Anger is a normal emotion experienced by everyone at different times. It is, in fact, a natural response to a threat, helping prime ourselves for protection or stand up for ourselves. It can also be useful to motivate people to meet challenges or make changes. It happens as a reaction to thoughts or emotions – hurt, frustration, worry, jealousy, confusion, rejection, embarrassment or powerlessness. Whatever the reason behind it, there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. What is important is how we cope with, and express angry feelings. Anger that isn’t managed well can have an impact on relationships, as well as physical and emotional health.
When does Anger turn into Aggression? While anger is a feeling/emotion, aggression is the behaviour or action taken that is hostile, destructive and/or violent. It can be physical assault, throwing objects, property damage, self-harming behaviours or verbal threats or insults. Many people become aggressive in response to a real or perceived threat or it may be a learnt behaviour that helps them get their needs met.
Anger can often be a way people communicate when they are:
- Frustrated or don’t understand
- Misunderstood or not listened to
- Embarrassed or Humiliated
- Experiencing injustice
- Trying to control a situation
- Experiencing Pain (including withdrawal from substances)
- Physically uncomfortable (tired, hungry or in pain)
From a very early age, we learn how to express anger by copying what we see, what gets reinforced and by testing the boundaries of what is allowed. Many of us have had negative or confusing messages about how to manage difficult emotions such as anger. Sometimes we are unable to stop ‘blaming ourselves’, seeing it as ‘a problem with us’ and start feeling like we can take responsibility and makes changes.
The experience of anger can be varied and is usually influenced by:
- How easily you get angry?
- How often does it occur?
- How intensely do you feel it?
- How long does it last?
- How comfortable you are with feeling angry and expressing it?
Each person is different but there are some common ways people deal with anger. They experience a loss of control and explode in rages that may lead to physical abuse or violence. They may sit with their anger and either wait for it to pass or redirect it to a healthy outlet such as exercise. They may suppress it, bottle it up or ignore it which may lead to passive-aggressive behaviour or turning their behaviour inward leading to negative self-appraisal or mental health difficulties.
Our responses are coloured by our beliefs about what’s acceptable; learned habitual behaviour often from childhood modelling; gender; underlying issues and conditions that impact a person’s ability to deal effectively with anger such as physical and mental health issues or an acquired brain injury; alcohol and other drug-related factors impacting mood or using as a strategy to manage emotions; stress and any irritability can lower our tolerance for frustration; effectiveness to manage our anger – the level of self-awareness and emotional literacy. Anger causes physical and emotional symptoms. While it’s normal to experience these symptoms on occasion, a person with anger issues tends to experience them more often and to a more severe degree.
Anger affects different parts of your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles. Many studies have found that anger also causes an increase in testosterone levels and a decrease in cortisol levels.
- increased blood pressure
- increased heart rate
- tingling sensation
- muscle tension
There are a number of emotions that go hand in hand with anger. The emotional symptoms that can be seen before, during, or after an episode of anger:
- feeling overwhelmed
Manifestation of Anger
Anger and aggression can be outward, inward, or passive.
- Outward. This involves expressing your anger and aggression in an obvious This can include behaviour such as shouting, cursing, throwing or breaking things, or being verbally or physically abusive toward others.
- Inward. This type of anger is directed at you. It involves negative self-talk, denying yourself things that make you happy or even basic needs, such as food. Self- harm and isolating yourself from people are other ways anger can be directed
- Passive. This involves using subtle and indirect ways to express your Examples of this passive-aggressive behaviour include giving someone silent treatment, sulking, being sarcastic, and making snide remarks.
For most of us, we soon find effective ways to regulate our emotions, however, for some, their experiences of anger can be persistent, unpredictable and overwhelming. In these cases, their experiences of anger can lead to other problems such as eating problems, depression, risky behaviours, absence from school, self-harm, violence or drug and alcohol use. While some of these may help them cope in the short term they will often create more problems later on.
Consequences of Anger
Anger may lead to:
- Damaged personal relationships
- Problems at school or work
- Substance Use
- Mental Health problems
- Physical Health problems
- Legal Ramifications
Management of Anger
Anger management doesn’t mean ignoring what you’re feeling and waiting for the feelings to pass. People can sometimes feel like they are at mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion. Allowing them to gain even the smallest amount of insight or control over this emotion can be very empowering and provide them with a sense of self-efficacy and improved self-esteem. Effective anger management can enable young people to recognise and accept their anger and have more control over what they do about it. While sometimes a young person will need professional assistance, there are lots of things you can do as a carer to support a person who struggles to deal with anger in a constructive way:
- relaxation techniques
- behavioural therapy
- depression, anxiety, or ADHD medications, if you’re diagnosed with any of these conditions
- anger management classes, which can be taken in person, by phone, or online
- anger management exercises at home
- support groups
Anger is a normal emotion, but if your anger seems out of control or is impacting your relationships, you may have anger issues. A mental health professional can help you work through your anger and identify any underlying mental health conditions that may be a contributing factor. With anger management and other treatments, you can get your anger under control.