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The anger epidemic: is our modern world fueling aggression?

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The anger epidemic: is our modern world fueling aggression?

lLast week, a video showing Peter Abbott, 60, shouting insults at TV producer Samantha Isaacs gained viral viewership, after Abbott was found guilty at Poole Magistrates Court of “using words or behavior threatening to cause alarm, distress or fear of violence.” .

In the phone video, Abbott is seen growling and screaming as he presses his face against Isaacs’ car window. He looks like he’s channeling Harry Enfield’s character, Angry Frank, because of how cartoonishly aggressive his contorted facial expressions and confrontational demeanor are. He not only hit Isaacs’ car but also called her a “slag” and a “whore.”

When another driver pointed out the terrible appearance of bullying a woman, he responded: “She’s a f***ing annoying woman.”

Is the image of Abbott’s dyspeptic face just a frozen image of a strange incident or a reflection of an unpleasant and growing aspect of modern life? Aaron Balick, psychotherapist and author of The psychodynamics of social networks, believes that new technologies have ushered in an era in which “there are more ways to express anger” and there is less shame about expressing it. He also attributes this cultural shift to politicians like Donald Trump who have “normalized” anger.

According to Gallup’s Global Emotions Report, anger around the world has been increasing since 2016, and 23% of respondents now feel angry on any given day; Understandably, the numbers are much higher in war zones.

In the UK, shop workers and service staff have reported sharp increases in customer abuse in recent years, and one study showed that criminal violence in doctors’ surgeries GP care had doubled in five years (this was when it was possible to get an appointment at a GP). surgery). Reported incidents of road violence also increased by 40 percent between 2021 and 2022 (although closures would have played a role).

Anger, aggression, abuse and criminal violence are, of course, different things. There is also a psychiatric classification of “intermittent explosive disorder.” Abbott, who now faces a prison sentence, did not claim to have suffered, but in his defense he did argue that being angry was not a crime. Psychologists distinguish between anger (an emotion) and aggression (a behavior). Clearly, the judge decided that Abbott had moved into the behavioral category.

“Anger is a natural emotion that arises involuntarily,” Balick says. In basic psychological terms, anger is a means of alerting another that a boundary has been crossed. “Obviously you can also get angry about false premises,” adds Balick.

“Saying how you feel is anger,” says Michael Fisher, founding director of the British Anger Management Association. “It becomes aggressive when you start yelling and shouting insults.”

To witness the transition from anger to aggression, a good place to look is British roads. In some studies, as many as 6 in 10 drivers report being victims of aggressive driving.

Letting it all out… Photography: Prostock-studio/Alamy, posed by the model

Risk of driving aggression. Is

And just like in the online world, on the road “there’s no interpersonal complexity,” Balick says, “so it’s easier to be angry with someone, because you don’t really see them as a person, but as an object or an enemy. “.

“Motor vehicles are a safe space,” Fisher says, “where people can act without getting hurt, until someone cuts you.”

In fact, it is a rare driver who does not maintain some kind of commentary, internal or external, about the incompetence and arrogance of other drivers. To take control of a vehicle is to put yourself in a position to make decisions, not just about routes or gear changes, but often about the moral character of everyone else on the road.

So there is a heightened sense of judgment even before a conflict arises. What’s more, we tend to be very territorial and proprietary about our cars, as if they were an extension of ourselves. A 2008 study at Colorado State University found that drivers who personalize their cars with bumper stickers and other signs of territoriality are more likely to experience road rage.

None of this is to say that driving, in and of itself, turns Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Studies show that it is people who tend to be aggressive and impulsive in other areas of their lives who are most prone to road rage. It may not be a surprise that men in their 20s and 30s top this list. “But road rage doesn’t start when someone cuts you off,” Fisher says. It has deep roots, she maintains, and is a manifestation of unresolved historical trauma “that can lead to aggression or depression, fight or flight.”

Many psychologists talk about a cycle of anger or aggression that has different stages: trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery, depression. like Abbott did, it’s hard to see the

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However, Balick says what is often ignored is that “it feels good to express the energy that comes with anger.”

There is the thrill of increased heartbeat and alert senses that can be addictive.

“People react strongly to this burning emotion to the point that they don’t predict the consequences,” he says.

Angry car drivers and social media warriors are also empowered by a greater sense of anonymity. In 1969, Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment in which students who administered electric shocks were found to be more sadistic when their identities were hidden by a hood. Zimbardo, as he put it, wanted to show “the ease with which ordinary people could be induced to engage in antisocial acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous.”

The same process takes place in crowds, where aggression can also be contagious. It is almost impossible to establish the extent to which these areas of bad behavior affect behavior in everyday life. But it’s a reasonable assumption that trolls with names like Ratface6788891 could take some of their online enmity into the real world. On the one hand, the ubiquity of the smartphone has brought the virtual world into every aspect of the real world. Balick has no doubt that the Internet age has also reduced social barriers against anger.

As he himself has said, “the emotional contagion capacity of anger has increased; “It is certainly seen that anger passes through populations much more easily.”

However, the smartphone can also expose people. All it takes is a camera phone and the vehicle’s license plate number to destroy anonymity, as Abbott discovered.

He stated in court that he would have behaved in exactly the same way “with anyone, regardless of their sex, size or age,” as if it were a matter of principle. As with online anger, there is often an element of righteous indignation at play in the angry person’s self-perception. Would he really have seemed as threatening if the driver he was facing was half his age and twice his size?

Whatever the truth, anger management seems like an option Abbott and those like him should consider. Fisher claims that 88% of participants in his course notice positive effects after 18 months. At the core of his teaching are two fundamental principles: first, look at the big picture and second, don’t take anything personally.

In the bigger picture of driving a car, for example, some unforeseen obstacle is always likely to arise. And if people honk at you, it may be because you’ve done something wrong or because they’re hyperactive, but either way, Fisher says, “don’t do it for yourself.”

Threatening forms of anger are always focused on another person, but in reality they almost invariably refer to the aggressor. Maybe Abbott will think about that when he calms down.

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