The primary objective for this study was to conduct an empirical investigation to gather information in the form of data from adolescent males and females in the Pretoria region of South Africa. Information was gathered with respects to their level of physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, hostility and depression. The information was used to identify whether correlations exist between the three variables anger, aggression and depression for South African adolescents.
What does the literature have to say?
Anger is the most frequently expressed emotion in childhood; this emotion continues into adolescence. The onset of puberty generates more stimuli that provokes anger in teenagers; whether these stimuli pertain to the thwarting of desires, the interruption of activities in progress, fault-finding or teasing, they have the potential to create feelings of anger (Hurlock: 1987). Dr Saunders is of the opinion that anger stems from adolescent stress and is systemic to being an adolescent (Saunders: 1998).
Anger remains an emotion; when the emotion translates into action it manifests as aggression. Mann (2012) adds that chronic anger has the potential to manifest as anxiety and depression. This is supported by the work of Booth (2010) who suggests that the duration of the anger episode has the greatest impact on our health. Anger that lasts longer has the most harmful effect, while anger that dissipates fairly quickly does less harm to our bodies.
As feelings of anger spill over into action there are obvious consequences but failing to express anger can also create health problems. If an adolescent feels that they are unable to express their anger appropriately or they feel that they are prevented from expressing their anger; these situations can generate anxiety and ultimately depression.
The research of Chen, Rubin & Li (1997) has indicated that early aggressive behaviour is a predictor for later academic difficulties. In addition, these early signs of aggression include lying, stealing, fighting and resisting authority; while they are rather common to childhood behaviour, in adolescence unusually early or aggressive sexual behaviour, excessive drinking and the use of illicit drugs are frequent (Kellerman: 1999).
Violence often occurs in schools because of less opportunity for ist expression outside of the school environment (Guggenbuhl: 1996). It is purported that the tendency towards violence is a basic human instinct. If the school environment is no longer a ‘safe’ environment for pupils and teachers it is imperative that the potential for aggressive behaviour is sufficiently distributed among the teaching and parental population. Hollin, Browne & Palmer (2004) indicate that family factors are partly responsible for aggressive behaviour in adolescents; sociological and sociodemographic characteristics are crucial to predictive and protective factors.
If anger is commonplace in the life of adolescents and a large number of these teenagers resort to violent behaviour while others internalise their frustration; where is the connection between the components of anger, aggression and depression, if indeed there is a connection.
Aggressive behaviour takes different forms depending on the situation the adolescent is in but it remains a serious problem in society. Physical, verbal and indirect aggression is a common expression of the teenager’s frustration but specific risk factors for aggression are present. The child’s character, his home environment, relationships with his peers, his performance at school and social and community factors are instrumental in transforming anger into aggression. Boys tend to use direct physical or verbal aggression more often than girls, while females use indirect forms of aggression predominantly (Hess & Hagen: 2005). Girls also have a tendency towards more intimate peer relations and more positive interactions with their teachers than their male counterparts (Bearman, Wheldall & Kemp: 2006).
It would be prudent here to emphasize that not all aggression is bad. Reactive aggression is associated with negative emotionality, specifically anxiety and is related to frustration, while proactive aggression is associated with obtaining a desired goal (Card & Little: 2007).
Children and adolescents with very poor social skills, in particular the angry, aggressive style have difficult imagining the thoughts and feelings of others. They often mistreat adults and peers without experiencing the guilt and remorse prompted by awareness of another’s point of view (Chandler: 1973). Anger needs to be dealt with constructively to prevent it from manifesting as aggression (Saunders: 1998). Proposed methods for dealing with anger include waiting for the anger to subside before responding to the stimulus, attempts to identify the cause of the anger, trying to allow the anger to manifest in a calm manner and count to ten.
Adolescence is a period in the child’s life when dramatic changes are occurring; these changes result in altered perception of the world around them. The emotional peaks and troughs in an adolescent’s life are well documented (Adams: 1995). Adolescents feel angry when their physical or social activities are prevented or in the case of an attack on their personalities, positions or status in society. An adolescent may display anger when he or she is criticised, embarrassed, underestimated, or ignored and perceive such situations as threats to his already extremely sensitive personality (Yazgan-Inanc, Bilgin & Atici: 2007). According to Eisenberg and Delaney (1998), anger is a result of a person’s personal appreciations and frustrations.
Anger has three dimensions: physiological, social and cognitive, and behavioural and reaction. The physiological dimension of anger is related to a physiological change occurring in the body when an individual is exposed to a frustration or situation that increases anger (Kisac: 1997). The social and cognitive dimension explains the interpretation of perceived anger within an individual. The reasons for anger, fear and uneasiness are not related to the event itself, but rather to individual’s perception and how they interpret the symbols in their minds: their cliché beliefs, comments and evaluations (Ozer: 2000). The behaviour and reaction dimension of anger is an expression of whether anger is expressed or not, and if it is how it is expressed (Kisac: 1997). Each of us experiences anger differently and expresses our anger in different manners, these can be defined as externalization, internalization or controlling (Spielberger: 1991).
The adolescent experiences his anger as a social stimulus but others’ personalities and behaviour may be triggers for anger in young people (Yazgan-Inanc et al: 1997). The problem with anger is, too many of us experience too much anger for too much time in our lives; this is when anger becomes a problem for us (Dahlen & Deffenbacher: 2001). Anger essentially comprises four key components; these components may occur separately but when they exist in conjunction the emotion of anger can become a real problem:
The feeling of being angry - this feeling can range in intensity from mild annoyance to overpowering rage or fury.
