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What anger is, strategies for managing it, and how therapy can help.

General Questions

What Is Anger?

Anger can be defined as a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. Anger can take many forms both emotionally and physiologically (e.g. sweating palms, “seeing red,” etc.).

Anger can be directed at a person, object, situation or even oneself. And what causes an angry reaction is often individual and grounded in factors like temperament, background, experiences, beliefs, and more.

What Is the Emotion Behind Anger?

Anger is an emotion itself, but some related or perhaps contributing emotions may include fear (as well as anxiety and worry), sadness, uncertainty or disappointment.

Are There Different Types of Anger?

Anger is a natural emotion, and it can take many forms. You may feel angry when you see something you find unfair or unjust, and you may also feel anger in moments of impatience or difficulty. Sometimes anger can be constructive, encouraging us to take positive action, while other times it can be destructive, leading to actions that harm ourselves or others. 

Anger can also manifest in a number of different ways. Some individuals may experience anger intensely for short periods of time (acute), while others may experience a lower but persistent level of anger for much longer (chronic/high trait). Some individuals may describe anger as coming about all at once, while others may feel the anger increase or compound over time.

What Are the Three Types of Anger?

Anger commonly takes three forms: passive aggression, open aggression and assertive anger.

  • Passive aggression refers to adopting a non-confrontational approach to a trigger. Individuals may become quiet or sullen, procrastinate, and deny to themselves and others that they are angry at all. It often stems from a desire to remain in control of the situation, which can lead one to guard against letting others know how they feel.
  • Open aggression is the exact opposite, referring to an open and perhaps even violent (verbal or physical) reaction to the situation. Individuals practicing open aggression may yell at or harm others through their words and actions. Open aggression can range from bickering to shouting to even physical altercations. In these scenarios, the angered individual is also fighting for control, but is doing so in a way that attempts to gain dominance over the other individual(s).
  • Assertive anger is the preferred way to deal with situations that leave you angry. Assertive anger refers to acknowledging your frustration and working with the other individual to address the situation in a way that may bring compromise to both parties.
What Causes Anger?

What causes or “triggers” episodes of anger is often very personal and individual, but some common scenarios may include being made to feel inferior or underappreciated, experiencing injustice, or recollecting negative experiences.

What Are the Five Stages of Anger?

Unresolved anger typically follows a cycle consisting of five stages: trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery and depression.

  • Trigger: Something triggers a reaction of anger within the individual.
  • Escalation: Our body begins to physically prepare for confrontation. Individuals may experience faster breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure, tension, raised or higher speaking voice, etc.
  • Crisis: As the body begins to physically signal crisis, the individual is unable to reason with themselves or others the same way they could in a calm state, leading to an increase in aggression and a decrease in rationality.
  • Recovery: Once the crisis stage has peaked, your body may begin to recover as you quite literally “cool off.”
  • Depression: As you settle into a calm state once again, your judgement begins to return, and you may consider the actions you took in the previous stage (positive or negative).
How Do You Distinguish Between Healthy and Unhealthy Anger?

When trying to determine whether your anger is healthy or unhealthy, it can be helpful to consider the following questions: 

  • Is your anger causing you stress (either acute or chronic)? 
  • Is your anger clouding your judgment or guiding decisions? 
  • Do you find that you are unable to move past periods of anger?
  • Do you act out in moments of anger in your words or actions? 

In short, if you feel that your anger is interfering with your ability to think and behave as you would like, than it is a good time to address it. 

Is Anger a Sign of Mental Illness?

Anger alone is not an indicator of mental illness. We all experience it! When managed properly, it is a normal and common reaction to certain scenarios.

But it is true that anger is a known symptom of several mental health issues. If you are having trouble controlling your anger, you do not need to be diagnosed with a mental illness to benefit from mental health services such as talk therapy.

What are Some Signs That Anger is an Issue?

You can determine whether anger is an issue for you by being honest with yourself regarding how you’re feeling and how you allow those emotions to affect yourself and others around you.

If you find that you are angry often, struggle to keep yourself from acting out in moments of anger and/or have allowed your actions moments of anger from harming yourself and/or others, then help is available.

What are Some Health Risks of Chronic, High Trait and Acute Anger?

Much like anxiety, anger is a stress to several of the body’s systems, including cardiovascular, immune, digestive and central nervous. Both chronic and high trait anger (occurring over time or often) as well as acute anger (intense feelings of anger) come with risks of cardiac events, strokes, gastric ulcers and more.

As with any health risk, the best thing that you can do is make a clear, consistent plan to reduce your risk by addressing the issue. Anger management can provide a number of helpful and proven tools to assist you in doing so.

