Giving anger the bird

In more primal times, anger was part of a survival mechanism that allowed for the violent and powerful reassertion of self, advantage over adversaries and predators, and a real mechanism that played a pivotal role in our survival as a species.

In a modern world, however, anger is quite inconvenient. The primitive rantings of the caveman self have no place in an organised society, one only needs to look at the fictional image of the Incredible Hulk to recognise how such a primal force of fury seems uncontrollable and for our fear’s sake needs to be brought to book.

Anger has incredible consequences in a modern world. It is central to the experience of many people when they are the victims of domestic violence. Around about 80% of homicides are committed by first offenders frequently during a bout of uncontrolled incandescence generating moments of unprecedented behaviour they will spend a lifetime regretting. In a social sense, it is the lost composure, the broken relationship, the messed up deal or even the undignified finger in the air at the passing motorist who someone is convinced was being disrespectful when basically they were focused on getting home.

Anger can be a distancing and socially isolating phenomena. People with anger difficulties frequently have these difficulties because they bottle up other emotions until they are violently and cathartically released. The aurora of menace that can generate and the predictable outbursts that others are attuned to, make people tread on eggshells around them and often experience anxiety states. In workplace settings, communication suffers as people do not want to arouse displeasure. People with anger issues are not infrequently labelled bullies and rarely helped and supported until at some point when their behaviour becomes a liability to the company where typically, however valuable they are to the company, ultimately their skills are lost to corporate risk aversion and the convenience of the compromise arrangement.

The Mental Health Foundation’s report “Boiling Point” was published a few years ago and recognised the importance of robust strategies to treat anger in our community. Despite this, services are very sparse and people are not sure where to go.

Anger occurring within workplaces, taking place in relationships, experienced by law enforcement and other organisations needs to be addressed. It cannot simply be accommodated and allowed to persist. Such avoidance leads ultimately to escalation of behaviour with disastrous consequences as so many poor souls currently sitting in our remand cells will attest. Equally in companies, from the shop floor to the boardroom, we need to recognise that employers need to confront anger in their workplaces to ensure that the bullies and the bullied receive the support they need, to preserve the harmony in the workplace and in many cases hard to replace skills.

Most of all, we need an acceptance across our communities that stress is an endemic part of our lives and we need to take responsibility for our conduct towards one another.

Perhaps we need to remember that the next time we are cut off on the motorway and instead of uttering a small cuss at the driver concerned, simply recognise the driver is another human being with people at home who care, who makes mistakes and intone a silent wish that that person gets home safely.

David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.