Anger with inappropriate attributions of agency

Consider the example of Paul:

Paul is a 13-year-old boy with severe kidney problems which are being treated with regular and prolonged dialysis requiring frequent hospitalisation. Paul gets on reasonably well with his parents and friends but has a very bad relationship with his slightly older sister, Julie. Whenever Julie is around, Paul is always bullying her and shouting at her and sometimes her very presence seems to rouse him to uncontrollable rages.

Paul is clearly and understandably angry at the world or fate for singling him out as someone to have a highly disabling illness, for making him different and an object of pity. However, it seems that much of this anger is displaced onto Julie even though it is clearly not her fault that Paul is ill. Such displacement of anger is an everyday occurrence; no doubt we have all "taken it out" on someone close or been more aggressive while driving (e.g., Lawton & Nutter, 2002). However, the displacement of anger can also become disordered and disabling to relationships and social groups.

Anger can also be directed at and displaced onto the self. The research we reviewed in the first half of the chapter, despite its breadth of sampling and methodological rigour, says little about such self-directed anger. This is perhaps surprising as no doubt all of us have at some time or other felt angry with ourselves for being negligent or behaving inappropriately in a way that could have been avoided. An understanding of anger directed towards the self seems especially important in considering emotional order and disorder; indeed, during the earlier part of the twentieth century, self-directed anger and rage were central to a number of theories of depression, especially those from the psychoanalytic school (e.g., Freud, 1917). The pioneering work which proposed a role for self-directed anger in depression was Freud's Mourning and Melancholia, published in 1917 when Freud was in his 60s and had his own personal experiences of being depressed to draw upon. We reviewed the limitations of Freud's ideas of the involvement in depression of anger turned inwards towards the ego in greater detail in Chapter 7 so we will spend no more time on this aspect of anger here. Nevertheless, we note the increasing interest in the possible role of anger in eating disorders (e.g., Waller et al., 2003) and post-traumatic stress disorder (e.g., Novaco & Chemtob, 2002) (see Chapter 6).

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