Anger and offense: how can we understand them better and their relationship?

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Leandro Castelluccio

Anger and offense are two phenomena that are often closely related. On the one hand we have a basic emotion and on the other a sensation with a more elaborated conceptual component where various mechanisms are interwoven that include our interactions with others, values, culture and our associated behaviors. Offense has been the result of philosophical and legal debate, and has even been used in the regulation and control of society by the different authorities in force. It is an important component in psychology since it involves different cognitive schemes, perceptions and behaviors. Here we reflect on some aspects of this topic from an approach that contemplates an ethical system based on high reward states (as proposed in Proposiciones– only in Spanish language), and various psychological aspects.

On the one hand, it has been theorized that anger can be a sign of weakness. Let’s think that our world is surrounded by actions arising from an orientation toward a short-term reward, where the cultivation of skills is left aside, and in a general way self-esteem is left aside, given place to actions fed by low capacity that lead people to states of less reward. Based on the states of greatest reward, the actions linked to this imply strength. Strength occurs mainly in self-esteem, this is true power or capacity in the sense that it is associated with rewarding states: self-esteem as the state of enjoyment, satisfaction, well-being or joy related to what one is capable of doing, which is complex and moves away from the norm, that goes beyond what others can do. Greater self-esteem implies greater ability to create, produce, overcome obstacles, achieve things independently without the need for intermediaries, and even more without the need to subject others to one’s own ends, which would be a sign of lack of capacity, lower self-esteem which does not promote its expansion, since growth is towards independence.

Now, there are many differences between an offense, which is something punctual, isolated, where aggression might not be an appropriate response, from what is a continuous harassment towards one, where a certain amount of self-assertion and aggressiveness, as a form of defense, perhaps can be an appropriate response in various situations.

Offense can be reasoned in the following way: as we mentioned, anger could be a useful emotion in certain cases, but usually it is a symptom of lack of capacity in some concrete aspect, given that one is impotent and does not know what to do to guarantee a need or reach a goal, it is usually a symptom of insecurity, that one depends on what others think to measure one’s own worth or strength; think of the feeling of anger associated with others thinking different than oneself, this occurs in many things, when one observes another, one gets angry if one thinks that the other person thinks bad things about us, many resort to force, but force does not change what the other thinks, such action does not serve the purpose of eliminating the cause of one’s anger, but the anger seems to go by imposing one’s power, showing one is strong, where such demonstration seems to calm oneself down, although the other person can and probably continues thinking the same way and the unfavorable opinion is accentuated in consequence of the answer one carries on. 

The aggressive response is useless to the modification of the cause that generated in us the anger, because to hit another person that thinks that one is stupid or weak is not going to change the person from thinking such thing, the mind does not work like that, but beyond this, it is an action arising from the lack of capacity, from low self-esteem, a lower state of reward and that does not imply an expansion towards a state of greater reward such as self-esteem; one is controlled by others, others have immediate power over oneself if their words generate in us such reaction, what one is able to do or achieve is little, one can not regulate one’s aggressiveness, one can not be sure of one’s ideas, what we think, what we are, one is threatened and hurt by the words of others. If one is sure that these words are not true one would not have to react with violence, and if they were true, greater ability to do implies carrying out truly productive actions to change what one dislikes or does not feel at ease with, and if we can not change what we do not like, one can demonstrate power in overcoming it to the point of indifference (mentally, for what it implies for oneself) to what another says; thus in the offense or lack of respect, the ones insecure of themselves, those of low self-esteem, who are not clear about their ideas, are usually offended, the common reaction, apart from the aggression as indicated before, is to search for all possible means to make the other subject apologize or change his/her opinion, that often says more of oneself than of the other; you do not change your mind without causes, people still think the same thing but they apologize and the offended person feels a little better, but again, nothing has changed, the other is still thinking the same way, and that is the important thing, what is manifested affects us because one realizes that thought, but the fundamental thing is what one thinks even if it is not explicit.

One must coexist with the fact that others think different things than oneself, but being offended or feeling disrespected is usually a sign of lack of capacity rather than something else, implies that someone else has power over oneself, that one does not achieve so much, one does not separate from what the majority does; if one is sure of oneself and one’s ideas, if one learns the control of aggressiveness or being indifferent to the offensive words of another, one in a certain way achieves more, one demonstrates a greater self-esteem; attacking the offender or asking him or her to retract, by any possible means, will not change what the person thinks, the conflict is internal, one must handle one’s own insecurities, one’s own anger. Who is stronger, who achieves more, the person who uses force when offended or the person who controls it, who does not allow himself to be carried away by anger?

The central issue anyway is not to be offended, to have high self-esteem, so, what another says will not offer any threat to oneself, it will not generate such reactions. The threat and its results, fear and anxiety is a present component when self-esteem is lacking (those of low self-esteem), while in high self-esteem, no threat is generated by the environment in the same way. Who has power when one is offended, who controls who? 

Now, all of the above is a way of reasoning about the matter of which I think one has to be especially careful. For what one can do associated with the reward has to favor one’s life, if by our nature remaining as if nothing has happened in front of an offense generates greater discomfort than good, we must act differently. I think that the procedure mentioned above makes sense perhaps in the face of offense made by people who are unknown or who will not get involved in our lives in any way, and I say maybe, because even in this case it may be better to react in a different way.

I’m not saying that one should physically assault the other person, I’m saying not to remain silent or without clarifying to the other that this comment makes one feel bad or is wrong or harmful in some way, and seek to persuade the other person that it is not the appropriate way to address others. My reasoning for saying this is following: when we react to an insult, it may be that the degree of truthfulness that we consider the affirmation of the insult affects the degree of emotional response, the anger it generates, but even if it is not considered true, the perception of an idea contrary to a personal value that is affirmed generates a response of natural rejection and displeasure, and makes people angry, even if it is at a minimum level, because one must face an idea that if it defeats the ideas and beliefs that we have, it would generate a state of dissatisfaction and discomfort.

The discomfort is generated because there is a threat to what rewards us and I think it is detrimental to oneself if that is not faced and left aside. Now, that hurting another is the right response is another aspect. If every time one is insulted by the same thing one is going to hit the other, one will not have achieved any change in oneself, the situation will generate the same discomfort, if we can evaluate the affirmation, if we verify its falsehood or its truth we will generate an adaptive change. The strength is that one can overcome the environment, the situation, the lack of capacity is when the environment or the situation beats one, if one learns to trust one’s own judgment, to evaluate the affirmations, it will be better for one. Now, that we can do that does not mean that we will stop feeling bad in front of certain insults, because the unpleasant idea arises again to be faced with our values, although we have already done it, the communication here is important, to achieve that the source of negativity is no longer present for one, it is best to do it in the most peaceful way possible, in the right way according to self-esteem, to high reward states. That one beats the environment does not mean attacking anyone who tells us something we do not like, that would mean that the environment defeats one, because one can not generate permanent adaptive changes in oneself, which allow us to face similar situations with less stress and discomfort, where the negative sensation and the anger provoked does not end up dominating one.

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