A bodily change - this physiological arousal is often caused by the release of adrenalin, which causes a range of reactions in our body (such as increased heart rate and blood pressure).
A mental or cognitive awareness - this sense that an event has occurred that threatens us is crucial in anger development.
An effect on our behaviour - to feel real anger we need to express it in some manner, whether this is in an appropriate or inappropriate manner (Mann: 2012).
It is common to confuse the idea of anger and aggression; anger remains an emotion while aggression is the action that can result from being very angry. The aggression is intended to cause physical or emotional harm, perhaps with verbal insults, threats, sarcasm or raised voices. When aggression becomes so extreme that we lose self-control, it is said that we are in a rage.
The emotions connected to anger are not the problem; if we experience too much anger or express it in an inappropriate manner we can create problems for ourselves and for others. We experience anger for a number of reasons; anger in and of itself is not harmful and can be seen as a protective factor in cases. We feel anger when we need or want something outside of our reach. Researchers have suggested that anger is behaviour-regulating programmes that will help us acquire what we want or need in order to survive; our expression of anger can encourage the target of our anger to offer something that might reduce the likelihood of them suffering in any way from the angry outburst. This type of anger would probably not be tolerated with adolescents due to the inappropriate nature of ist use.
Anger may also assist in preparing us for action. In a similar fashion to stress, anger sends signals throughout the body in preparation for the fight or flight response. Anger in this sense is essential to prepare us to take action against the perceived injustice against us. While our anger may prepare us to fight, this form of aggression is not socially acceptable. Anger also informs us when our rights have been violated; this heightened awareness of abuse protects us from the onslaught of threat. If our rights have been violated it is appropriate for us to become angry; with this in mind it is essential to be aware of our rights to assess when they are being violated. It is necessary to understand that we have a right to be angry; this in itself better prepares us for the ability to manage our anger appropriately.
The potential to change the situation is created through anger. If a situation is causing us to become angry we have the ability to change the situation to remove the anger causing stressors. Anger also allows us to express our emotion; this naturally prevents us from supressing our emotions and reduces the negative effects of anger on both our physical body and our psyche. It is however necessary to learn how to appropriately express our anger.
In Mann (2012), the causes of anger have been categorised into eight motivators, these include:
Frustration / irritation - these block us from attaining our goals or getting and doing the things we want.
Abuse - when others disrespect us or treat us badly.
Injustice - when we believe that we have been treated unfairly.
Unmet expectations - when our expectations for a situation are different to the actual occurrence it disappoints us.
Unethical behaviour - when others behave immorally, taking advantage of people or situations.
Lack of support - we feel that people are not on our side or supporting us.
Lack of communication - when we feel that we have been left in the dark about something, we have been excluded from the communication loop or we are not allowed to voice our opinion.
On-going issues - the reoccurrence of issues.
Anger causes physiological changes in the brain. The hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland at the base of the skull to release hormones that affect our entire body. Adrenalin and cortisol work through the cardiovascular system to increase the heart rate and increase the blood pressure, allowing oxygen-rich blood to reach the areas of the body needed to fight or flee from the cause of the frustration. The cortisol released allows the liver to convert ist glycogen into glucose that supplies an increase in ready energy again to fight or flee.
The symptoms of anger include aching limbs, headaches, fatigue, dry mouth, stomach-ache and dizziness. If the anger is prolonged the effects are more pronounced and include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, ulcers, exhaustion, skin disorders and frequent bouts of flu. Anger may lead to feelings of hate or humiliation (Fitness: 2000). However, people who suppress their anger tend to have higher blood pressure (Harburg et al: 1973) and hypertensive personalities (Robins & Novaco: 2000).
Males and females do not differ in how often or how intensely they become angry but they do differ in how they express their anger (Mann: 2012). Men are shown to be more aggressive and are perceived by others to be more aggressive than females. Women who express their anger attract more negative descriptions than men. The display of anger in the form of aggression seems to enhance the masculinity of males but detracts from the femininity of females (Miron-Spektor & Rafaeli: 2009).
Children seem to get angry when they feel that they are being misunderstood, they are the victim of injustice, they are being unfairly treated or their goals are being thwarted (Tavis: 1989). In light of this, the adolescent’s cause for anger is an extension of this and seems to be focused on their teachers, the school, their peers, siblings and their parents. Some of the triggers for adolescent anger include:
Attention seeking - the adolescent seeks a response.
Habitual behaviour - the adolescent becomes accustomed to responding to situations with anger.
Self-esteem - the adolescent may use his anger as a defence mechanism to protect his self-esteem.
Criticism - the adolescent is sensitive to criticism due to lower self-esteem particularly during the pubertal years.
Excessive anger can lead to aggressive manifestations; aimed at others or inwardly against themselves in self-harming behaviour. It seems that stress is the root cause of anger and aggression in adolescents.
Dr Elliott completed his PhD studies in 2011; he is the Deputy Headmaster of a private school in South Africa and has twenty years high school teaching experience. In 2012 he published ‘Adolescent Males – body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating”. As an educator and registered counsellor, his particular area of interest lies with adolescent development.
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- Artikel-Nr.: SW9783954896707
- Artikelnummer SW9783954896707
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- Verlag Anchor Academic Publishing
- Seitenzahl 114
- Veröffentlichung 01.02.2014
- ISBN 9783954896707