There are several feeling states that once can categorize as hyperarousal. Anger is one of those states. It is an attempt to seize control. When you feel angry you are experiencing your awareness that you’re preparing physiologically to attack.
If you are physiologically in a state of angry hyperarousal but have no awareness of it, the end result will be you attacking. Actually, that would be a sign of psychosis. The awareness of the arousal gives you a shot at mitigating your attack. It is serves as a brake. Be glad for it.
The purpose of the attack is to cause some sort of harm to influence a change in someone’s behavior that you want. The harm could be a mild unpleasant feeling caused by your vanishing smile to violence causing death. Your angry hyperarousal exists at a biological and evolutionary level to improve your chances at winning and your adversary losing.
The physiological markers of this state of arousal are not different from other heightened states of hyperarousal – be it excitement or fear. The only difference is in the qualitative nature of your thoughts while you are in that state of arousal. Researchers have demonstrated this fact in experiments which I believe are described in this blog in a post under ‘the emotional brain’ category.
When you are in a state of fearful hyperarousal, your body helps you to avoid something it doesn’t want – such as a confrontation. The physiological arousal combined with fearful thoughts get you into motion to get what you what you want. Your body is not concerned with what the other party wants. Your body wants to prevent the other party from getting anything it wants from you. In other words, when you are in fear, you are still playing so you win and the adversary loses. So in that sense, it is similar to anger.
When you are excited in a happy way, you are not only enjoying what you have or anticipate getting, but you’re state of hyperarousal may serve two purposes. First, it is a warning of sorts. My wife once said to her little Yorkie, ” I’m happy Yogi so don’t fuck it up.” When we are happily excited, our bodies send a message to potential adveraries that we have something that no one better try to take away from us. Think of the 1960’s when hippies partied to protest, but were always on the brink of violence if denied what they wanted. When happily excited, we are already physiologically pumped up and we need only have someone do something that provokes some negative thoughts to rechannel that phsyiological hyperarousal into an attack. Adversaries know this at some level, I believe. The second purpose of happy hyperarousal is that it attracts our allies to share in the enjoyment of what we have obtained. This creates a stronger show of force as more happily excited people would be even harder to oppose. Celebrations in all cultures show strength. Happy hyperarousal may seem more charitable as it shares the spoils of victory better than anger or fearful hyperarousal, but the purpose is still to improve chances at prolonging victories and keeping adversaries in the loss column.
In our thoughts we may not want to win at someone else’s expense. My premise here though is that any thoughts we are having in a state of hyperarousal are going to be pushed in the direction of “I win” or “my allies and I win” and “my adversaries lose” . We may resist such thoughts, but we ought not to think that physiology is somehow going to be ‘convinced’ by some logic or philanthropy once it is activated.
This fact underscores the importance of finding ways to be calm, with people we like and love, but maybe even more importantly with our adversaries. These hyperarousal feeling states are designed to heighten everyone’s awareness that we are winning and they are losing. This provokes more heightened emotions in adversaries and puts us at greater risk of being on the losing end. Expressed feelings make it all so public. If we find ways to achieve what we want without these states of hyperarousal, we can better avoid these escalations. We may even think about being more discreet about our happy hyperarousal moments in certain company.
You can’t really prevent the initiation of hyperarousal in your body when triggered. But you can recognize that there is a price of riding the wave of those emotions to get what you want. You can’t stop the urge to urinate, but you can hold on until you get to a toilet. You can make using a toilet such an ingrained habit that you would no longer find it credible to make excuses if you wet your pants. So if you are angry, or fearful, or excited – create a ‘container’ for yourself and wait to use it when the hyperarousal urges comes on. A ‘container’ in this sense is to a plan to follow when your hyperarousal urges come on. Just like your first urge to pee simply needs to be ignored and not given a lot of attention, your first urge to act on hyperarousal should not be indulged. In a way, these posts on the anger habit are my attempt to offer some materials to build a potty for yourself. Sorry about the potty training metaphor, but I have a little girl who is making her first overtures toward diaper free living, so she has inspired me. I know I have to make this potty an attractive place for you to spend time, or you won’t want to go there. I’ll do my best with help from Semmelroth and others.
But calm should not be confused with another emotional state – hypoarousal. Slightly different spelling, but very different from hyperarousal. I’d like to address hypoarousal in my next post.