If only I had a perfect brain. Then I’d never wake up anxious without cause. I wouldn’t exaggerate problems. I wouldn’t get irritable. I’d always remember to breathe deeply to help myself stay calm. I wouldn’t lose my temper even when provoked. But I don’t have a perfect brain. Nobody has a perfect brain. That means we are all, to a certain extent, vulnerable to bouts of excessive anger, verbal aggression, and even physical aggression.
The brain learns by the principle of association. This means that any two things that happen at the same time or in quick succession can become linked in our minds. Perhaps you’ve heard of Pavlov’s dogs. They learned to so closely associate the ringing of a bell with receiving food that they salivated as soon as the bell rang. Given our intellectual capacity, we humans are probably even better than canines at learning associations. We have the ability to associate essentially anything with anything else as long as the two events happen almost simultaneously.
That’s normally a quite beneficial trait. Our survival depends upon making appropriate associations; for instance, a car careening toward you should be associated with a possible threat to your life. Unfortunately, learned associations aren’t always helpful. For proof of this, just go to a casino and watch people making all kinds of ridiculous gestures. They believe these motions will bring them luck. Quite possibly, they happened to win big at a moment when by chance they were swinging their arms through the air, clapping their hands, or scratching their head. Learned associations are strengthened when a person is having a strong emotional experience, and for those folks at the casino, their brain needed only one pairing to conclude that winning big was caused by arm swinging, clapping, or scratching. Mistaken associations like this are accurately labeled superstitions. Unfortunately it isn’t easy to break associations. Unlearning them takes more—usually far more—conscious effort than learning them.
It’s easy to develop learned but inaccurate associations that lead to irrational anger. For example, you may have learned to associate “Honey, let’s talk” with the thought “Oh, great, here comes another lecture about what I’m doing wrong.” If so, you’ll get angry every time you hear that phrase, even if your partner is just as likely to use it to initiate a positive conversation. It’s possible that you actually linked criticism with this phrase long ago when a parent or previous partner used it. But because you still associate “Let’s talk” with criticism, you bristle whenever you hear it. We tend to think the brain loyally paints accurate pictures of reality. But the primary purpose of the brain is to ensure our survival so we can pass our genes along to the next generation. Consciousness can help us survive, to be sure. But sometimes our physical and emotional survival might better be served when the brain blocks complete awareness. One example is that most people can’t remember much about what happened to them during traumatic events like automobile accidents or muggings. Blocking full anticipation of the inevitability of death is another way the brain protects us by limiting our conscious awareness. There are many other ways in which the human brain distorts accurate awareness. It tends to do all of the following at least occasionally:
Issue false alarms
Hide things from consciousness
Leap to inaccurate conclusions
Confuse cause and effect
Refuse to learn
So you might find yourself on the anger toll road because your brain sometimes makes mistakes. It’s likely that the worst mistake occurs when your brain erroneously perceives a threat. It shouts, “Danger! Danger!” when there is no danger. Your job is to catch these mistakes and correct them whenever you can. That means taking the first exit off the anger toll road by doing things like replacing an anger-provoking thought with a calming one, taking a time-out, or choosing to look for the good instead of the bad in people. It’s also important to develop a support group of friends, family, and associates who aren’t afraid to tell you when your brain is going off track.
Factors That May Cause an Angry Brain
So it’s natural for the human brain to make mistakes—and even to distort reality. Clearly that can send us off track in many different directions. Now let’s take a close look at how people might become angry when the brain distorts reality.
I hear one word over and over again when I ask people why they are angry: “frustration.” This is a shorthand way of saying that troublesome reality has struck again. The lawnmower broke down. Your kids didn’t do their chores. Your partner came home late. Your boss has unreasonable expectations. First one thing goes wrong and then another, and suddenly you’re on the anger toll road, even though you’d planned to take a different route. This aggravated feeling is virtually universal. Everyone becomes frustrated at least occasionally. So just because you occasionally become frustrated doesn’t mean you’re destined to have a permanently angry brain. You can work on calming your brain if you find yourself feeling frustrated quite frequently or if when you get frustrated you say and do things you later regret.
