If someone is rude to you, or you think they are, what is your first response? Do you get instinctively get aggressive? Are you looking for a fight?
While some responses can be the result of a bad day, a momentary lapse in judgement, or an appropriate reaction to someone else’s aggression, in some cases, perpetual anger can stem from elsewhere.
For people who are always prepared, or indeed looking for confrontation, this can often be linked to childhood.
The way we’re nurtured in our formative years has a major impact on how we behave as adults.
Children who are left alone to deal with problem-solving can struggle to regulate their emotions, both in childhood and adulthood. And the links between anger and childhood abandonment are well documented.
Being isolated for long periods of time as a child - whether because their parents had to work, had caring responsibilities, or had other commitments – can leave youngsters having to problem-solve alone, making them feel more stressed, anxious, and angry.
Research shows that social isolation damages not only the physiological functions of the body but also the development of the nervous system’s support cells, which in turn affects the development of cognitive functioning.
So while some of these children might become more adept at handling stress and managing their emotions by themselves, for others, it can be a more difficult path.
Anger might arise in them a little easier than it would their counterparts as they never had the outlet to express their emotions in childhood.
Dom* was an only child who can relate. The 34-year-old Londoner, who works for a publishing company, says: “My parents worked a lot so I was left alone a lot, even as young as eight years old. So I had to look after myself.
“I was also bullied at school and changed schools several times, around my teens I developed mental health issues and had to work through it myself. As an adult, I feel like I always have a chip on my shoulder, ’cause I want to stand up for myself and have my own back, and I’m willing to go to lengths to protect myself.”
Therapist and Counselling Directory member Shelley Treacher says the way we were treated as youths can impact how we later act.
She tells HuffPost: “On exploration of anger, irritation or frustration, in therapy, what often emerges is a feeling of having been unjustly treated in childhood, or in the past.
“Anger occurs as a way to show us that something feels wrong. It happens when we feel the need to stand up for ourselves and is a protest about suffering. It can also feel very empowering to get angry. This is an ancient survival tool.”
She adds that when you’re young, you don’t always have the platform to feel and express those feelings, especially if there’s no one to show your emotions to, i.e parents and/or guardians.
“When we experience unjust or painful treatment earlier in life, we often can’t fight back. It is usually perceived to be too dangerous to do so,” adds Treacher.
“We become confused about right and wrong. So, the resentment builds in our systems. In a family or culture that values control of emotion, we may also suppress our feelings in order to function in life.
“But, like a pressure cooker, the anger is ready to explode whenever unjust treatment is perceived later in life. Sadly, this can often be a projection and a misunderstanding.”
She explains how the nervous system is primed for a ‘fight’ response whenever it perceives a threat or something similar to the original mistreatment. This explains sudden outbursts of misplaced rage, or ‘being defensive’.
So how can you get passed this response, if at all?
Treacher adds: “This reaction is physiologically impossible to control, without consistent mindful self-regulation practice, and understanding of the original wounding.
“Many of us are continuously looking for an apology or fair treatment in the present, when in fact, what we are continuously repeating is a desire for the original hurt to be acknowledged and healed.”
Anger is a natural emotion, it can be cathartic to release, but what’s important is executing it in a healthy, communicative way, as opposed to exploding and causing irreversible damage.
If you are more prone to outburts, you can also try meditative exercises where you breathe and count to five before responding.
If it’s a perpetual problem, then it might also be worth talking to loved ones about it and a therapist.