In The Know Zone

Anger, Aggression and Hostility

The problem, for some people, is that anger becomes the default choice among the emotional or rational options available, fulfilling the old adage that to a man whose only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Aggressiveness, appropriately applied, may be still be of value in a competitive environment, from combat to commerce, but it is subject to rules and laws that limit its scope.

If anger is an emotion and aggression is a response, hostility, perhaps the most socially damaging of anger’s products, is a negative way of looking at the world. The hostile person constantly sees threats to his will and well being that either don’t exist at all or are far less important than he assumes them to be. His angry overreactions damage every aspect of his life, from work to family and friends.

Hostility is also frequently a cop-out. As one authority on the subject has observed, justifying your anger at the world on grounds that you have been dealt a bad hand in life, allows you to avoid responsibility for making your life better. [9]

What is commonly referred to as “Anger Management” might better be called “Anger Response Management,” since anger may flare before we have time to engage the thinking part of our brains. What is actually managed is perception, aggression and hostility.

Remember our earlier example of the amygdala’s instantaneous response to a potential threat. It throws your body into fight/flight mode before you have a chance to assess the threat—just in case the threat is real.

That’s where the perception aspect of anger management comes in. A habitually angry, hostile person perceives threats and frustrations where none exist, or where the level of challenge is too low to justify anger. By correctly perceiving the nature of the challenge, the threat response is turned off, as it was in our example when the person who suddenly stepped from the doorway proved harmless.

But the cooling-down process takes a few moments, leading to Thomas Jefferson’s familiar advice: “When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred." Jefferson’s formula for controlling anger may have been more on target than he realized: the act of counting actively engages the cerebral cortex—where logic and problem solving are centered.

If you were an automobile, anger would be equivalent to flooring your accelerator. You generate maximum response, but you put a lot of stress on the machinery. Lead-footed driving will eventually cause serious damage.

The same applies to anger. The stress it generates causes long-term harm to your body:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Heart damage or blocked arteries
  • Aggravated heart problems
  • A depressed immune system
  • Longer recovery times from injury [10]

And that’s on top of the damage your perpetual ill humor and outbursts will already have caused to your career and home life.

[9] Clark, H. Westley, interview segment in upcoming video Managing Anger’s Effects,2004, Syndistar, Inc., accessible on line at

[10] Angry Feelings and Aggressive Behavior, p. 2

In The Know: At Risk Pamphlet/ DVD Package
"In The Know: At Risk-Managing Anger, Don't Let It Control You%quot; Pamphlet
In The Know: At Risk DVD Package