer, believes anger, while a destructive emotion, serves a purpose and that no one can eliminate it altogether. Anger sets limits, Seltzer wrote, keeping people safe from discomfort or danger. In the early days of humanity, one could imagine this feeling spurring a defense against aggression or warding off opponents such as wild animals.
In Seltzer’s clinical experience, anger rarely served as a primary emotion. In other words, the feeling was in service of protecting or perpetuating another emotion. Seltzer brought up the example of feeling anger after being cut off in traffic on the freeway. While anger seems to kick in before anything else during frustration on the road, he explained that fear arises first, even if it’s difficult to tell.
Seltzer also sees anger as a self-soothing coping mechanism.
“With very few exceptions, the angry people I’ve worked with have suffered from significant self-image deficits. Many have been quite successful in their careers but far less so in their relationships, where anger triggers abound,” Seltzer wrote. These patients didn’t think they were good enough, sometimes believing they were frauds even in the face of professional success.
Speaking of, Seltzer found self-empowerment as another function of anger, albeit a destructive one. Anger can start a surge of epinephrine, which gives the person energy. He or she can feel stronger and ready to take on perceived threats or weaknesses.
Seltzer concluded with the idea of anger as a tool for creating distance in failing romances or asserting bonds. When two people fight, anger is a shared emotion perpetuating the relationship. Nevertheless, it’s a stressful way of keeping two people together and it will only hurt both individuals, Seltzer agrees.
Counselors with Sovereign Health Group can help patients deal with their anger and the destructive emotions buried underneath. Otherwise, mental health can take a dive. Call us today to learn more about our programs.
Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer