The hellhound that lives within us all

March 9 1963


The hellhound that lives within us all

March 9 1963


The hellhound that lives within us all


ANGER, mankind's most primitive emotion, is also the most visible one. While the more disabling emotions of hate, fear and loneliness can be masked, few people can hide anger. It's noisy, humiliating, destructive and ubiquitous — one specialist in animal behavior declares that man is an unusually quarrelsome ape. the missing link between anthropoids and true human beings.

When people speak of controlling their emotions, they generally mean their tempers. Between bouts of anger, men and women have more regrets about their own waspishness than about any other aspect of their personalities. They sourly view the paradox of anger: psychiatry considers it unhealthy to repress outrage, but experience demonstrates that any other course will result in agonizing remorse.

One of the most appalling discoveries a person can make about himself is to meet the hellhound of anger he contains. A glimpse of the inner hyena leaves a man shaken and confused; he is a long time convincing his ego that he is really a civilized and harmless being

This is not surprising, since anger is the least civilized attribute of man. It springs from the oldest and deepest part of the brain, a small area called the hypothalamus

that hasn’t changed much in ten million years. Dwarfed under the huge mass of the cerebrum which evolution added to provide mankind with intelligence and integrity, the tiny caveman brain seems comparatively insignificant. But when surgery or an injury disturbs the larger, restraining area, this living fossil is free to release its content of pure rage.

Uncontrolled, anger paralyzes

The phenomenon has been observed repeatedly in hospitals and laboratories. Brain damage in mild, pleasant people can make a JekyllHyde transformation, rendering them vicious psychopaths. Electrodes placed against the hypothalamus of cats and then stimulated will produce instant fury. Harvard University's great physiologist Walter B. Cannon was intrigued to discover “that rapid removal of the cerebral hemispheres was followed by an extraordinary exhibition of rage." Other experiments have found that paralyzed brains yield up one last emotion — anger, so wild and strong that it can't be subdued.

When normal people are in a state of extreme anger, the rest of the brain is as impotent as if it had been removed. Outlandish courses of action seem reasonable

and even urgent. The imagination is so filled with schemes for revenge that all the human faculties of sympathy and judgment disappear. Alcohol produces the same result by dulling the cerebral man and leaving anger poorly guarded.

Some human behavior specialists believe that a baby’s first cry is one of wrath, a protest against the discomfort of birth. Karl Menninger, a distinguished United States psychiatrist, has written, “The human child begins his life in anger.” Most authorities, however, disagree, believing that anger isn't a distinct emotion until the baby is six months old. At this time, the infant’s general feeling of distress separates into three parts: fear at his helplessness, anger at the world because he is in such a vulnerable condition, and hatred of his mother who is only intermittently his savior.

Studies of adult anger illustrate that mature people lose their tempers most frequently in the same situation which first infuriates babies — sudden loss of invincibility. Anger appears to be the reflexive reaction to any blow that damages the inner sense of prestige; conversely, nothing renders people more impervious to anger than a mood of self-approval.

The angriest people in the normal world are the two-year-olds.

Beset by their smallness and by admonishing mothers, two-year-olds are almost continuously frustrated and furious. One researcher counted a hundred causes of anger in this group, but other estimates run in the thousands.

Florence L. Goodenough, professor of the Institute of Child Study, University of Minnesota, has done a much respected study, Anger in Young Children. She observes that the late diaper set has three methods of displaying anger if, say, a pull toy is stuck behind the leg of a chair. One is undirected; the child just stands and screams. Another is to offer resistance by pulling frantically on the cord. The third is retaliation, which is to kick the chair or try to break the toy.

“Children between the ages of one and two, when put together in a playpen, will bite each other, pull each other’s hair and steal each other's toys,” noted Anna Freud, who worked in nurseries in wartime London. “The more their independence and strength are growing, the more they will have to be watched.”

As the child grows older, retaliation is the favored method of expressing anger, particularly in boys. It may take some odd, spiteful forms: mussing freshly brushed

hair or venomous sucking of a thumb in order to upset mother. Three - year - olds, experimenting with social relationships, arc most often provoked by playmates. All preschool children arc touchiest when hungry or sleepy, when there are visitors in the home (particularly other children), when they are ill. Routine makes them seethe — bedtime, mealtime, washing, tidying toys.