Too Much Stress
I recently had six members of one of my anger groups take a standardized stress test. A high score on this test was listed as anything above 300 points. Two of the angry men in that group scored over 450 points, and a third scored a whopping 758. Even worse, they’ve been like this for months or years. Their lives are full of long-term stressors like joblessness, having children with serious medical conditions, marital separations, and legal troubles. These three guys are heading toward nervous breakdowns, accidents, illness, or strokes. Human bodies are simply not designed to handle that much stress for an extended period. Is it any wonder that they report feeling anxious and irritable all the time? Stress triggers the fight-or-flight reaction. But fight or flight is meant to be a short-term reaction to danger. And in the short term, it’s helpful, not damaging, that stress hormones are released in massive amounts, breathing rate accelerates, heart rate soars, attention gets focused on the danger, and muscles get ready for action.
But in the long term, these and other effects of stress do a lot of damage to your body and brain. Excessive stress is a major reason people develop and maintain an angry brain. That’s why breathing exercises, relaxation training, and meditation work so well to help people become less angry. These techniques help people relieve the feeling of stress. Metaphorically speaking, lowering your stress means getting off the anger toll road and taking a quieter path.
A traumatized brain is one that has been massively altered. This can happen when a person either witnesses or is the victim of an extremely violent or life-threatening situation. Beatings, sexual abuse, attempted murder, or the threat of these things can change a person’s brain—possibly forever. Although we usually think of trauma victims as being easily terrified, avoidant, and generally fearful, they may also develop a hair-trigger defensive system, distrust of others, paranoia, and an irritable demeanor. A critical point in regard to anger management is that the hippocampus is one part of the brain that’s extremely vulnerable to stress hormones. Extended exposure to these stress hormones (glucocorticoids) can damage the hippocampus. That damage limits a person’s ability to put things into proper perspective. Also, remember that the hippocampus is a key player in turning off the aggression process in animals and probably humans as well. A damaged hippocampus could potentially disrupt this mechanism.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Among causes of anger, substance abuse is a big one. About half of the people I see for anger, aggression, and domestic abuse committed their aggressive acts while under the immediate influence of alcohol or drugs. That doesn’t include the people who weren’t high or impaired at the moment but whose addictive lifestyle made them more hostile, defensive, or paranoid. These substances are truly mood altering both short-term and long-term. Unfortunately, all too often the direction of mood change is from mellow to nasty, even when the opposite effect is intended. Mood-altering substances primarily attack the brain’s judgment centers in the frontal cortex. At the extreme, people black out completely. True, they may not do anything horrible in this state; nothing about substance use is 100 percent predictable. But once intoxicated people pass the threshold for aggression, it becomes more likely that they will do so again and again. Staying sober is the single most important thing many people can do to lessen their angry mood and behavior. That calls for a strong commitment of exactly the kind that produces real brain change—a topic we’ll look at in detail later in the book.
Hormones are naturally occurring chemicals that are released into the bloodstream when the brain directs specific organs to do so. Examples are adrenaline; insulin; the previously mentioned glucocorticoids, which are related to the stress response; and sex-related hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Some hormones can have a profound effect on mood. For example, consider hypoglycemia, a condition caused by an immediate lack of blood sugar. Many people who have suffered a bout of hypoglycemia can attest that it causes irritability, confusion, and aggressiveness. What astonishes me is how someone undergoing a hypoglycemic attack quits being so angry and grumpy within minutes once the condition is corrected with a glass of orange juice. A key point here is that hormone levels wax and wane in our bodies. So if someone suffers from rapid and inexplicable bouts of anger, it might relate to a hormone imbalance. If that sounds like your situation, you probably should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the matter. Testosterone has often been associated with male anger and aggression. Certainly, males of many species are more aggressive than females. And male teenagers, whose testosterone levels are the highest they will ever be, do tend to get into a lot of trouble. So it would seem pretty obvious that the more testosterone secreted by the testes, the angrier and more aggressive a man will become. Although some studies do seem to support this idea, the majority of the evidence doesn’t appear to indicate that testosterone level is a very good predictor for anger or aggression. The correlations between testosterone level and behavior are relatively low, meaning that testosterone levels don’t explain much about why some men are more aggressive than others. Additionally, sometimes the aggression-testosterone link seems reversed from what you might expect. For instance, a man’s testosterone level will rise when he resoundingly wins a sporting contest and will be lowered if he loses, or even if he squeaks by with a narrow victory. It’s not that a high testosterone level promoted victory; rather, victory promoted a rise in testosterone. What about estrogen and progesterone? Women are more likely to become aggressive just before and during menstruation, when there is less estrogen in proportion to progesterone. But again the relationship is a fairly weak one. Most importantly, for both men and women it appears that expectations about what will happen are at least as important as actual hormonal changes. At this point in time, it’s safest to conclude that sex-linked hormones have some influence on aggressive behavior, but for most people they aren’t the most important factor.
