If someone is rude to you, or you think they are, what is your first response? Do you become instinctively aggressive? Are you looking for a fight?
While some responses can be the result of a bad day, a temporary misjudgment, or an appropriate reaction to someone else’s aggression, in some cases, lasting anger can stem from elsewhere.
For people who are always ready, or already looking for a confrontation, this can often be associated with childhood.
The way we grew up in our formative years has a huge 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. The links between anger and childhood abandonment are well documented.
Being isolated for long periods of time as a child—whether it’s because their parents have to work or take on care responsibilities or other obligations—can leave youngsters having to solve problems on their own, leaving them feeling even 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 supporting cells of the nervous system, which in turn affects the development of cognitive functions.
So, while some of these children may become more adept at dealing with stress and managing their emotions on their own, it may be a more difficult path for others.
Anger may arise in them a little easier than in their peers because they did not have an outlet to express their feelings in childhood.
Dom* was the only child who could relate. “My parents worked a lot, so I was often left alone, even at the age of eight. So I had to take care of myself,” says the 34-year-old Londoner, who works for a publishing company.
“I was also bullied in school and changed schools a few times, around my teens, I had mental health issues and had to deal with it myself. As an adult, I feel like I always have a chip on my shoulder,” because I want to fend for myself and have my back, I am willing to do everything in my power to protect myself.”
The way we were treated as young adults can affect how we act later, says Shelley Treacher, member of the Therapy and Counseling Guide.
She told HuffPost: “When exploring anger, annoyance or frustration, in therapy, a feeling often arises that you were treated unfairly in childhood, or in the past.
“Anger happens as a way of showing that something is wrong. It happens when we feel the need to defend ourselves and protest suffering. It can also feel the intense power of anger. This is an ancient survival tool.”
She adds that when you’re young, you don’t always have a platform to feel and express those feelings, especially if there’s no one to show your emotions to, such as parents and/or guardians.
When we are subjected to unfair or painful treatment early in life, we often cannot respond. “It’s usually seen as too dangerous to do,” Treacher adds.
“We are confused about right and wrong. So, resentment builds up in our systems. In a family or culture that values control of emotions, we may also suppress our emotions in order to function in life.
“But, like a pressure cooker, anger is ready to explode when unfair treatment is perceived later in life. Unfortunately, this can often be a projection and a misunderstanding.”
It explains how the nervous system is primed for a “fight” response when it sees a threat or something similar to the original abuse. This explains sudden outbursts of misplaced, or “defensive” tantrums.
So how do you get that response, if it exists at all?
Treacher adds: “It is impossible to control this reaction physiologically, without exercising consistent conscious self-regulation, and an understanding of the original wound.
“Many of us are constantly looking for an apology or fair treatment in the present, when in fact, what we are constantly repeating is the desire to acknowledge and heal the original harm.”
Anger is a natural emotion, the release of which can be facilitating, but the important thing is to implement it in a healthy and communicative manner, rather than exploding and causing irreversible harm.
If you are more prone to outbursts, you can also try meditative exercises where you breathe and count to five before responding.
If it is a permanent problem, it may also be helpful to talk to loved ones and a therapist.