The Psychology And Significance Of Anger, And How We Understand It

Aug 5, 2019

We follow up on a recent NPR series, "The Other Side of Anger," which explores the physiology and psychology of this powerful emotion. We look at how we define anger, and how it manifests in our personal lives and our broader society.

GUESTS:

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

If you are in a relationship and feel you may be experiencing abuse, contact the The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-866-644-3574. 

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Producer's note: We have one point of clarification and correction embedded in this transcript, regarding the ratio of male and female victims of domestic violence. You can find it noted in the transcript, and more information at the bottom of this page. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Surveys show many Americans feel we're living in angry times. According to a recent NPR poll, more than 80 percent believe we're angrier than a generation ago, and 40 percent said they personally felt angrier. Given these results, NPR's science and health reporters spent the past year exploring anger, the physiology, psychology, cultural aspects. Also, how anger manifests itself in the individual and the broader society. It's a subject we plan to cover about a week ago, which seems all the more relevant now, given the anger expressed by those committing mass murder in our country today in exchange, anger. What we need to understand about this powerful emotion. Let's get your questions and comments in our e-mail exchange. At nhpr.org, or call calling 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. We have two guests. joining us by phone, Lisa Feldman Barrett.

Laura Knoy:
She's a distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University. With appointment at Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital, Lisa is also author of the 2017 book How Emotions Are Made. And Lisa Feldman Barrett, welcome back to The Exchange. Good to have you.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Very, very happy to be here.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us in studio, Linda Douglas. She's with the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, where she's a trauma informed services specialist. And Linda, good to see you. Thank you also for your time.

Linda Douglas:
Thank you so much.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Lisa, to you first, please. As a scientist who studies emotions, who's written books about emotions, what is anger?

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Well, I think traditionally the way that people have thought about anger or for a really long time is that it's a circuit in your brain, that something happens in the world. Maybe someone insults you or there is some demeaning offense that has been perpetrated against you. And this triggers the circuit and causes you to feel enraged and then engage in in some act of violence. But actually, the scientific evidence suggests that's not really what's happening under the hood at all. That what your brain is always doing is kind of predicting what's going to happen next. And so when your brain predicts that there will be an offence or that someone will act unfairly towards you, your brain prepares you to act in a particular way. And oftentimes that way is is violence.

Laura Knoy:
So you kind of get angry in advance.

Lisa?

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Yeah. So it's it's a really interesting thing. You know, the our brains don't work exactly the way that we experience everyday life.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Right. So the way we experience things is stuff happens in the world. We detect it and then we react to it. And sometimes we react with feelings and actions that are, you know, ill advised or that can even cause other people harm. But actually, what your brain is doing is it's constantly guessing what's going to happen based on your past experience. So you have had a lifetime filled with experiences yourself and also things you've read and things you've seen on television, things you've read in the newspaper, maybe seen online. And these things become the seeds of your memory and your brain.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
What your brain is doing is it's constantly guessing what's going to happen next. What do I need to do about it? And those guesses are preparations for action and they are your emotions. So your emotions are your brain's best guess about what's going to happen next and preparing you to act. And what's really interesting is that the feelings that you have are a consequence of the prepare your brain preparing you to act. It's not the other way round. Your feelings don't cause you to act. Your feelings are a consequence of preparing to act in a particular way.

Laura Knoy:
So that memory, as you describe it, isn't just in the traditional way we understand memory. Lisa, you know, actual things that happened to me in my family, in my home, that memory and I'm using air quotes here, but you can't see it on the radio is shaped by the broader society. What you see online, what you see, you know, on the TV that's on at the airport and so forth.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Oh, absolutely. And this has been demonstrated really in hundreds, if not thousands of experiments in very controlled circumstances. So your brain is constantly remembering it's constantly using past experiences that you personally may have had, but also that you may have had by proxy, as we said, by reading or watching movies or TV or whatever. And if using these past experiences to guide action.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
And what's really interesting is that sometimes your own experiences don't take precedent. Sometimes what takes precedence is what you've seen other people do. People who have more status than you or people who have prestige or who have authority in some way.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
We are social animals, humans. We when we model each other. And what that means is when we watch TV or we watch movies or we read things in the paper and we observe people of status or power or prestige doing acting in a particular way, those actions seed our memories and become the gases that our brains make for what the best action is in any given situation. So if you're in a situation where you're anticipating not consciously, but your brain is making a guess that some some demeaning offense is going to occur, that you're going to be shamed in some way or that you're going to be some goal that you have were deeply held belief is going to be violated. Your brain prepares you to act in the ways that you have seen or heard other people act.

Laura Knoy:
Well, that's really chilling, given all the video that we've seen just recently of mass shootings and given all the just the violence that we are exposed to on a daily basis in attainment and so forth. Linda, to you, please. What's the significance of anger as it relates to your work in domestic violence?

