Does Anger and Violent Behavior Mean You’re a Bad Person?
When the TV remote goes on the fritz, do you throw it against the wall in anger? If someone cuts you off on the highway, do you want to chase after that person and run them off the road? When someone looks at you funny, is your first instinct to yell at them or punch them in the face?
Reacting with anger, aggression, or violence can get you into trouble. Temper flare-ups can cause strife in your relationships. Getting into fights can lead to physical harm. And if you go too far, a violent nature can eventually lead to trouble with the law.
For many people, episodes of anger or aggression are often followed by feelings of guilt and shame. Even though you know that shoving someone and throwing things isn’t desirable behavior, you can’t help yourself. Does it mean you’re a bad person?
Are Angry People Bad People?
Take a look at these individuals who struggle with anger.
Blaine: As a schoolboy, Blaine had a terrible time learning to read and frequently got into fights.
At age 60, he was still aggressive and moody. His temper outbursts just seemed to come out of the blue. “The littlest things set me off. Then I feel terribly guilty,” says Blaine.
Jason: This 30-something business executive admits he has frequent, intense violent thoughts. “I can be walking down the street and someone accidentally brushes against me, and I get the thought of wanting to shoot him or club him to death,” says Jason. “These thoughts frighten me.”
Misty: At age 45, Misty was besieged by angry outbursts. One day, someone had inadvertently bumped into her in the grocery store and she had started screaming at the woman. “I just don’t understand where my anger comes from,” she says. “I’ve had 16 years of therapy, and it is still there. Out of the blue, I’ll go off. I get the most horrid thoughts. You’d hate me if you knew.”
What Brain Imaging Reveals About Anger and Violence
Are Blaine, Jason, and Misty bad people? Do they lack a moral compass? Is there a reason why they act the way they do? Brain imaging studies show that anger, aggression, and violent behavior—often diagnosed as intermittent explosive disorder—are often signs of abnormalities in an area of the brain called the left temporal lobe.
The temporal lobes are located on either side of the brain behind the eyes and underneath the temples. On the dominant side of the brain (the left side in most people), the temporal lobe is intimately involved with emotional stability, as well as memory, language comprehension, and visual and auditory processing. Research has shown that emotional stability is heavily influenced by the temporal lobe. Optimum activity in the temporal lobes enhances mood stability, while increased or decreased activity in this part of the brain leads to fluctuating, inconsistent, or unpredictable moods and behaviors. Problems associated with abnormal activity in the dominant (usually left) left temporal lobe include:
- Aggression—internally or externally directed
- Dark or violent thoughts
- Sensitivity to slights
- Mild paranoia
- Emotional instability
- Word-finding problems
- Auditory processing problems
- Reading difficulties
The symptoms above are typically thought of as psychological, but in reality, they have a biological basis. Temporal abnormalities occur much more frequently than previously recognized. This is because the temporal lobes sit in a vulnerable area of the skull that makes them prone to damage even in mild traumatic brain injuries and concussions. Head injuries aren’t the only source of temporal lobe problems. They can also stem from genetics or exposure to toxins or infections.
What’s Behind Their Anger?
What caused Blaine, Jason, and Misty to develop such an aggressive nature? Brain SPECT imaging studies, which show healthy and abnormal brain activity, helped shine a light on their behavior.
Blaine: When Blaine was 5 years old, he fell off the porch headfirst into a pile of bricks. His SPECT scans showed significantly low activity in his prefrontal cortex and left temporal lobe, likely due to that childhood head injury.
Jason: Because Jason’s father was also a “rageaholic” it is likely that there was a genetic component involved and Jason inherited his temporal lobe dysfunction. His SPECT scan confirmed left temporal lobe abnormalities, but he had good prefrontal cortex activity, so he was able to supervise his behavior and maintain impulse control over his terrible thoughts.
Misty: At the age of 4, Misty fell off the top of a bunk bed and had been unconscious for only 1-2 minutes. Her brain scan revealed damage to the front and back parts of her left temporal lobe.
Can Violent People Change?
Is there any hope for people like Blaine, Jason, and Misty to change? Is there hope for you if you’re filled with anger or have violent thoughts and behavior?
Blaine: On a comprehensive treatment plan intended to stabilize temporal lobe activity and enhance prefrontal cortex activity, Blaine got a grip on his anger. And it happened quickly. Just 3 weeks after starting treatment, he said he hadn’t lost his temper a single time since getting on the new regimen. “That was the first time in my life I can remember going 3 weeks and not screaming at someone,” he says. Four years later, his temper was still under control.
Jason: With treatment, Jason had far fewer violent thoughts. And after seeing that his aggressive nature was related to biological abnormalities in his left temporal lobe, he no longer felt ashamed.
Misty: When Misty began a treatment program that included both medication, supplements, and other natural therapies, she found it very helpful in calming the “monster” within.
As these 3 individuals show, people who have a tendency to explode in anger can change. Seeking an evaluation and looking at the brain to understand the root causes of unwanted aggressive behavior is an important first step.
If you want to feel more in control of your temper, or you want a loved one to stop violent behavior, the Amen Clinics can help. We’ve helped thousands of people, including Blaine, Jason, and Misty, rein in their anger. We use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to find underlying patterns of brain dysfunction associated with aggression and violent behavior. Based on this information, we are better able to personalize treatment using the least toxic, most effective solutions for a better outcome.
For more information, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.