You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

In the first issue The Hulk was gray. Looks weird, right?

He’s got pedigree parents — created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby — but somehow I never got that into The Incredible Hulk (and I’ve read a lot of comics, I still do!). If you have somehow escaped the comics, the TV show and the movies, it’s kind of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story:  one fine day whilst messing about with a gamma bomb he invented, physicist Bruce Banner accidentally detonates the damn thing, blasting himself with gamma rays (which you might be thinking is just made up stuff, like “Retsin” in Certs mints, but it’s high frequency electromagnetic radiation). He survives but is a changed fellow because he randomly turns into this big (really big), raging man-monster called The Hulk.  Oh yeah, and he’s green.  His transformation is ignited and fueled by anger, and the more intensely he feels rage, the stronger The Hulk gets.

I'm not sure if that iconic line from the TV show ("Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.") came from the comics originally but I'm guessing not.

And like Frankenstein he becomes a fugitive, feared, hated and hunted all over the place.  (Actually the more I think about it the more I wonder why I never got into this story, it’s kinda right up my “tortured creatures” alley.)

Anyway, been thinking about him a lot the last few days after listening to a podcast, “Stuff You Should Know”, that happened to be all about anger. (Terrific free podcast hosted by writers for the HowStuffWorks site.) Here’s some interesting tidbits:

There are three main reasons people get angry:  1) To correct someone else’s bad behavior (blech); 2) To demonstrate power (blech); 3) To address an interpersonal conflict, so you don’t stew on something forever.  This last one serves a valid purpose — you recognize that you’re angry and you do something about it. (In their example they said it was a positive response because it’s like saying “I’m willing to confront you even though it’s uncomfortable for both of us, because I value our relationship.”)  At that point it probably becomes about how you express that anger, as far as whether it will productive or not. In other words, try not to Hulk out too much.

The top three reasons women get angry were “powerlessness, injustice and the irresponsibility of others.” And apparently anger “triggers” are very different for men and women — women are more often affronted by people they’re close to, it’s much harder for a stranger to make a woman mad.  It would be tough to be She Hulk’s best friend.  (Yup, there’s a She Hulk.)

I particularly like how She Hulk "she-rrrips" her clothes.

The exact opposite is true of men, who cut their friends a huge amount of slack and go ballistic in traffic with people they’ve never met.  (You know it’s true, and they’ve got the studies to back it up!)

Besides not having been irradiated and turned into gigantic green freaks, the main reason we don’t go all “Hulk SMASH!” is because when we get mad, two areas of our brain duke it out in an epic, raging battle that usually lasts all of about two seconds.  In one corner we have The Frontal Lobe, the seat of reason (the thing that keeps you from putting your fist through people/things even though you really want to), and in the other corner we have The Amygdala, this little cluster of nuclei tucked deep in your brain that’s responsible for your emotions.  It’s kind of a rigged fight — the Frontal Lobe pretty much always wins (though we all know someone who’s wiring seems a little crossed, constantly getting in fights, kicked out of bars, etc).

The underdog - though seriously, just as well.

They actually figured this out quite a while ago, when this happy go lucky young rail worker named Phinneas Gage had the absolute bum luck to have a iron rod driven right through his skull, passing directly through his frontal lobe.  He survived, but a good chunk of his frontal lobe didn’t, and he was never the same — apparently he turned into a complete jerk for the rest of his life.

That's a diagram of how the rod passed through Phinneas' skull. Ouch.

There are other ways women and men deal with anger differently, for example men are more often physically aggressive, passively aggressive, and impulsive in their anger.  They’re more prone to have a “revenge motive” and be more coercive in their anger. Women tend to stay angry longer (I like to think of it as “anger stamina”), are more resentful, and less likely to ever express their anger — so they resort to “indirect anger” like writing someone off.  (Men rarely do the “I’m never speaking to you again” thing.)

Problem is that studies show if you suppress these powerful emotions you’re more likely to die sooner.  Which isn’t to say you should be blowing up all over the place but that we all need to find ways to channel our anger positively.  Hulk out on a small scale. Stomp on empty cardboard boxes, yell on the subway platform as the trains scream by, run and jump and kick stuff! It’s one of the reasons I’ve got this thing hanging in my studio:

Don’t forget to check out the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast — they’ve got everything from “Prisons: Not As Fun As You’d Think” to “How Roller Derby Works” and “What’s The Deal With Voodoo?”

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2 responses to “You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

  1. Folks with limited impulse control are sometime referred to as “Fully Frontal” suggesting that their frontal lobes are at fault for their inability to contain their thoughts and emotions. I’m gonna get a tee-shirt made….

  2. Christopher Russell

    There is new research that suggest the Amygdala responds at about 1/1000 of a second to action – so we may say “I punch, and then I feel anger” – if I can find this citation I will share it here.
    Discharge through hitting a heavy bag, stomping on empty cardboard boxes, etc. serve to diffuse the anger in the moment and provide relief to the organism -(Satisfaction enough) but do not create progressive understanding nor maturational influnce to the mind – ensuring that the behavior will repeat. The working through of this comes when it can but put into language.

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