Linda Douglas:
Well, I find what Lisa has to say very interesting, because in domestic violence, we understand that anger is not necessarily the cause of domestic violence. And I think Lisa could is primarily saying the very same thing is that anger is used as a means of controlling another person. So in domestic violence, we see that it's a pattern, of course, of behaviors in order to keep. Another person in line to gain control over that person and to maintain that power in that relationship.

Linda Douglas:
So a lot of times anger is one of those tools that if I express anger towards you or hint that I'm going to get angry, I immediately now have some control over you. And that can be a learned behavior that is learned by young men growing up watching their father control his intimate partners. They learn early on that someone will back down if they reflect danger. I was thinking about it last night and it's sort of an archaic viewpoint, I hope. But it's just remembering that for some of us in an older generation that we didn't have to see our father coming at us with his belt. All we needed to see was his hand go towards the buckle. And we knew immediately to behave ourselves. So it was an expression of anger, but it was not anger itself. It was used to control.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting. I'd love for you to tease that a little bit more. It's an expression of anger.

Linda Douglas:
Yes.

Laura Knoy:
What does that mean?

Linda Douglas:
Well, it means that if I can convince you that my anger is dangerous, then I can control you. However, I can control my anger because you're so afraid of it already. I'm. I'm. Yeah. The person that I am targeting, my intimate partner is so afraid of it already that I can just use it for that one person. And they're going to do what I want them to do. But I can keep this hidden because I can control it very well. A batter can control it. That's why domestic violence remains so hidden is because the general public will always say, well, he was such a nice guy or I didn't realize that was going on because he's able to control it and only directed towards the person that he's trying to maintain control over.

Laura Knoy:
And just real quick. So you use the pronoun he a couple times. Yeah. What percentage of domestic violence victims are men?

Linda Douglas:
No. Domestic violence perpetrators. The the that vet. You asked me how many perpetrators?

Laura Knoy:
No victims. How often are men victims of domestic victims?

Linda Douglas:
Probably five to 10 percent.

Laura Knoy:
OK. So there's a percentage. It's not large, but it's there.

Linda Douglas:
It's not large.

Linda Douglas:
So. And those are not necessarily being perpetrated on by women. So they could be perpetrated on by their male partners. So there are is a very small percentage of women who are domestic violence perpetrators.*

*Linda Douglas clarified and corrected this point after the conclusion of the show, for listeners. She said,

"Research shows that numbers of male vs female victims run about the same... The important piece is that women’s use of force is usually in self-defense or in defense of children, retaliatory for previous abuse, and is less harmful and less lethal. The number of women killed by their partner is more than men killed by women... And if a woman kills her partner it is most likely because of fear of being killed herself.”

Laura Knoy:
Well, Lisa, to you first, but when I hear from you to Linda, how do you view then the anger of the men? And it's mostly men. I looked at the numbers. According to the FBI, 9 women have been involved in mass shootings in the last let's see, between 2000 and 2017, nine out of 250 active shooters. So several women, but mostly men. Lisa, how do you view the anger, these men who are conducting these mass shootings? And how do you think about anger now in this context?

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Well, I think the first thing to say and I just want to follow up on to answer your question, to follow up on some themes that Linda very correctly brought up. You know, anger is not a thing. It's not one thing that mostly men feel that's a stereotype. Anger is a category of highly variable instances. Right. Sometimes we scream and hit in anger. Sometimes we draw a gun in anger. Sometimes we laugh in the face of anger. Sometimes anger is actually a source of identity and helping us to bond with people. So it's a why it's a wide category of variable instances where we feel and do and think different things. And women are just as likely to experience anger as men are.

Linda Douglas:
What's different is that in our culture, men have a script. They have a script to be violent, to prepare violent actions. A brain prepare is more likely to prepare violent actions because we have a script that's been in culture, made it into our brains. You know, little infant brains are are not miniature adult brains, their brains that are getting wiring instructions from the world.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
And if you live in a world where you see your mate, even if it's not your father, but it could be your father or it could be your brother or it could be just people in movies and on television, you see men in instances of anger where they are more likely to aggress. That's going to change what how your brain is seated, how it's wired to behave. And I'll just say that for as much as I love movies like Atomic Blonde, you know, and Wonder Woman and the new Charlie's Angels, where these women who totally kick ass. That's not a swear word. And, you know, they're just like.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Really? You know, really aggressive in a fun way.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
The way we like action movies, the more we have movies like that and the more that we percolate those ideas of violent women into our culture, the more likely it may be that we'll see an increase in the number of women perpetrating violence over the next couple of decades. I'm not. I have to make clear, I'm not sort of pointing at, you know, movies and saying it's all their fault. I'm just saying that when you pick a brain, you know, a brain grows and forms in a particular culture. It's gonna pick up the themes of those cultures. And that's what we see with the majority of active shooters being man.

Laura Knoy:
I think I want to remind our listeners that you can join us today in The Exchange we're looking at. Anger in America. We're following up on a recent NPR series that looked at the science, physiology psychology of this powerful emotion. Here's a question for you, our listeners. Do you think Americans are more angry now than in the past? How do you see anger forming in our brains and our body and to what we're talking about right now? How much do you think anger is learned behavior and how much might it be biological?