Problems with Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are chemicals created within the brain (and sometimes elsewhere) that transmit information between neurons, which is how they received their name. They travel through the tiny space between neurons, the synaptic gap, allowing the electrical and chemical brain system to transfer information from the sending portion of one neuron (the axon) to the receiving part of the next neuron (the dendrites) in the chain. Each neurotransmitter has special physical characteristics that match the shape of receptor sites on the receiving neuron, much as a key fits into a lock. This fine-tuning of brain networks is meant to ensure that correct and exact messages eventually go to neurons that activate everything from breathing to reading a book. One of the main tasks of the neurotransmitter serotonin is to help inhibit impulses. In other words, when you get angry, you need serotonin to kick in and help you stop and think before you say or do something you may regret. People with low serotonin levels have a well-documented tendency toward anger, irritability, and impulsive aggression. Biochemical depression is also strongly associated with low serotonin. That’s why depressed individuals frequently seem grouchy, short-tempered, and even suicidal. It’s important to note that many men in American society have a distinct aversion to admitting they’re having problems with depression. They also tend to stubbornly resist taking antidepressants, no matter how appropriate this would be. These men will admit that they have serious anger problems while refusing to take a pill or two every day that might help them feel less irritable. I’ve previously noted that the neurotransmitter GABA suppresses defensive rage. Additionally, GABA serves as the brain’s most general calming neurotransmitter, the complement to glutamate, which is the brain’s general activating neurotransmitter. Some people take GABA supplements to help them stay calm; however, the effectiveness of this nutritional supplement for anger control has not been documented. Excessive anger and aggression are sometimes associated with the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. However, the relationships here are quite complex. For example, we need dopamine in the frontal lobes to help us think of alternatives to aggression. But when the brain is forced to make too much dopamine, for example through repeated use of cocaine, the entire inhibitory system tends to break down.
Genetic Personality Factors That Promote Anger
No single “anger gene” has been discovered. However, some people are born with a combination of genetic characteristics that increase their likelihood of developing anger and aggression problems. These may include a low tolerance for frustration, hypersensitivity to sounds or touch, inflexible patterns of thinking, a tendency toward impulsivity, or low sensitivity to negative feedback (which means that punishment has little effect). If you have some of these traits, don’t be discouraged. These characteristics don’t make anger problems inevitable. They simply increase the odds. What matters most, in terms of genetic predispositions toward any behavior, is how strongly one’s family and society encourage or discourage expression of that behavior. Here’s an excellent example: Scientists discovered about a decade ago that one variant of a particular gene was associated with aggression. More specifically, men who had a relatively rare version of the MAO (monoamine oxidase) gene, labeled MAOA (monoamine oxidase A), were frequently arrested and imprisoned. But then researchers made a remarkable discovery. The MAOA gene caused trouble only for men who had been raised in abusive homes. It didn’t matter whether they possessed the MAOA variant when they were raised in nonabusive homes. In fact, among men who had been raised in nonabusive conditions, this same gene (MAOA) actually lessened the risk of aggression compared to men with the standard MAO gene. It turns out that this gene is one of a category of genes sometimes called “orchid genes” because only when children are nurtured and treated well do they blossom beautifully.
