It is hard to reframe the word “anger” in a positive light, but evolutionary theory suggests that anger, to an extent, is an adaptive emotion. Anger is often defined as the emotion we feel when goal achievement is interrupted. The anger we feel serves as a motivator to once again achieve that goal. Think of an animal who is attempting to shield her young from a dangerous predator. The goal in this situation is the safety of the young animals. When the achievement of this goal is potentially interrupted it, anger may occur, which would motivate the animal to take action to achieve this goal in a different way. Now think of an 11 year old boy wanting to go outside after school, and his mother is requiring him to stay in to do his math homework. Goal interruption causes anger. Anger in this situation is superceded by parental goals; however, if the boy acts out, disobeys his mother, and goes outside regardless, then his anger has become evolutionarily maladaptive and requires intervention.
I work with many youngsters for whom their anger has become maladaptive. It interferes with their learning, social relationships, and relationships with their parents. This is primarily the result of lagging problems solving that need to be taught and practiced. Through this targeted, collaborative problem-solving training, individual’s with maladaptive anger can learn to make appropriate decisions and develop the skills to manage their anger.
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