Laura Knoy:
What's driving these men to grab guns and go out and kill a lot of people very quickly?

Linda Douglas:
Well, there's a lot of threads to grab out there. What we've seen is that a number in a number of the cases that of men who've been acting out in this way, that it has come from a place of wanting to get back at women. So there's the in cell group, the involuntary celibate who are targeting women because they feel like women have in some way disrespected them in the past. In 22 percent and 86 percent of cases between 2000 and 2017, Mother Jones reported that these men had a history of domestic violence. So it's a control thing. It's I like what Lisa said about if someone feels has that feels threatened in some way, that anger is going to come out.

Linda Douglas:
These men have been feeling threatened because they feel like their privilege or their control in situations that they're sort somehow losing that also anger has become socially acceptable. When it comes to men, we spoke as we see it in the culture. Men are not being held accountable for their anger. For someone to be able to go from having a history of domestic violence to becoming a mass shooter means that somewhere along the way this person was not held accountable. And so when people are not held accountable, they are going to see that society as a whole is maybe not condoning it, maybe not accepting it, but as somehow leaving them free to be able to to express themselves in the way that they should choose.

Linda Douglas:
A lot of our mass shooters plan ahead. So this is not out of control anger. They have figured out who they're going to target. They've made a list. They stockpile their weapons and they are prepared to go out and do it. That's not uncontrollable anger. That is also not a mental illness. That is, I am going to go out and perpetrate something because I feel like I've been disrespected in some way, shape or form.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, what do you think, Lisa?

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
I completely agree. I mean, I think that there are a number of really interesting points to make here. The first is that we typically think about anger and other emotions as things that happen to us that, you know, bubble up kind of like there's this roiling cauldron that just bubbles up and causes us to act in ways that we're not in control of. That's actually not really how emotions are made in the brain. Your brain is constantly attempting to make sense of what's going on inside your own body and what's going on inside outside in the world. And it's using memory to basically make sense of these sensory patterns so that it knows what to do next.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
That means that you do actually have more control than you typically believe that you have or that you experience that you have. So all of this meaning making and preparing action and so on, is all happening outside of your awareness and a very automatic way. But you do actually have more control than you believe that you do. I think that's one point to make. I think the second point to make is that I'm not saying that emotions aren't biological. I think the distinction between something being biological and being learned is is a false distinction. You know, we have the kind of genes, the kind of biology that makes the environment important in shaping what we do.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
So that our genes and our biology allows us to wire our brains and control our actions in line with what is culturally acceptable in the way that Linda said. And I do think that that that there is a tendency to accept anger as a reasonable response from men, whereas this is not seen as a reasonable response from women. And the last point that I'll make is that while these mass shootings are really tragic, I mean, I was trying to figure out this morning how I was going to talk about the recent events on the weekend without breaking into tears and looking profoundly unscientific. They're really tragic, but they actually are only 2 percent of the gun deaths in the United States.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
And we pay a lot of attention to them because they're they're hugely tragic, because a large number of people are involved usually at the same time.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
But also the victims are not people of color. And that makes it much more salient, I think, to the rest of us. So this is really part of a larger problem that we have to be talking about in this country.

Laura Knoy:
a lot more to follow up after a short break. And we'll start taking your calls and e-mails. Our phone number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Email exchange at nhpr.org. More on exploring anger in America on The Exchange. Stay with us.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy today examining anger. We're following up on a recent Nhpr.org series that looked at this with stories ranging from the biology of anger to it's linked to depression, to what's called anger contagion or the spread of anger. Send us an email exchange at an HP ya dot. Or do you think Americans in general are more angry now than in the past? How do you see anger forming in your own brain, your own body? And how much do you think anger is learned behavior? How much do you think it might be? Biological. We'd love your thoughts, questions, comments. Use Facebook or Twitter at an HP exchange. Give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go right to our listeners that have a bunch more questions for you. But people are calling and e-mailing. Roger in Hillsboro writes, I think people are more stressed now than in recent years. We have a wealth of stresses impacting us now. Economic stress, fear, whip whipped up by politicians and other stresses. I think anger is just one response to these levels of stress, stress, other responses are depression, drug use, alcoholism and on and on. Roger, thank you so much. And Kate writes, There is a market increased in anxiety and depressive illness in the USA in recent years. What connections, if any, can be made between this phenomenon and the increase in expressions of anger? And yes. Kate says, I do believe that America is becoming angrier. Very thoughtful comments from Roger and Kate. Thank you. And to you first. Linda Douglas, what do you think?

Linda Douglas:
Well, I think, yes, there has been an increase in anger and stress and anxiety, particularly over the past three years. I also want, as you were saying, that I was also thinking to myself that both men and women are feeling the stress. They're feeling the anxious anxiety and all of this. But we haven't had any female mass shooters in the past three and a half years. It's primarily men who are initiating all of that violence. We often want to see somebody. One is often want to say, well, women get just as angry as men, but we express it in different ways.