Families and Cultures That Promote Anger and Aggression
This brings up a very important point. The human brain is a social brain. It’s designed to help us survive in group settings—originally families and groups focused on raising children or hunting, and more recently cities, states, and work settings. Your brain is designed to learn about and adapt to the environment in which you live. Children live in awe of their parents. That word “awe” implies that they both fear and worship their parents. Naturally, then, parental modeling sets the norm for adult behavior. Unfortunately, this sense of awe often translates into “My mom yelled, my dad threw things, and now I do both.” Too many children are raised in environments that promote anger and aggression. Sometimes that means growing up with a physically abusive parent. Anger is also promoted by highly shaming verbal abuse, such as “You are the dumbest kid I’ve ever seen. I’m ashamed to call you my son.” Indeed, domestic abuse researcher Donald Dutton says that shaming of a male child by his father is the single strongest contributor toward that boy becoming a man who physically attacks women. Nobody is doomed to repeat history. Even my most angry clients often tell me how much they want to be better parents to their kids than their parents were to them. But breaking the habits of a lifetime doesn’t come easy. These men and women must work daily to speak gently and demonstrate their love and respect for their children. Families aren’t the only social source of anger and aggression. Every society sets guidelines, norms, and rules about when it’s okay to get angry: with whom, under what circumstances, and so on. All you need to do is watch Sunday football to see how aggression has been packaged into an acceptable form in which a city’s team symbolically goes to war with another city’s team in an effort to establish dominance. This mostly symbolic aggression definitely saves lives. How would you like to live in a country where Detroit’s standing army might go to war with Chicago’s? There’s no question that the United States and many other countries have increasingly frowned upon individual displays of anger and aggression. Laws prohibiting acts of domestic violence, school bullying, child beating, and workplace violence are obvious indicators of this stance. So is the preference for dealing with an obnoxious neighbor by threatening legal action, as opposed to showing up at the neighbor’s house with shotgun in hand. The probable underlying dynamic here is that larger societies must take formal steps to prohibit overt acts of violence because they cannot rely on informal controls to limit aggression. Practically speaking, it means there’s an entire industry of counselors like me earning a living by helping people learn how to curb their anger and aggression in order to stay out of jail and maintain their relationships. There is, however, a troubling countertrend that seems to be increasing the level of anger and aggression in the United States: an excessively angry and competitive climate in which politicians, talk show hosts, and average citizens willingly engage in savagely attacking each other. This take-no-prisoners attitude may be a temporary phenomenon. If not, it could reverse the long-term movement away from physical violence as the increasing level of verbal aggression starts spilling over into physical attacks.
As mentioned, nobody has a perfect brain. Unfortunately, some types of brain malfunctions greatly increase the risk for excessive anger and aggression. A person may be born with these problems, or problems may arise later as a result of brain damage due to injury or disease.
MINIMAL OR DIFFUSE BRAIN DAMAGE
The first type of damage I’ll mention is actually the hardest to identify. It’s called minimal or diffuse brain damage. Here’s an example: Years ago I was a social worker at a hospital when I was asked to check on a fifteen-year-old girl, Julie, who had been in an automobile accident. Julie had been in the hospital for a few days recovering from her physical injuries. Because she’d hit her head on the dashboard, she was also subjected to a brain scan, which came back normal. Her family was quite upset because the doctors had pronounced Julie to be fit, healthy, and undamaged from the accident and were ready to send her home. And Julie did seem to be speaking and acting fine. But her parents insisted that something was wrong—that she was still acting oddly. “This isn’t the real Julie,” they kept repeating. They were especially worried because, once back at home, Julie got angry frequently, didn’t listen to what they were saying, and generally acted far more oppositional than she had before. They said that she had always been a happy child and easy to live with, but now she seemed generally sullen and sad. I followed this family for several years. During that time Julie never regained her former happy disposition. She remained grouchy and moody. She picked fights with her family and friends. Her personality had changed permanently for the worse. Nevertheless, a brain scan she underwent several years later still failed to reveal any damage. Who knows how many people suffer from this kind of “minimal” brain damage? Quite possibly, improved brain scanning tools will one day reveal more subtle levels of brain damage than we can currently detect. They may show that certain individuals have a bit of damage at several places in the brain. It could be that whereas damage at any one of these sites wouldn’t cause significant problems alone, together they might increase affected individuals’ aggressiveness and make it harder for them to inhibit their anger, anticipate negative consequences of their actions, respond empathically, or cope with conflicts verbally instead of physically. If we are eventually able to detect such subtle and diffuse damage, hopefully that will allow us to help people in this situation.
