The Crucial Difference Between Anger and Hostility

(One is Emotional World, the other is Survival World)

Elsewhere on this website, you will soon find an entire book on the concept of Type A Behavior, Aspiring to Kindness: Transforming Male Type A Behavior.  That book is mine and is more than two hundred-seventy pages long and it is free to you for the downloading.  Obviously, that is a lot of information about Type A behavior and how to modify it.  My book is based on the material described in the two previously best-known books on Type A: “Type A Behavior and Your Heart,” (1974) by Friedman and Rosenman, and “Treating Type A Behavior and Your Heart,” (1984) by Friedman and Ulmer.


It is a lot of writing to say something very simple. Type A Behavior is just two things.  It is urgency about time, and there is present in the individual an easily aroused hostility called, “Free-Floating Hostility.”  Whatever else you believe is the definition of Type A Behavior, this is the entire description: Time Urgency (TU) and Free-Floating Hostility (FFH).  Any definition that mentions a “Type A Personality” is incorrect (including a publicity blurb on the back of Dr. Friedman’s second book that refers to Type A Personality).  It is a set of easily identifiable behaviors and has little or nothing to do with inherent traits.  It is all “nurture,” not “nature.”


Dr. Friedman (the principle discoverer) was very precise in his use of language.  He did not refer to “free floating anger,” but to hostility.  There is a great deal of interchange of the two words, “anger” and “hostility.”  In general conversation, there is not a crucial difference.  The inflection point comes when understanding both of these terms against the background of human interaction. Properly understood, anger is a gateway sensation to other feelings.  Hostility is more a siege-like mental state that brooks no compromise. 


The root word from Latin for hostility is “hostis,” which translated means “enemy.”  When I am dealing with someone who feels like an enemy, I am not interested in expressing my feelings toward that person.  I am interested in defeating that person.  When I feel hostility, I am not curious about the other person or empathic toward her or him.  I do not listen to understand, but only so long as it takes me to have a rebuke. 


The problem with hostility in a non-dangerous situation is that it puts me into the strategies and energies of the Survival World.  All you have to do is imagine a heated political or sports related conversation.  The subject might feel vital, but the arousal level will be that of hostility.  This intensity indicates the presence of heightened levels of adrenaline.  The adrenaline hyper-stimulates a portion of the brain that has to do with survival and shuts down other parts of the brain that are non-necessary in that moment.  If I am running for my life from a grizzly bear, it is very tough for me to recall in that moment the formula for Pi, much less wonder what the bear might be feeling.


Anger is a normal recurring emotion, not unlike other emotions such as sadness, happiness, fear, grief and tenderness.  Properly understood, our emotions are sources of information about how we are responding to the world or our own thoughts.  Emotions are not facts, but they are terribly important.  The Emotional World is built upon them.  We cannot process intimacy with ourselves or another human being adequately without a working knowledge and comfort with our emotions. 


I like to use a silly example.  If you and I are riding around in a car on a pleasant afternoon, I do not need to lean over and bite you on the shoulder to let you know I am hungry.  I report that I am feeling hungry.  Since I am riding around with you, I trust you are a rather amenable person and respond to this information in an appropriate way.  You most likely do not say, “That’s not possible, we just ate a little while ago.”  You more likely say, “Do we need to stop and to get something to eat?” 


Anger is like this.  It is an emotion, not an accusation.  It is a feeling that can be discerned and reported.  It is information that can be processed.  Being an emotion, it is connected to all the other emotions.  It is not uncommon for other emotions to be hiding in the weeds.  Reporting any emotion often allows other emotions to surface.  When reported anger is met with non-defensive curiosity and empathy, a process can proceed that provides release, relief and greater understanding and intimacy. 


John McNeelComment