Linda Douglas:
And if we do become violent, it's primarily retaliatory, retaliatory or self protective. There's only a very small, small percentage of women who are using the anger in order to be able to control another person outside of. I'm trying to control you because I'm afraid you're going to hurt me. But the anxiety and the stress that we feel, I think people are finding ways to manage that, which just shows that people are finding ways that they can do it without resorting to violence, that it can be done.

Linda Douglas:
And that depression exists. That anxiety exists. But people manage it without becoming violent.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and in a couple minutes, we're going to talk to Nell Greenfieldboyce, who reported on the connection between depression and anger. And while we've got you on the line, Lisa Feldman Barrett, what is the connection, in your opinion, as a scientist between depression and anger?

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Well, I think Roger and Kate have really put their finger on something really important. And this helps explain what the relationship is between anger and depression and also the relationship between stress and anger. And, you know, the rising almost epidemic levels of anxiety and depression in this country, particularly in young people. And that's you know, if we look at the brain and try to understand why brains evolved. Why do we have the kind of brain that we have and why does it work the way it does?

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
The answer is, you know, our brains didn't evolve so that we could think rationally and so that we could see or that we could feel brains evolved to control bodies. You have a body that has a lot of systems in it that has to be controlled. You've got resources that have to be managed, glucose, salt and so on. And so brains run a budget for the body. They're not budgeting money. They're budgeting salt and glucose and making sure that resources get where to where they need to be. You can act, move your body and that you can learn new things. And so you can think about everything your brain does is a little bit like an economic transaction.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
And when brains start spending more than they have, they go into debt. That's what stresses stress is where you spend and you run a deficit. And, you know, like when you exercise, for example, you have a moment or several moments where your body budget is running a deficit. You feel kind of crappy, but then you replenish. Right. You get some water, you eat something, you feel better.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
What happens, though, in stress, particularly in this context that we live in right now, is that the our body budgets run an increasing deficit, which when it gets to. Very high levels becomes depression. That that actually is what depression is, it's a metabolic illness where basically the body budget is bankrupt and your brain is what your brain is doing is it's trying to make sense of the sensations that come from body budgeting. And you can make sense of those sensations as anger, whereas anxiety, whereas sadness. So the record number of cases of anxiety and depression and the increase in the instance of violent anger have very much to do with the overall simmering stew of stress that we currently find ourselves in.

Laura Knoy:
So you can create depression and anxiety in your own brain. Lisa, just by taking in all these images and all this information from the world outside and you can kind of rewire your brain or your chemistry to become clinically depressed.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Yes. So I want to make it really clear I'm not blaming people for being depressed. It's not their fault. It's, you know, but the idea that you have more control over something, not because you're to blame, but because, you know, you you know, who else is going to who else is going to control what information you expose yourself to? This is something I talk about in my TED talk. I try to explain that you aren't to blame for feeling depressed, but depression happens because, you know, your immune system gets involved and a lot of biological systems start to function poorly because your overall body budget, your overall metabolic function is disrupted.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
You're when your brain is constantly preparing you to deal with a threat that doesn't materialize or stress, that's really what stress is preparing to deal with, a threat to preparing to spend a lot of glucose and other resources. And then it turns out you don't need them. This is actually really bad for your nervous system and for your body. And if it goes on for long enough, it will actually contribute to a major depressive episode. And so there are things that you can do that can make it less likely that you will become sick, including really simple things like getting enough sleep or. And then there are harder things, you know, like resisting social media.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
If you read the newspaper or you watch television or you encounter something really stressful within two hours of eating, that adds 102 calories. Basically, what the equivalent of a hundred to calories to your meal if you do that over the course of a year, that adds 11 pounds to your weight when I wait.

Laura Knoy:
So don't read the newspaper while you're eating.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Yeah, pretty much. I mean, my husband reminds me to turn off my phone, so I'm not getting newspaper alerts while I'm eating because the research is this is really shocking research that when I read it, I thought, wow, you know, as a scientist, I thought this is really cool as a person living in this culture. I thought, oh, my God. But yeah, because you're because when your brain starts to run a body budget deficit, it becomes less efficient when you are stressed while you are eating within two hours. The way that your brain metabolizes directs your body to metabolize the food. It adds the equivalent of 102 calories to your meal. And increasing obesity just adds to the metabolic burden that your brain is after already trying to deal with.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
So yeah, you probably shouldn't talk about politics at meals, which is exactly when we do talk about migraines.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Lisa, I know you have to go. I'd love to ask you one more question and then we'll continue on with Linda. We're going to fold in Nell Greenfieldboyce and get lots of people on to join a conversation. But one more question, if I could, please, Lisa. We had a caller who could stay on the line, Peter, who wants to ask how fear factors into anger. And I think that's a really good question. So what do you think, Lisa?