FRONTAL LOBE MALFUNCTION
Frontal lobe malfunctions are a major source of anger problems. People with frontal lobe malfunctions may have trouble concentrating, thinking problems through, and, most importantly, slowing down their angry reactions to perceived threats. You may recall that the frontal cortex (specifically, the prefrontal cortex, at the front of the front of the brain) is the area most needed for control of immediate impulses. It’s here that people consciously choose not to give in to the urge to play, get drunk, or put off doing a difficult job. This skill, called impulse delay or impulse inhibition, hopefully leads to a bigger payoff later. But deferred gratification works only if you have the ability to put off immediate gratification, visualize longterm gains from doing so, and apply long-term effort to creating those rewards that develop more slowly. People with ineffective frontal lobes have trouble with all three of these skills: They are poor at initial impulse control; they can’t really imagine waiting around minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years for a reward; and they lack the organizational skills to carry out long-term plans. What does this have to do with anger and aggression? Impulse inhibition is essential for anger management. My clients often report that they said something in anger without thinking. More frequently, though, they do think about it and realize they should hold their tongue. But they go ahead with the sarcastic remark, cuss word, or insult anyway because their impulse control mechanisms aren’t strong enough to contain their emotion. Here’s an analogy: Once a year I buy a load of corn for my horse, Lakota. The corn comes in sacks that range from about 60 to 120 pounds. Now, I’m small, old, and not terribly strong. I can carry a 60-pounder decently, but I struggle with the 90-pound sacks, and on a bad day I simply cannot lift the 120-pounders. Meanwhile, the forty-five-year-old, six-foot-two, hardworking farmer who sells me the corn is grabbing one sack with each hand and carrying them easily into the shed. In terms of impulse control, someone with frontal lobe difficulties is like me with the corn sacks, able to handle a small impulse but not able to control larger ones. Imagine a child with less-than-perfect frontal lobe development. (This means most kids, since the frontal lobes continue to develop until people are in their midtwenties.) That child may be able to withhold making an angry remark after becoming a little upset over a minor issue, such as being told that TV time will be over in fifteen minutes. But shortly thereafter, when Mom or Dad announces it really is time to turn the television off—just a few minutes before the show ends—you can say good-bye to impulse control and anger management. The preliminary warning was only a 60pound sack. The real deal was a 120-pounder, too heavy to carry. This discussion raises an important question: Can people with frontal lobe deficits develop more strength in the area of impulse management? I could certainly work up to being able to carry those 120-pound sacks. It would take commitment and engaging in challenging weight training, but that goal is within the range of my genetically determined lifting capacity. Likewise, I think people with frontal lobe problems can set and achieve a goal of developing better-than-average impulse control and anger management skills. Why settle for less? I’ve seen kids do this over time, and I’ve spoken with many children and adults who have developed positive routines for impulse control. The two key elements, just as in my situation, are making a commitment and practicing a specific set of skills regularly. Some people with frontal lobe irregularities, especially children, are diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This tends to occur because they have difficulty concentrating and staying on task. In fact, ADHD appears to be primarily a massive dysregulation that applies from the prefrontal cortex all the way to the cerebellum. The link between anger, aggression, and ADHD arises because people with that condition have more difficulty containing their angry impulses. But I think it’s important to mention another connection that has a bearing here. I once asked a reading specialist named Brenda who worked in my building whether she agreed with the idea that kids with ADHD often lose their temper. She became upset at the question and said, “Who wouldn’t get angry when you live in a world not designed for you, a world in which you get told there’s something wrong with you every day of your life?” These kids typically get few rewards and a great deal of punishment, as if they were always intentionally choosing to become distracted from their homework and forgetting to do their chores. Brenda made an excellent point. It’s always important to look not only at people’s anger or aggression but also at their environment and whether it encourages or discourages these reactions. People can have frontal lobe damage without developing full-blown symptoms of ADHD. A stroke or a blow to the head due to a fight or accident could be enough to impair a person’s impulse inhibition skills. It’s also quite likely that some people are simply born without the qualities necessary for developing good impulse control. However, most people can develop and improve this skill.
DIFFICULTIES SHIFTING GEARS
Norman Doidge, in his excellent book The Brain That Changes Itself (2007), notes that three specific areas of the brain need to work together to allow people to shift gears—to let go of one concern or task and get on to the next. These are the orbitofrontal cortex (located at the front of the brain), the cingulate gyrus (located above the corpus callosum, which connects the two brain hemispheres), and the caudate nucleus (located deep in the center of the brain). Norman Doidge notes that researchers have discovered that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have excessive activity in all three of these area. But as with ADHD, I believe many people who don’t have full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder may very well have problems in these areas of the brain that contribute to problems with anger. What happens when people become angry about something and can’t shift gears? Here’s an example. I used to counsel a couple: Terry, an accountant in his early forties, and Charlotte, a stay-at-home mom. They had a son named Troy, who was a typical teen. When he was told to take out the garbage, he sometimes did it. But usually he said, “Yeah, I’ll do that as soon as I finish…” and then promptly forgot about it. When faced with this normal adolescent behavior, parents usually sigh, get a little annoyed, and say something like “How many times do I have to tell you to take out the garbage, Troy?” End of story—time to get on with life.
