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The real cause of anger and the benefit of knowing it

Most of us have that one person in our community whom we avoid to talk to or judge as a “the grumpy” because he/she gets irritated very easily. We usually avoid he/she even more especially after he/she shows his/her anger to us either by sharp words or annoying behavior. We just feel that this person is just evil and there is no point spending time with this person.

This is exactly the way I think until one day I attend a seminar about psychology in workplace. On that seminar, the presenter introduced us a concept named “The Anger Iceberg”. The illustration is shown on the picture below:


This concept explains anger is just a manifestation of what a person actually feels or thinks. What’s sometimes we assume is that the fact when someone is angry it is truly their fault for not being able to control his/ her emotion. That is not wrong but there is one big assumption on that premise, which is the fact that we assume that everyone is consented to have certain feeling or thoughts.

Let me give you an example. A friend of mine told me that he had a boss who scolded him at least three times a week. Everytime he presents his work, his boss always criticizes him and tells him that most of his idea is impractical and non-value adding. My friend hates his boss so much until one day he discovers the reason why his boss behaves that way.

Apparently the company is financially unstable so top management is significantly more demanding to any projects that requires company budget. There was one occasion when one department did not utilize the budget well and drove top management mad. This caused that department got negative image and made them have even more limited budget on the following year.

Knowing this situation, my friend’s boss was a bit worried that his department will face the same situation if they are not producing great work. This situation forced him to impose high standard to his team member, including my friend. Knowing this fact allowed my friend to understand why the boss behaved that way.

In other situation, the cause for the anger is not the issue that is currently faced but the issue that happened in the past that has not been let go. For example, another friend of mine has a problem in receiving feedback, even a constructive one. Everytime he gets feedback, he always takes it so personally and responds offensively to the feedback giver.

One day he reached out to a psychologist to figure out about how to manage his anger better. That moment opened his eyes that he became very sensitive to criticisms because he had a traumatizing experience when he was a child. He had tough parents who never got satisfied with what he achieved and always criticized him. This situation made him grow as a person who sees feedback as an attack not a gift for personal development.

Why we need to understand this

There are some advantages that I get after understanding and applying the concept of iceberg anger in my daily life. Some of them are:

Manage our own anger

Although I know about this concept, sometimes I still get irritated, but this concept helps me not only to make it less frequent but also to manage it better. The way I leverage anger iceberg is by “flipping” the iceberg and identifying the root cause. Identifying the right root cause (i.e worry) helps me to find a more sustainable solution.

Resolve conflict with others

If we know why someone thinks they the way they think, it will help us to tailor our approach when dealing with them. In the case of my friend in dealing with his boss, he learns that he needs to put extra emphasize on making his recommendation more practical and adding value.

Have a more peaceful mental state

I’m not saying that I don’t judge people anymore but I do it less frequently. I force myself to think that the person does not have the intention but is “forced” by circumstances to behave that way. This helps me to have a more positive and peaceful state of mind.

There is science to back this up. Everytime we have negative thoughts, our body releases cortisol, stress hormone. The more cortisol released in response of our negative thoughts, the more difficult our brain produce new positive memory over time.

There are reasons why someone gets irritated. However in a lot of case, it’s not because the person wants to but because he/she is “forced” by the situation. Now it’s up to you whether you want to use this concept to change the way you perceive anger :)

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