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
So, again, I would say fear, anger, sadness, guilt, shame. These are all ways that your brain makes sense of the sensations in your body in terms of what's going on around you in the world. So when you encounter a threat, your brain might make fear, but it might make anger.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
It might make shame. It might make any number of emotions. And what it means to make an emotion is to prepare for a particular action. And and you have an experience of yourself in the world as a consequence of how your brain is sort of automatically making action. So the point here is that it's not like fear causes anger or that anger causes depression or that stress causes any of these. It's that when you are stressed, when you encounter a threat or you're you anticipate encountering a threat, your brain is going to draw on your past experiences to make sense of what's going on.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
In order to prepare an action. For men, that action is likely to be aggression that involves fists or guns more likely than you know, for women, for women, that aggression, women are just as aggressive as men, but they tend to use words as tools for controlling other people with aggression, which I have to say in. Over the long run can actually be quite problematic and damaging. But the thing I think to remember is that this is all happening automatically. It's all happening kind of under the hood. But it's not the case that one emotion is causing another emotion. It's that when you're feeling crappy because your body budgets are running a deficit, your brain is going to attempt to to try to deal with that in whatever way it can. Based on the prior learning that's been inculcated into the wiring of the brain, it's not that it's not that learning is something separate from biology. It's that biology is allowing learning to direct the wiring of the brain to sort of program people or prepare people to act in particular ways when their body budget is running a deficit and they're feeling crappy.

Laura Knoy:
And as you said earlier, Lisa, this is such an important point when people draw on their past experiences. You said earlier that whether or not somebody actually experienced that or not, it might have been something they experienced. It might've been something they saw repeatedly on YouTube.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Right. And we're seeing something repeatedly on YouTube is an experience. Even if the event doesn't happen to you, you're still experiencing what you see, what you hear when you're when you're looking at a YouTube video. And so when we have an environment that is, you know, suffused with with violent images and we have people in political power or people of status or people of wealth who are for, you know, the evidence shows kind of role models that other people mirror or far follow. You have a recipe for exactly the kind of situation that we find ourselves in, given the kinds of brains and bodies that evolution has crafted for us.

Laura Knoy:
Lisa, it's always interesting to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Lisa Feldman Barrett:
It's my pleasure to be here. And thanks again for inviting me.

Laura Knoy:
That's Lisa Feldman Barrett, distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University, also author of the 2017 book How Emotions Are Made. We're discussing anger today on The Exchange. And I want to let everyone know if you or somebody you know may be considering suicide. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800 273 8255. Or if you feel you or someone you know may be experiencing abuse, contact New Hampshire's 24 hour domestic violence hotline. That's 1 8 6 6 6 4 4 3 5 7 4. Continuing our conversation about anger in America. Following up on that recent NPR series that explored many aspects of this. Linda Douglas is with me in studio. She's with the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She's a trauma informed services specialist. And boy. Linda, it was so interesting hearing Lisa talk about, you know, our brains are plastic. They are highly malleable to all these outside influences. And just given your work, I wonder what you think.

Linda Douglas:
Well, one thing that I've realized lately is that every single morning we are being collectively traumatized. We are experiencing secondary trauma every single day, every single time that we hear about a mass shooting, every single time we hear about some sort of violence happening in our community, whether it be domestic violence or street violence, that even though we're not the direct victim of that violence, the repercussions impacts us.

Linda Douglas:
So as Lisa said, our brain is responding to this secondary trauma that we were experiencing based on our past experiences. So if we have had a personally had a history of sexual violence or child abuse or any of the number of adverse childhood experiences that I know you've discussed on the show, then that's going to dictate how we are going to respond to the current fears and violence that we have going on in the world. It becomes very important that as a community, we start taking care of ourselves and realizing that it is affecting us as a community.

Linda Douglas:
I always think about this as, when going back to the Boston Marathon bombings, is that the people who were there in downtown Boston at the time that the bombs went off. Those were they were the primary victims. But we felt it here in Concord because we know people and it was only an hour away. Sure. A lot of people. Right. But we felt that across the country because it was on our on our country's land. And so that's a collective trauma that we experience. And as Lisa said, based on our prior experience, we're all going to react to that in some way, not necessarily all with anger, but it can lead to a depression and anxiety that so many of your callers and and write ins have been experiencing because of this ongoing collective trauma. Wow.

Laura Knoy:
How do we counter that collective trauma? I hear what you're saying, you know, you you know, you open up your news feed and it's just all terrible.

Linda Douglas:
Well, one thing that helps is for people to find some way in their personal life to be able to manage it. When Lisa was talking about eating while we're going scrolling through our news feed and bad idea gets bad idea. And I'm thinking one of the ways that I manage is I get on my bicycle and I pedal around Concord and some people go for a walk and it's doing things to take care of yourself and maybe going on media breaks and stuff and then talking to people and saying, what can I do that can make an impact without creating more angst, more fear. And people that if I can find a way to peacefully. And that's what a lot of our advocates do, is we're working with people on a day to day basis, are trying to manage that fear in their lives and being able to do that in a way that they can keep themselves, their children and their community safe.