Unfortunately, Terry’s gearshift often got stuck. He would tell Troy to take out the garbage; Troy would stall, and Terry would take that personally. He’d check back in a few minutes, then in another few minutes. “Have you taken out the garbage yet?” “When are you going to take out the garbage?” Each time he got angrier, until inevitably he burst out with shaming verbal attacks: “Troy, you are a lazy, good-for-nothing, spoiled rotten useless waste of energy.” Of course, this verbal abuse only pushed Troy away, and eventually Troy became passive-aggressive against Terry, intentionally putting things off just to bother him. But the trouble didn’t stop there. Terry would keep thinking about how Troy had offended him. He’d bring it up over and over again with Charlotte, who fell into the role of defending Troy. That’s what ultimately brought them to counseling. Charlotte was sick of the angry triangle that had developed in their family. She told Terry that if he didn’t learn how to let go of his anger at Troy, she would end the marriage. I have to admit that Terry never got really good at deactivating his anger, although he did improve enough to save his marriage. Unfortunately, he never really understood that he had to let go of the bad he saw in Troy in order to notice the good. The people I see who have gear-shifting problems are often mired in hate. Someone harmed them badly in the past. Perhaps it was a cheating partner, a dishonest business associate, a mean brother or sister, or an abusive parent. The offense is long over. Still, these people keep thinking obsessively about what happened. Worse, every time the memory comes up, these people feel reinjured, as if they are being betrayed in that moment. They just cannot let go of their pain.
TEMPORAL LOBE MALFUNCTION
Some people are born with temporal lobe problems, and others develop these problems due to injury. Because the temporal lobes are located at the sides of the head, they are particularly vulnerable to injury. This brain region includes the amygdala and other parts of the limbic system, so injury to the temporal lobes may result in sudden, nearly uncontrollable bouts of rage. To give you an idea of how this kind of rage manifests, let’s look at the situation of Celeste, a fifty-year-old woman with a history of cocaine and methamphetamine addiction. She had been clean for five years but believed the drug abuse had caused brain damage. She said she never had problems with anger before she started using, but afterward she struggled to contain her rage. What bothered Celeste most was that she sometimes experienced blackouts during rages. She said, “I’ll be having a disagreement with my husband, Aaron. We’ll be at the table fighting over bills or the kids, and I’ll feel myself starting to go nutty. Sometimes I can stop if I get away immediately. But last week I tried to make one last point. Aaron says I stopped in midsentence, stood up, and swore a blue streak. Then I threw dishes at him and tried to strangle him. Aaron said I was so strong he couldn’t get me off him. He had to ask our son for help. I don’t remember any of this happening.” Apparently this rage attack lasted about twenty minutes. Afterward Celeste felt absolutely exhausted, as if she’d run a marathon. These kinds of scary rage attacks frequently seem to be initiated in the temporal lobes. They resemble epileptic seizures in some ways, as the person who has them loses control and has amnesia about the episode afterward. It’s quite possible that during these events the brain’s electrical patterns change drastically, with too many circuits firing simultaneously and overloading the person’s conscious awareness. Let me add that these rages are not the same as alcohol- or drug-induced blackouts. However, they may sometimes be related, in that the brain damage from substance abuse increases the likelihood of such rages. Studies have also looked into other abnormal electrical patterns in the brain related to anger and aggression. For example, there appears to be a connection between aggressive criminal behavior and having slower-than-normal brain wave patterns. However, the specific causes for these brain wave variations has not been discovered and research on this topic is generally inconclusive.
Clearly, there are many possible explanations for how and why some people become angry frequently. Some causes cited above, such as frustration, are as much social as individual in origin. Others arise within the brain, such as certain types of brain damage. There exist medications that might be useful for individuals with difficult anger problems.
However, my working assumption is that people with anger problems can learn to become less angry or lose it through hypnotherapy or Rapid Resolution Therapy. Neuropsychotherapy works.