Anger with an extrinsic motivation

There are a number of situations in which the motives behind episodes of anger are extrinsic ones; that is, they do not depend on the interruption or thwarting of a valued goal with an attribution of agency. Anger that is extrinsically motivated in this way is a recurring issue in the mental health clinic; Averill provides the following example:

A man is frustrated at work because he cannot complete a project as anticipated, due to an unavoidable delay in securing needed material. While driving home from work in heavy traffic, he is involved in a near accident. Although outwardly calm by the time he arrives home, he retains a residue of physiological arousal. The man has promised to take his son to a school function that evening, and would very much like to get out of it. He goes to his son's room, where the boy is playing a war game, with a variety of toy weapons lying around the room. The man becomes quite angry at his son, ostensibly because the boy has not done certain chores; and as punishment he refuses the boy permission to leave the house that evening. (1982, p. 338)

In this example, the man is ostensibly angry because his son has not performed the household tasks he should have done. However, it seems clear that even if the son had been exemplary in his domestic duties, the father would have found something to get angry about in order that he did not have to take his son out that evening. In this scenario there is an anger-provoking event (the son's failure to perform his chores); however, there is also a clear indication that the father's anger is motivated by his extrinsic desire to have an evening at home. Examples such as this are common and often relatively unproblematic; however, again the slope from emotional order to emotional disorder is a slippery one, and many therapeutic hours are spent in understanding and intervening in situations where not just anger but other emotions are employed for instrumental gain. Anger can be used to exert control, to gain attention, to maintain fear in loved ones, as a barrier to intimacy, and as a way of justifying behaviour that would not otherwise be committed.

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