Laura Knoy:
And a lot of comments from our listeners. Claire on Facebook says, I think we have to define anger. I recently had a friend who was being a bit annoying and asked if I was angry with her. The question floored me. I was slightly annoyed, but it was nothing near being angry. I don't think it does anyone any good to interpret all negative responses as anger or to conflate dislike with hate. It's far too simplistic, and I think that's something Lisa writes about in her book, too. Anger's too broad a term.

Laura Knoy:
There's many shades of this,.

Linda Douglas:
But I would like to respond to the person who just wrote in is that it wasn't her. She wasn't angry. But the person, based on their past experience, was interpreting it as anger. And when people have experienced a lot of abuse or been around a lot of people who have expressed anger, their antenna is up, so to speak to, I need to know how everybody is around me so I know how to keep myself safe.

Linda Douglas:
So that's why she was checking in. Are you angry? Because if you are, I need to figure out a way to keep myself safe.

Laura Knoy:
That's really interesting.

Laura Knoy:
We'll take a lot more of your e-mails after a short break. And also coming up, we'll talk to Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR reporter who contributed to the network's yearlong series Exploring Anger. All that's coming up. Stay with us. This is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy Exchange listeners. We'd like to invite you to the next in our Coffee and community series. We'll be in Franklin next Tuesday around noon at the studio. So come and meet The Exchange team and let us know what's happening in your community, what you think we should be covering. We were in Littleton last week, will be in Franklin next Tuesday around noon at the studio. Back to our conversation now about anger in America. We're following up on a recent NPR series that looked at so many aspects of this science, psychology, physiology, how we define anger, how it manifests in our personal lives and in our broader society. And joining us now on the line is Nell Greenfieldboyce. She's an NPR reporter who contributed to this series. You can find links to Nell Story and the whole series at our website. Nell Greenfieldboyce, really nice to have you. Thank you for being with us.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
Thanks for inviting me.

Laura Knoy:
Well, you did the piece on anger and depression. What's the link between anger and depression? No.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
You know, it's funny. When we started thinking about stories for the series on anger. I was looking around for what I wanted to do. And I did some searches of the medical literature just looking for what research had been done on anger. And I kept seeing all of these articles about anger and depression, which really fascinated me because to me, an angry person wasn't kind of my mental picture of what a depressed person is like.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
I think a lot of us may think of depression as being, you know, someone who has a lack of energy or a lack of interest in things they used to like, or maybe feelings of hopelessness or even, you know, wanting to self-harm or hurt oneself. And what I learned is that actually clinicians, people who treat depression, see a lot of anger in their practice when they're dealing with people who have depression. And that was just a surprising thing to me. And so I thought it would be useful to look at that a little more closely in order to try to understand it.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, it is interesting. So we think of depression and, you know, as you said, now the the image is it's very inward focused. You're sitting in a chair. You can't get up. You have no energy. You have no appetite. Anger seems very active and outward focus. So that's the difference there.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
That's right. And I think there was this idea long ago in psychiatry that depression was, quote unquote, anger turned inward. That there could be angry feelings, but the person would sort of take them out on themselves. But I spoke to one doctor at Harvard, psychiatrist, who said that, you know, one in three of the patients he saw with depression would report that they would lose their temper, they would get angry, they would throw things or yell and scream and slam the door. And and he thought these episodes were very similar to the kind of attacks he saw with anxiety that were sort of, you know, panic attacks. They were like these sort of almost overwhelming incidents of of anger and temper that people felt powerless to control. And then afterwards they would feel very remorseful.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
Now, I know that you all have talked about, you know, domestic violence and, you know, use of anger as control. And I think there's something, you know, we have to be very careful about here. I think some people can have anger episodes that seem, quote, unquote, out of control, but are not actually out of control. They're they're happening in certain circumstances and in certain ways that are almost designed to instill fear and control in the other person.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
But for some people with depression, you know, anger is a symptom like anxiety. It's something that that comes along with depression. But that psychiatrist haven't paid as much attention to over the years, in part because I think there has been this idea that people who were angry had some other diagnosis, that it wasn't depression, that it was something like a personality disorder, like borderline disorder, or maybe they had bipolar depression, where you have incidents of mania, where rage can be sort of mixed into these hyperactive manic states. But actually, there's a lot of independent research suggesting that no, actually anger and irritability is very common in depression and that it can get better with treatment. You know, antidepressant treatment can help a lot of people bring their temper under control.

Laura Knoy:
That's why this is important to sort of tease out. Now, then, if you figure out that the anger is link to depression, you can maybe fix that or ease it. Linda, you want to jump in?

Linda Douglas:
Well, I want to thank Nell for bringing up and differentiating it with the domestic violence, because one of the things that we know is that often someone who is a victim of their partner's anger is going to say, well, this is an anger management issue. He just gets angry. But one of the things that we know is that a person who's trying to control their partner when they have those anger bursts or just get angry, they will blame their partner. For causing that anger,.

Laura Knoy:
You triggered me.