Unreleased, anger embitters

William E. Blatz, the Toronto psychologist who founded the University of Toronto's Institute of Child Study, noted that retaliatory fighting reaches its peak during the first year of school, drops off at the age of seven until it disappears in the early teens, to be replaced by sulkiness and impertinence.

The taming of a baby’s natural temper, in fact, is a steady process of driving it underground rather than removing it. Little children, like apes and the insane, put on a fireworks display of anger that lasts only a minute or two, after which cheerfulness is restored with bewildering suddenness. Adults generally are in a controlled rage for between ten and twenty minutes, followed by hours or days of grumpy bitterness.

Adults, like children, are most irritable just before a meal or when they are ill or tired. Holidays and weekends arc periods of increased testiness because only the most stable can tolerate leisure without being disturbed.

The level of irritability varies so strikingly from one person to another that CONTINUED ON PAGE 48



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Sometimes entire nations train their children to stay mad

it poses an absorbing problem in human behavior. Many authorities suspect that very angry people may be the product of mothers who were furious to find themselves pregnant. Such infants, they believe, begin life in a hostile mood and steadily grow more belligerent as a defense against rejection. Bottle-fed babies, according to some psychoanalysts, are more likely to feel mistreated than breastfed babies and accordingly may have quicker tempers.

Some other factors have been investigated. The younger children in a family, for instance, may show more open anger than firstborns, who generally repress their anger better. One study showed that adults who were sickly as children, particularly when they were younger than six, seemed to have established a permanent pattern of being easily incensed.

The most important determining factor, though, is the personality of the mother. The anger in infants is directed against the environment the mother creates. If it is callous, punitive and indifferent, the baby will have a high proportion of anger in his personality, an emotional tone which may persist for the rest of his life. In The Fears Men Live By, Selma G. Hirsh comments, “It was startling to see how often the anger expressed by the prejudiced adult turned out to be nearly as old as he was himself.”

Angry adults usually are bigots, suspicious and resentful of most of mankind. Even a reasonable man may be violently prejudiced when he is aroused. Yale University made an interesting study of a group of young men who were anticipating an exciting evening’s entertainment. The group was divided in two; one half was asked to express its attitude toward Japanese, the other half its attitude toward Mexicans. Both groups were benign. Then the men were informed that the entertainment was canceled because some boring tests were required. The questionnaires then were switched, the first half being asked about Mexicans, the other aoout Japanese. The second time the irate men expressed animosity toward both races.

Angry adults are also negative. When asked about their opinions, they offer doubts, when asked about friends, they describe enemies and when asked about experiences, tell of disappointments. Karen Horney, a renowned psychoanalyst, observed of angry people that they tend “to demand power and prestige and personal infallibility as a major mode of coping with a hostile world.” She noted exaggerated independence, ruthlessness and cynicism in the habitually angry, and a tendency to distrust and exploit others. If sexual prowess is important to them, they fill their lives with coldhearted conquests.

Sometimes entire nations have favored a stern style of raising children, with the result that the whole popu-

lation is suffused with anger. Anthropologist Margaret Mead found a tribe of head-hunters, the Iatmul, whose technique of feeding babies was to place them on a high distant shelf and leave them until they screamed with hunger. Small Iatmul children appeared to have learned the lesson that anger is rewarded, and they were savagely bad-tempered.

Germans, from the time of Caesar, have been superb in battle because of the high level of anger in the race. Centuries of Christianity failed to eradicate the quality instilled by their harsh discipline. As psychologist William McDougall pointed out, even the character of German evangelists reflects the national mood — Martin Luther was a wrathful and bellicose man.

Other psychologists have remarked that not only cold and demanding mothers produce highly angry offspring. Syrupy, coddling mothers, whose overkindness is regarded by many authorities as a crushing variety of hate, have the same effect on their children, and so do the self-righteous martyrs. “Large-minded tolerance, mixed with humor, reasonable perspective of small misdeeds, no nagging afterwards — these result in children who arc less frequently angry,” advised psychologist Alex Sha ml.

