What fires off in our brains when we get to the point that we want to lash out with intense anger? Why do some people have a lower boiling point than others?

Anger itself isn’t a problem — it’s how you handle it. Anger itself is a natural response. It causes your body to release adrenaline – the “fight-or-flight” hormone that has been hard-wired into our brains. Adrenaline increases muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. Anger only becomes a problem when you are not able to control it in a healthy way.

In laboratory animals, rage sets off neurons in the brain. Seizures and brain damage certainly can contribute to changes in brain connections that can produce rate. In addition, there is evidence that extremely negative experiences can result in brain changes that could predispose one to bouts of rage.

When someone explodes from anger there is usually a trigger that sets it off. This event usually comes after a series of other bad or uncomfortable situations occurring back to back. Under normal circumstances they may be taken in stride, but when added to other events could seem to be the last straw.

If you have always been told that anger is bad, or you have never learned to express your frustrations in a healthy way, you may simmer until you explode into an angry outburst – resulting in rage. In some cases, a change in brain chemistry or other medical problem could trigger the outburst.

Some research suggests that expressing anger inappropriately can cause physical problems. Pent up anger, rage or violent outbursts can be harmful to your health. There is some evidence that stress and hostility related to anger can lead to heart disease and heart attack.

Ideally, you’ll choose constructive expression — stating your concerns and needs clearly and directly, without hurting others or trying to control them. If anger issues become too severe, professional help may be needed. There could be alcohol involved, such as the tirade Mel Gibson exhibited when he was arrested for DUI. A person normally cool and jovial suddenly went into a rage – which got people to wonder what could set off an attack of rage.

A study released by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) may hold a clue to preventing anger attacks such as the one exhibited by Gibson. According to the study, 11.5 million or more Americans may be affected by intermittent explosive disorder (IED). This is where anger explodes into outbursts that are extreme to the situation. This could involve throwing things, attacking or threatening bodily harm to others. This disorder also could be the cause of some forms of road rage, temper outbursts and even spousal abuse.

According to an article in Psychology Today those affected by IED may describe their episodes as “spells” or “attacks,” but some clinicians may believe that IED is only a symptom of other diagnoses and not in fact a disorder on its own.

According to the NIMH, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15 to 44, and more than one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year.

Was Gibson’s outburst simply caused by too much stress? Was there a mental health or addiction reason behind component his tirade? Only a complete medical and psychiatric evaluation will tell for sure.

There are several reasons for rage – biological, psychological and social factors.

Some individuals are genetically predisposed to have aggressive tendencies, but they learn how to channel it acceptably. For example, people may take risks in the stock market, become racecar drivers or play competitive sports.

Psychologically, rage could be the result of early attachment to parental figures and the inability to resolve conflict early in life. For example, those who were had violence in their childhood are more prone to express rage in stressful situations because they only frame of reference was inappropriate behavior.

For an individual go into a rage and lose control there usually is a combination of temperament, learned behavior and a high level of stress and frustration. If an individual has an episode of rage, he should seek psychological help. If this problem is not addressed with professional assistance, it may develop into a pattern of self-destruction.

Rage is dangerous because when control is lost things can be said that cannot be taken back, and a person could become violent. One moment of losing control can change one’s life forever.


About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life.



Fox News – Outbursts of Explosive Rage, What Causes Them and How Can They Be Prevented? http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,231106,00.html

Mayo Clinic – Anger Management, Your Questions Answered: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anger-management/MH00075

Rage – An innate brain system: http://mybrainnotes.com/brain-rage-violence.html