Linda Douglas:
You triggered me, you didn't do what I needed you to do. All of these things, you did it. They won't take responsibility for it. Whereas for those people who are getting angry because of their depression and the number of other things may be able to have some self-awareness and look back and say, you know, I'm really sorry I did that, I shouldn't have. That shouldn't have happened. But to continuously blame the other person for the anger, that's where it's being used as a way to control that other person.

Laura Knoy:
You know, something else that came up in your story now and you kind of hinted at this, the psychiatrist you talked to said, yeah, with adults, we have been overlooking the role of depression in anger. And one person, I think, even said to you, we talk about anger with teenagers and children in terms of their depression, but with adults, we don't. So why not?

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, if you look at the so-called Bible of psychiatry, which is this big book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,.

Laura Knoy:
The DSM. Oh, yes.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
Exactly. It lists all these different conditions and it has criteria that you are supposed to meet before you get that official diagnosis. And irritability is included for adolescents under depression, but it's not included under the adult criteria for depression. And one psychiatrist I talked to said it doesn't make any sense. You know, if part of your depression as an adolescence is irritability and anger, why would that suddenly disappear once you turn 18? Like he just never really got it. I mean, I think that, you know, it really is striking the amount of anger that psychiatrist see in people who are coming to them for help with all kinds of different conditions.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
So there was a study done by people at Brown University where they surveyed thousands of patients who had just shown up at their outpatient psychiatric practice asking for help. And all were asked about the level of anger they'd felt or experienced in the preceding week. And two thirds of them reported notable irritability and anger. So it's a very, very common thing that people see in their psychiatric practice. And very often it is associated with depression. And studies have shown that if people get put on antidepressants that lift their depression, that anger can also improve. I think that many of us have had the experience, like if we're hungry or if we're tired, we can be more irritable. Sure. And I think somebody who's dealing with depression essentially has that kind of burden on them that leads them to be more short tempered.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
And I also think it can be hard for people to know what level of anger or irritability warrants care, because let's face it, everybody gets angry now and then. You know, everybody can be irritable. And so I think some people may not realize that this sort of like ongoing level of anger and irritability in their life could be helped, you know, by something as simple as an antidepressant or through, you know, cognitive behavioral therapy or things like that.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
But I do I do want to stress that, you know, definitely this notion of anger as a mechanism for control. I think that if, you know, you're someone who's living with a partner who's angry, a lot of the time, it can be hard to know, like what's going on there. And I think that, you know, looking carefully at that anger and seeing like, is this a person who gets angry and destroys only your belongings or is this a person who gets angry and, you know, rips up their, you know, precious baseball card collection that and then is like filled with remorse. Those are two very different things. Right. So I think that, you know, one of the difficulties with anger is that like some other emotions, you know, people can find it confusing. It's so similar to what is part of people's normal everyday experience that sometimes you really need some professional help to help you understand, like what's going on.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Well, the piece you did Nell, again, on anger and depression was really interesting. And just give us a little teaser, if you could. What were some of the other topics that your colleagues covered in this NPR series on anger? And we've got a link, of course, on our Web site. Any support or exact exchange? So go ahead now.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
Well, another thing we looked at and I know, you know, we've been focusing on the negative aspects of anger. But another thing we took a serious look at was anger as a positive motivating force. You know, anger is a really powerful emotion. And, you know, you can think of it as an emotional and physical response to something that's perceived as a threat. And you can have expressions of anger that are unproductive and that are sort of damaging in personal relationships. But you can also have anger that motivates people to fight injustice.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
And, you know, many times people who have been sort of leaders in social movements responded to feelings of just intense rage at injustice. And so, you know, I did one piece on Dr. Martin Luther King, who, you know, is sort of an icon of. Peaceful resistance and non-violent protest. But he would often get very, very angry at the things he saw, and I and his famous letter from Birmingham jail was written in response to white clergy, people who basically were saying that he was a troublemaker and that he should leave town and, you know, basically didn't say a word against the rampant discrimination, but were criticizing him. And his response to that was to get really angry. But he channeled that anger into something that is one of the most persuasive pieces of writing against injustice that we have in history. So, you know, I think that people often think of anger as like a negative emotion, and it totally can be. But like with a lot of other things, anger is often telling us something. It's telling us that something's wrong and something needs to be addressed.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Nell, thank you very much for taking time out with us. We really appreciate it.

Nell Greenfieldboyce:
Thank you for including me.

Laura Knoy:
That's Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR reporter who contributed to the network's yearlong series Exploring Anger Again linked to Nell Story and the whole series at our website. And HP Board Slash Exchange and Linda Douglas.

Laura Knoy:
Let's finish out with a couple more questions from our listeners. James on Facebook writes On Lisa's Point. That's Lisa Feldman Barrett, who was with us at the beginning of the show. James says, Like I always tell people, garbage in, garbage out. If you intake bad things and stress, that is what you will put out. That relates earlier to Lisa's comment about all the sort of stressors and negativity in our environment, rewiring our brains, she said.

