Anger & Guilt – A Disfunctional Family

Anger is an emotion that centers on getting control. Someone calls you an “inconsiderate idiot,” and you feel angry. Someone cuts in front of you on the freeway, and you feel angry. Someone attacks your friend, and you feel angry. Someone tells you that you will not get the pay increase you think you deserve, and you feel angry. What causes you to feel anger? What do all of these situations have in common?

Anger is caused by a perceived loss of control over factors affecting values important to us. The values in the above examples might be pride, getting someplace on time, someone you love, money, or being treated “fairly”- we are frustrated about not getting what we want or expect.

With anger, we pompously think we know what caused the problem is. We have some target(s) for our anger. It may be the person criticizing you, the person who cut you off on the freeway, someone assaults a friend, your boss, or even yourself. With anger, we may hope that a burst of energy aimed at the threat will defeat the issue causing your anger. Or we may hope that a burst of energy aimed at the proper target will break the barrier stopping us from meeting our goals.

Anger can be used constructively at times. It can give us energy we need to fight back if physically attacked. However, for most situations it merely clouds our judgment and creates extra stress. If anger prompts aggressive behavior toward other people, it can permanently harm relationships–especially with those we love. Prolonged or frequent resentment (mild anger) has been shown to be a significant cause of cardiovascular problems and heart attacks.

Let’s face it – anger is a fact of life. Our world is filled with violence, hatred, war, and aggression. Psychologically, many theories of human development focus on the infant’s struggle with anger and frustration and the primitive fantasies of aggression, guilt, and reparation that result from these feelings; don’t go there. In essence, we may be confronted with anger right from the beginning of life. The truth is, anger may be a “natural”—that is, a commonly occurring—social reaction to hurt and insult, but being natural doesn’t always make it good for us.

Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that they have violated a moral standard, and that he or she is responsible for that violation  It is closely related to the concept of remorse and is one of the sure foundations for sorrow.

In psychology, as well as in ordinary language, guilt is an affective state in which one experiences conflict at having done something that one believes one should not have done (or conversely, having not done something one believes one should have done). It gives rise to a feeling which does not go away easily, driven by ‘conscience‘. In some cases, the victim may be at fault for having attracted the other person’s hostility. Guilt and its causes and effects, are common themes in psychology and psychiatry. It is often associated with anxiety, and sometimes depression. In looking for a focus of our guilt, we may misalign the “blame game” without realizing it if we move too quickly or with the wrong attitude. An analytical evaluation is best before dumping the extremely heavy load of “guilt” in the wrong direction.

Sometimes guilt can be a good thing. For example, if a person feels guilty when he harms another, he is more likely not to harm others or become too selfish in future situations. In this way, he reduces the chances of retaliation by members of his society/community, and thereby increases his survival prospects, and those of said society/community. As with any other emotion, guilt can be manipulated to control or influence others. As a highly social creature living in large groups that are relatively stable, we need ways to deal with conflicts and events in which we inadvertently or purposefully harm others. If someone causes harm to another, and then feels guilt and demonstrates regret and sorrow, the person harmed is likely to forgive. Thus, guilt opens the door to forgiveness, and helps hold the social group together, possibly binding it more tightly than before.


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