Guildenstern: The king, sir --
Hamlet: Ay, sir, what of him?
Guildenstern: Is in his retirement marvelous distempered.
Hamlet: With drink, sir?
Guildenstern: No, sir, rather with choler.
After an email I sent about a mutual patient complaining of irritability, her wise therapist commented to me on how many more patients she had seen with anger issues in recent years. She wrote, "My belief is that we are witnessing a 'cultural disorder,' with skewed attachments, a sense of entitlement, a lack of accountability, and a crisis of conscience." I too have been surprised by how many patients present with not only dysphoria, but with barely contained annoyance over the conditions of their lives.
Considering how many patients present with symptomatic behaviors of rage episodes and "going off on people," anger per se is surprisingly uncommon as a cardinal diagnostic symptom in psychiatry. As always, it all depends on context. General irritability may characterize depression, mania, or ADHD. Men in particular seem to react with defensive rage when threatened by anxiety. Borderline, narcissistic, and antisocial personality disorders often involve an inability to modulate indignation and temper.
A Times article discusses the occurrence of bullying at ever early ages (think Kindergarten), attributed speculatively to controlling, snarky parents as well as a general media culture valorizing materialism and mean-spiritedness. After several decades of sociologists decrying the disconnectedness, narcissism and entitlement of up-and-coming generations, are we seeing the fruits in an increasingly thin-skinned populace, in both clinical and political terms? Is resentment mutually amplified by the man on the street, virtual and media alter egos, and the much vilified political establishment? Indignation and claims of victimization are everywhere and are thereby cheapened.