Laura Knoy:
Nancy in Durham writes, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The New Yorker that research shows that the more common mass shootings become, the lower the threshold for entering into such behavior. He said it is similar to a riot where initially it is difficult to track people to riding behavior. But the more people already participating in a riot, the easier it is psychologically for others to enter. Nancy says It seems that this is relevant in terms of the relationship between anger and violence. The more common violence is in our society, the more likely people are to express anger with violence. Nancy, thank you. It's a a chilling point.

Laura Knoy:
Speaking of anger and violence, Linda, New Hampshire, as you know, is on track this year to have the highest number of homicides in fifteen years with 24 homicides as of August. The record is 25. And HP PR reporter Jason Moon has said many of these homicides have involve domestic violence. So just tease that out for us if you could, please, Linda.

Linda Douglas:
Well, usually we find that over a 10 year period, the statistic is that about 50 percent of the homicides in the state are domestic violence related. And what this does is it greatly impacts communities. I talked to advocates. I talked to survivors who when they hear of someone who has not been held, say has been safe, that they become very concerned and they experienced the secondary trauma.

Linda Douglas:
We also know that in some cases of domestic violence, where a person has killed their partner, that the person who has committed the homicide has not been held accountable for their actions in the past. And so it becomes very important that people be aware, report, hold people accountable, let people know that certain behaviors are not OK to be able to say certain things are not OK. It's very important. I know there are a lot of great men out there.

Linda Douglas:
So I just I think it's just very important to say that there are a lot of great men out there. But what I find is that they're reluctant to call out other men on statements that they may make that show a disrespect of women or being abusive to women, because it's either.

Linda Douglas:
Well, you know, I don't I don't want to step on some other guy's toes or anything. But I'm I'm saying you guys who just want to raise your hand and say it's not me to just become become that person who stands up and says, it's not me. And I don't want it to be you either, because women can't necessarily reach out and talk to the men who have their abusive behavior because those men do not have respect for women as it is, but they will respect hearing it from another man. And so when they hear that from another guy that, hey, that's not good behavior. Let me show you how to treat your wife and your children, then things will start to change.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and again, as we're talking about domestic violence, anger and so forth. If you feel you or somebody you know might be experiencing abuse, the domestic violence hotline is 1 8 6 6 6 4 4 3 5 7 4. We have that on our Web site as well. Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as we talked earlier about anger and depression is 1 800 to 7 3 8 2 5 5. Couple more comments from our listeners.

Laura Knoy:
If we could, Linda, someone wrote in and said they would like to be anonymous. This person says, My husband and I are polar opposites politically. He feels President Trump is doing a good job and not racially motivated. I feel viscerally ill and very angry at Trump every time I get angry at Trump. I get almost equally angry at my husband. It may well be the demise of the marriage. Thank you to that person for writing in. And I'm. I'm sorry. Having a hard time. Leslie says, Please address passive aggressive expressions of anger that can be just as harmful even more. I think you talked about this earlier, Linda, something you say to those people from an earlier generation. The father didn't even need to get out the belt. He just needed to move his hands towards the buckle.

Linda Douglas:
Yeah. It's that sort of that conditioning is that I realized that I don't have to show my full show, a full expression of anger. I just have to remind you of what I'm capable of. And that is a way to control other people. It's off. It's it's actually that the man who runs some batterers intervention programs in the state talks about a man who discovered that in an argument with his wife he had stabbed cutting board with his hunting knife. And she started she was quiet. So now he realized that every single time they got into an argument, all he needed to do was pull out his knife and start cleaning his fingernails and she would be quiet and leave the room and stop the argument. So it's that type of behavior. It's like, I don't need to show my anger.

Linda Douglas:
I just need to remind you of what the violence I'm I'm capable of what is similarly simmering right below the surface.

Laura Knoy:
Anything else you want to leave us with? Linda, it's been a really tough weekend in the country. Lots of thoughts. We could've talked for hours.

Linda Douglas:
I just want to remind people that are advocates at that 24 hour liner available 24 hours a day, it's confidential. You don't even have to say who you are. The the you don't even have to be in crisis if you experienced violence, interpersonal violence at any time in your life. Please feel free to call her advocates. And if you're currently going through it, they can accompany you to the hospital, to the courts to help get restraining orders. And I would just like people to to know that they have a right to be safe.

Laura Knoy:
OK. Thank you very much for being with us.

Linda Douglas:
Thank you, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
Linda Douglas with the New Hampshire. Against domestic and sexual violence, she's a trauma informed services specialist. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of an HP bar, its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you missed part of today's program, listen to The Exchange. Anytime at any HP broad dot org or subscribe to our podcast, search Apple podcasts, Google Play or stitcher for an HBO LA exchange.

*Guest Linda Douglas noted during the show that approximately 5 to 10 percent of victoms of domestic violence are men. After the show, she provided this clarification and correction: 

"Research shows that numbers of male vs female victims run about the same... The important piece is that women’s use of force is usually in self-defense or in defense of children, retaliatory for previous abuse, and is less harmful and less lethal. The number of women killed by their partner is more than men killed by women... And if a woman kills her partner it is most likely because of fear of being killed herself.”

You can read more about these statistics in this factsheet from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.