Psychiatrists: Rage Comes From Accumulation

ByABC News
July 25, 2001, 9:44 AM

July 18 -- A good friend with a mellow personality was in an elevator awhile back when the door opened and a burly chap stepped inside.

"Good morning," my friend said, smiling broadly.

The other guy belted my friend in the face, shattering his jaw.

It turned out that it hadn't been such a good morning for the assailant. He had just been fired. My friend just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, falling victim to anger that pushed a stranger over the edge.

Why do these things happen? Why do we see frequent outbursts ranging from an impolite gesture from another motorist to road rage that can lead, quite literally, to death?

More People, More Conflict

What's intriguing about so many cases of uncontrolled anger is that they often result from such trivial encounters. It's easier to see why a jealous spouse might take a shot at a mate found in a compromising position than it is to understand why road rage would compel someone to yank a small dog from another motorist's car and fling it into the path of oncoming traffic.

Why do we get so mad over things that don't really matter, like getting cut off in traffic by someone who's in too much of a hurry?

To find out I turned to Redford B. Williams, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center, who has spent years studying anger and what we can do about it. It's a pressing issue these days because more and more research shows that if you can't keep your anger under control, it can kill you. Heart disease and strokes have been repeatedly linked to anger.

Anger results from our inability to deal with stress.

"It's more apt to happen in the world we live in today" because there are so many opportunities for conflict in an increasingly complex, crowded, and busy society, he says.

But why do we spend so much of our time angry over minor incidents?

Two reasons. Some people are just more hostile than others, and anger is often the result of cumulative insults, not a single event.