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What Is the Difference between Rage and Anger?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Rage and anger are two forms of aggressive emotional response that can be triggered by situations that are frustrating, painful, or threatening. The difference between rage and anger is a matter of degree. While anger is an appropriate response to some situations, rage can lead to uncontrolled and violent behavior. Rage is connected to a medical condition called intermittent explosive disorder and to dangerous social behaviors such as road rage. Both rage and anger are the results of physiological factors that create extreme reactions to threats in humans and other animals.

All creatures have ingrained, instinctual responses to perceived threats, sometimes known as the fight or flight reflex. In higher animals, including humans, these responses are governed by hormones and the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala. This primitive but essential organ does not differentiate between genuine threats to life and limb and less serious threats, such as rude behavior. This is why people sometimes respond with anger that is disproportionate to the situation. In extreme cases, this can lead to acts of rage that are dangerous to the person or others nearby.

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Anger is a powerful emotion that can sometimes overcome a person’s better judgment. It is, however, an appropriate response to many situations, and it is possible to express anger in healthy and constructive ways that can resolve the matter without resorting to abusive behavior or violence. Examples include strongly worded communications to appropriate authorities, non-violent protests, and even legal action. Many therapists and counselors offer anger management programs to teach the difference between healthy and unhealthy responses.

Rage and anger both result from the amygdala’s ability to override rational thought, the so-called “amygdala hijack” that can be vital in life-threatening situations. In everyday life, however, most people are conditioned to suppress angry feelings, even when appropriate. This can lead to emotional problems such as intermittent explosive disorder. This causes a person to commit acts of rage in response to relatively minor troubles, such as traffic mishaps. Often, people will later report that they “snapped” and could not control their behavior.

These incidents have become so common that the news media has coined the phrase “road rage,” along with later variations like “air rage,” meaning violent outbursts on commercial airliners. Uncontrolled rage can also lead to violence and murder, such as mass shootings in schools and workplaces. Mental health specialists suggest ways to keep rage and anger from spiraling out of control. Meditation, deep breathing, and similar techniques have proved effective in helping people remain calm even in times of crisis. Physical activities such as contact sports allow people to express aggressive behavior in socially acceptable ways.

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Rotergirl
Post 2

@Pippinwhite -- What a sad story. Obviously, that man just went completely off the rails.

Rage disorders are becoming more common, I think. I think it has something to do with our very stressful society and less interaction with others, and the feeling that we are helpless in some frustrating situations.

Pippinwhite
Post 1

Rage is usually irrational. The person is so angry they are no longer able to control their words or actions.

A road rage incident in my town a couple of years ago resulted in a man being shot in the back as he got into his truck after a verbal altercation. The shooter wasn't even the person on the highway with the victim. He was the person's boyfriend. She called the shooter on the cell phone and said someone in a truck had pulled out in front of her and cut her off in traffic. There's not even any evidence the victim was the person who allegedly cut her off. The boyfriend just exploded and tracked the first black truck he saw to a parking lot. He was charged with capital murder, found guilty and is serving a life sentence.

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