You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry

YOU WON’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY

Reposted from SHIELD MAIDEN INSTITUTE ™ with Permission

You wouldn’t know it to look at us, but my family and I are huge comic book fans.  We love all things comics including movies, graphic novels, ComicCon, etc.  We haven’t actually been to a ComicCon Convention, but we have a library of comic books and animated films.  Plus, I have been known to dress up like Harley for a Halloween or two (okay maybe more than two).  

Our family’s formal introduction to comics began when I married my husband.  I had always been a casual comic reader, but my husband had grown up as a collector.  Central to his collection was his Hulk comic books.  I for one love the Hulk.  For those unfamiliar with the Hulk, the Hulk is actually a man named Dr. Bruce Banner. Dr. Bruce Banner was a brilliant military scientist.  He was a think wisp of a man with a very mild-mannered disposition.

Bruce’s upbringing was far from ideal.  According to the Marvel database Bruce grew up in a home where he was loved immensely by his mother but despised by his father.  Bruce’s father Dr. Brian Banner’s disdain from his son was a result of his own broken childhood coupled with jealousy about the amount of affection Bruce received from his mother, Brian’s wife, Rebecca.  This was made worse by Brian’s alcoholism and his unsubstantiated fear that his work with radiation had mutated Bruce’s DNA.

As a child Bruce was physically abused by his father.  He had limited family support with the exception of his maternal cousin, Jenifer Walters.  To cope with the abuse, he retreated into his books. Bruce’s life shifted dramatically when his father killed his mother and was institutionalized.  After the death of his father he was raised in the care of his paternal aunt, who raised him in a loving household.

Banner grew up to be a shy, somewhat awkward, but intellectually gifted adult.  He graduated with a doctorate in Nuclear Physics and took a job as a nuclear physicist on a military base.  It was on this base the 7-foot behemoth known Hulk was born.  The Hulk was the byproduct of Banner getting caught in a Gamma Ray explosion while trying to rescue a teenager name Rick Jones.

The Hulk, Banner’s alter ego, is the polar opposite of Banner.  Where Banner is small, mild mannered, and brilliant, the Hulk is a giant, angry monster who is driven by emotion.  Where Banner is extremely controlled, the Hulk represents a complete lack of control.  

So, you are probably wondering what this has to do with anger and anger management.  

Some fans and psychologists have suggested that the Hulk is a representation of Banner’s suppressed anger. There could be number of reasons for this.  He may have felt that growing up in an abuse household didn’t allow for a safe place to express his anger since his abuser was bigger and more powerful than him.  He may have repressed his anger because he was fearful of losing control or becoming like his abuser.  It’s also possible witnessing destructive anger may send mixed messages about when and where anger is appropriate.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to losing control of anger as Hulking Out.  

What does it mean to Hulk Out?

The term Hulking Out as I am using it refers to expressing destructive anger and the inability to manage anger.

How do you know when you are in danger of Hulking Out? 

Below are some indications that you may be Hulking Out.  You do not have to have all the signs listed below to Hulk Out.  Hulking Out looks different for everyone.   

Behavioral 

  • Regularly using alcohol or drugs to calm yourself (take the edge off)
  • Destroying things when angry (furniture, walls, personal items)
  • Sleep issues (sleeplessness, restless sleep)
  • Always raising your voice (being verbally aggressive)
  • Lashing out by engaging self-destructive behavior

Emotional

  • Not being aware of your own feelings (not recognizing signs of irritation or anger) 
  • Quick escalation of anger (sudden blow ups or temper flares)
  • Anger that is disproportionate to the situation (getting set off by little things)

Social

  • Continually defensive in social situations
  • Constantly offending other and having to apologize
  • Relationships based on fear
  • Frequently resentful towards others
  • Vengeful (Holding on to grudges)
  • Argumentative (prone to conflict)
  • Mean spirited (uses humor to disguise meanness)
  • Uses verbally abusive language (blaming, swearing at others) 
  • Frequent run-ins with law enforcement
  • Engaging in backhanded compliments

Physical

  • Jaw clenching
  • Stomach aches or pains
  • Tightening of muscles
  • Looking flushed
  • Body trembling or shaking uncontrollable
  • Headaches
  • Ears ringing
  • Feeling hot or flush
  • Tensing up of feeling uneasy body language