But heredity, the dark horse in human personality whose influence isn't understood, may influence the anger in humans. Investigators have discovered that even brothers and sisters in the same family will have widely varying automatic responses, such as skin resistance, salivation, pulse and respiration, while identical tudns will have almost the same responses. These differences in the neuroglandular system may be the factor that determines how' much innate anger each man contains, regardless of the good sense and good nature of his parents.

Around the turn of the century, when anger began to attract special attention in the new science of psychology, it was assumed that no one becomes angry without first being in a mood of discontent, self-dislike and irritation. This is the temper typical of a man w'hose work at the office is going badly, whose drive home is in unusually congested traffic, w'hose w'ife greets him with sulky coldness and who then is unable to find his newspaper.

But it was soon evident that anger could emerge from other moods. Many people, it was learned, will abruptly find themselves in a shaking fury, when previously they had been enjoying themselves. More rare than accumulative anger, sudden rage has some notable peculiarities. Mostly, it is caused by some circumstances linked with a childhood unpleasantness and this same circumstance, like a conditioned reflex, will always provoke anger. A woman w ho was snubbed as a child abvays becomes angry when she encounters haughtiness: a man dominated by his mother and sisters cannot abide instructions from a woman: another man who values himself for his ability to make true friends is furious when he suspects disloyalty.

The most common display of anger is pugnacity. The Roman philosopher

Seneca composed the earliest known treatise on anger, describing its “glaring eye, wrinkled brow, violent motion. the hands restless and perpetually in action, wringing and menacing, the speech false and broken . . ." Henry Siddons in 1807 advised other actors to portray anger with an "inflamed and rolling eye. a heavy and impetuous step, increased speed of all body movements." Small children bite, as Charles Darwin noted, like “young crocodiles, who snap their little jaws as soon as they emerge from the egg." The baring of teeth typical of adults was believed by Darwin to be the lingering of primitive man's inclination to tear his enemies with his teeth, and modern man's scowl a residue of the fighting caveman's increased need for protection of his eyes.

According to University of Maine professor Roy F. Richardson, in his Psychology and Pedagogy of A nger. the next most frequent display of anger is contrariness. About one time in every five they are outraged, people retaliate by being overpolite and solicitous to the objects of their anger. For this reason excessive deference is always highly suspicious.

Watch out for smiling, angry men

'The last, and least used, method of expressing anger is by indifference. People who react to an affront with a negligent shrug are no less angry than those who punch the offender in the nose, hut have fewer resources. Incapable of roaring, possibly because they are afraid of their anger, they can't devise any other acceptable means of retorting. So they appear unruffled, but withdraw to brood for a week.

The schemes of the angry are full of sadism. They plot tirelessly the words of a withering declaration they intend to make, a letter they will write to crumble an empire or wreck a marriage, deeds of revenge that in calmer moments are correctly judged to be demented. Conversation with a smiling angry man is treacherous: his wit will flay skin and nerves, his clap on the back will crack a rib. his generalizations will “inadvertently" insult the race, size, occupation or hometown of his enemy.

Meanwhile his blood pressure is taking a beating that can shorten his life. Anger has the effect in the body of increasing respiration and blood pressure and releasing adrenaline, generating greater strength and a wealth of unhinged ideas. The blood vessels swell, especially the veins. The breathing is irregular and speech may be stammering.

Suppressed anger, which lasts longer than the open variety, is even more damaging. A report in the Archives of General Psychiatry noted that people who express their anger vocally don't suffer as great an increase in blood pressure and heart rate as those who swallow their anger. Skin disorders are also suspected to be the result of suppressed anger, and so arc headaches and such other hypertension byproducts as ulcers, restlessness, fatigue and clumsiness.

Bottled anger is a hot, sour concoction that punishes every organ of the body. It is most disastrous when turned against the self, which occurs espe-

cially when the mother’s method of discipline was to show her child that her feelings were hurt. In such cases, the child feels guilty and is angry at himself; as an adult he tends to blame himself when he hits a snag or an insult.