*Adapted from Hulk Syndrome –  http://www.centerforworklife.com/hulk-syndrome/

What’s Wrong with Hulking Out?
  • Destructive Anger is costly (Physically and Emotionally).  The story of the Hulk is rife with destruction.  I am reminded of the old Hulk TV show with Lou Ferrigno.  Each episode ended the same way, with Dr. Banner staring back at the destruction he has left in his wake.  When anger is out of control it can have the effect of a hurricane. Punching a wall may feel good in the moment, but the hospital bill, damage to your hand, and potentially lost income or increase insurance cost are hardly worth it. Additionally, not all damage is recoverable.  The damage caused to those around you may not be fixable. The fear inflicted, the relationship lost, and the legal ramification of you anger may have longstanding consequences.   
  • Destructive Anger is burdensome for those around you.  Angry outbursts are time consuming.  It takes time to deescalate a situation and depending on when it happens it may me taking time away from work or other obligations.
  • Destructive Anger alienates you from others.   It’s hard to be in relationship with someone who explodes or destroys things. Spending time with someone who has difficulty managing their anger is like walking though an invisible minefield.  Even if you watch your step there is no guarantee you won’t get hurt.
  • Destructive Anger makes communication hard.  Destructive anger shuts down our ability to hear and be heard.    Anger triggers a variety of emotions in others and can cause a fight, flight, freeze response if our bodies feel we are in danger.  
  • Destructive Anger affects your judgement.  Destructive anger shuts down the part of our brain that helps us make good decisions. Literally, when our emotions are out of control our emotion center (amygdala) runs the show and our thinking brain (cerebral cortex) takes a back seat.
  • Destructive Anger affects your health. Destructive anger has been linked to a variety of health problems including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, stomach issues, sleep issues, depression, and anxiety.
  • Adapted from Anger: The Dangers of Becoming the Incredible Hulk: http://hanofharmony.com/anger-the-dangers-of-becoming-the-incredible-hulk/ 
What Causes Us to Hulk Out?

As I mentioned in my post titled, It’s All About Survival.  Our bodies are wired for survival.  Fight, flight, or freeze is the body’s automatic response to a perceived threat.  It is an adaptive survival response, alerting us to danger and preparing us to respond to threats.  We can’t always control the way our body responds. Our body responds in the way it thinks is best to survive the encounter.  What may present as anger, might actually be a fear response.  In the case of the Hulk, his anger gets triggered whenever he feels like he is being threatened. 

How do I keep from Hulking Out?
  • The best way to keep form Hulking Out is to practice emotional regulation (behavioral control).  These tips are the same ones I shared in my previous post, Control…it’s What I Want.
  • Increase awareness – Pay attention and notice any signs that indicate you are about to Hulk Out.  Does your chest tighten, do you clench your teeth, is your stomach upset, or are there any other noticeable signs (behavioral, emotional, or physical)?
  • Identify triggers – Try to notice if there are any particular situations or people that are associated with Hulking Out. Is it on your morning commute, at the office, or when engaging with particular people?  Knowing your triggers can help you plan how to respond more effectively. 
  • Acquire skills – What sort of things help you to regain control.  Do you need to leave the situation, distract yourself, practice some type of relation skill, mentally prepare by engaging in self talk, make schedule or relationship adjustment, or seek professional help? 
Is All Anger Bad?  

The answer, like Banners relationship with the Hulk is complicated.  In the comics it was clear that Dr. Banner did not like the Hulk and the Hulk did not like Banner.  Banner felt the Hulk represented the worst parts of himself and the Hulk saw Banner as a puny weakling.  The Hulk represents all the anger Banner unconsciously suppressed.  The truth is, Banner and Hulk are two sides of the same coin.

Constructive Anger. Everyone experiences anger. The idea is not to suppress anger, which can lead to depression, but to express anger constructively.  Using anger constructively means recognizing anger as an indication of a problematic situation and using anger as a catalyst for change.   Constructive anger can be useful.  

  • Constructive anger can motivate and spurn change  
  • Constructive anger communicates discomfort
  • Constructive anger can be an indication of boundary violation

Dr. Banner is genetically predisposed to become the Hulk.   For the rest of us how we express our anger is a choice.

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