Many psychiatrists, notably Karl Menninger, believe that depression is self-directed anger, a theory which is reflected in a treatment of attempted suicides brought to New York’s Bellevue Hospital. Presuming that these patients are angry people who haven’t been able fo turn their animosity outward, the staff handles them coarsely and unsympathetically. The indignant patients lash hack angrily — and, often, are put on the road to recovery.

Ehe vast reservoir of rich anger in every man can never he removed; the dilemma of life is to handle it properly. Some men convert their anger into a monument: Sigmund Freud was a very angry man, cold, hitter and quarrelsome, hut he opened the tloor of a universe. Sergeant York turned his anger into courage. John Calvin, his body ravished by his anger, founded a religion to serve the angriest God in Christendom. Abraham Lincoln morosely turned his anger on himself and showed genius in his mildness.

“There is actually no productive activity into which some aggression tloes not enter in one way or another,” commented psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. Work and play are both counted by psychiatry as practical outlets for anger — particularly games like golf or work like chopping wood where a man is required to hit something hard.

But anger spills over. The process of maturing is stopped cold by the wretchedness of a rash and spiteful deed, deteriorates when a grown man becomes a foot-stamping child again.

One answer is to develop hidden capacities, through the pursuit of education and hobbies. A Menninger Sanatorium experiment revealed that well-adjusted peopic seem to have twice as many hobbies as the maladjusted. Only people whose skill at living has bloomed to the point where they no longer dislike themselves can tolerate their own mistakes without becoming helplessly angry. The ineffectual are always at the mercy of mishaps.

Studies show two prime methods of recovering from anger. One is to gain a new concept of the situation which caused the anger, some additional information which will change its torrid complexion (facts were misunderstood, the opponent was experiencing some pain). The other, less admirable hut just as effective, is to regain a sense of superiority, the self-esteem whose injury aroused the anger.

Superiority is recovered most simply by clouting the adversary senseless, but the price in social prestige and ultimate regret is prohibitive. Ingenious substitutes abound. Some regain their composure by doing their enemies a favor, thus reducing the dignity of their opponents. O.hcrs feel better when they have spread a little malicious gossip, or hinted at a scandal, or kept ostentatiously silent when others were praising. Another technique is to regard the enemy t:v*oagh the wrong end of the telcscon;. ;; (hieing him ,o

midget size because he “isn't very brigl t,” “doesn’t understand,” “was acting out of jealousy” or “isn’t very well liked, poor fellow.”

Anger is energy, and must go somewhere. Some people get relief by retiring to an empty room and swearing fulsomely. Some scream. Some hum or sing; others distractedly slam a door, tear a handkerchief, kick the furniture. Parents spank their children, which promptly relieves anger hut substitutes guilt. Crying, the toddler’s favorite release, also helps adults.

“Some persons have greater mental versatility than others in finding successful expressions of anger,” remarked Maine’s Professor Richardson. “Consequently they have a greater proportion of pleasantness.”

Most people think their anger is the evil in them, that needs the pruning shears. But anger is as inevitable as breathing. "A normal emotional manifestation.“ Florence Goodenough observed. “It need cause anxiety only when it becomes excessive either in frequency or intensity, or when the attitudes aroused during anger show an undue tendency to persist in the form of grudges and feelings of persecution."

Anger can even be enjoyable. A man inflamed over injustice is delighted with himself; nothing is more beneficial to self-approbation than a good rage over a clearly unfair act. “The anger of society." as William McDougall puts it, takes the form of ethics and law. a united righteous anger against wrong. Throughout the blooded world, anger defends the hearth; every species fights for its territory — springtime’s songbirds, elephants, goats, stickleback fish, moose, wolves, rats and men.

“A large part of education is to teach men to he angry aright,” declared President G. Stanley Hall. “Man has powers of resentment which should he hitched onto and allowed to do good and profitable work.”

Immanuel Kant mused two hundred years ago: “Man wishes concord, hut nature knows better what is good for the species.” ★

A final article on the emotions — The Blues — will appear in an early issue.