Do Children Experience the Same Type of Anger as Adults?

Children experience anger just as adults do. Regardless of your age, anger left unchecked and unmanaged is an issue and help is available. 

Is There a Connection Between Anger Issues and Substance Use?

Both anger and substance use are often utilized – consciously or unconsciously – as coping mechanisms for things such as anxiety and stress. Since they both share a common root cause, it is not uncommon for individuals struggling with anger to also use substances destructively, or vice versa.

Managing Anger

Why Are Some People More Angry Than Others?

Anger affects all individuals differently based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Upbringing
  • Emotional awareness/intelligence
  • Temperament/personality
  • Prior experiences

But while your past experiences and genetics may have a role, all individuals can benefit from learning how to manage their anger through therapy and a variety of coping mechanisms.

How Can Anger Affect My Relationships?

Anger can affect relationships in a number of ways, including creating an unpleasant, tense or hostile environment that results in unhealthy relationships, unclear or undeveloped boundaries and poor communication. 

In addition to these more subtle ways, anger can often be expressed unhealthily toward others in violent or abusive ways, even to the surprise of one or both individuals.

Why Do I Get Angry So Fast?

Individuals may experience accelerated reactions to anger due to factors such as an inability to recognize the early signs of anger (or even predict situations that may be triggering) as well as an inexperience managing the emotion early.

Anger can be a lot like a ball rolling down a hill, the further it is allowed to travel, the more speed and force it accumulates. That is why it is best to practice identifying the early stages of anger and remaining in a calm state despite whatever triggers you may have.

What Is Something I Can Do to Help Me Manage My Anger Right Now?

The first and most important thing that you can do to begin managing your anger immediately is taking time to recognize moments of anger as they are arising. As with most emotions, it is necessary first to acknowledge the problem before you can begin addressing it.

From there, you can work to develop a simple and reliable method for calming yourself down through any number of mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises, sensory observation or reframing your situation from another’s perspective.

How Do I Control My Anger Outbursts?

The trick to controlling anger is to learn how to recognize it in its early stages and how to fight the impulse to allow it to accelerate past a certain point. This can include controlling physical reactions as well as adapting the mind to think more clearly about the situation

To control the physical reactions of anger, it is often useful to use techniques such as breathing exercises or perhaps taking a few minutes to step back from the situation (if possible) in order to allow yourself to calm down.

To help ensure that you are reacting appropriately to the situation itself, rather than a false perception of the situation, it can also be helpful to employ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques such as reframing. These can provide clarity of thought and perspective for all individuals.

How Do I Stop Shouting When Angry?

Shouting may be a natural reaction to anger, but it’s certainly not productive to resolve the situation. Some alternative methods to keep yourself from raising your voice might be taking a few moments away from the situation or focusing on your breath in order to restore a level of balance and calmness to the moment.

It may also be helpful to ask another person in the situation how they feel about it, and then take the time to really listen to their perspective, rather than to immediately react to what they are saying. Recognize how they are feeling, and do your best to put yourself into their shoes. Even if you continue to disagree with them, you may find that your reaction is much more controlled.

What Are the Five Steps to Anger Management?

Five common steps to anger management include:

  • Admit to yourself and others that you are angry.
  • Believe that you have the skills to control your emotions!
  • Do your best to remain calm through breathing and CBT techniques.
  • Work through the best way to address, and ultimately solve, the problem.
  • Express this to whoever you need to, with assertiveness!

Therapy for Anger

How Do I Know if Anger Management is Right for Me?

Anger management can be a useful tool for anyone who is looking to better control their reactivity to stressful situations, particularly when these seem to occur too often, last too long or lead to expressing frustration in unhealthy or harmful ways.

If you are wondering if it’s right for you, then it is. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Can You Get Therapy for Anger Issues?

Absolutely! Therapy is the best place to get assistance for anger management. Your therapist can help you learn useful techniques to identify triggers, recognize anger early, and control anger when it inevitably comes again.

What Therapy Is Best for Anger?

While there are a variety of therapy techniques that your therapist can employ to help you better manage your anger, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is certainly one of the most effective. This refers to a way of evaluating yourself and the situation with a more objective approach, allowing you to see the situation clearly for what it is, and then eventually teaching you to compare your reaction to this new view to see if it is a proper response.

CBT can help you prevent anger from taking control by seeing the situation more clearly, while also helping you manage your emotions and reactions.

What Are Some Anger Management Techniques You Will Learn in Therapy?

Some anger management techniques that you may learn in therapy include:

  • Recognizing your triggers
  • Learning more about why these things trigger you, and how you can see them more clearly in the future.
  • Managing the physical symptoms (fast breathing, rapid heart rate, etc.) that can lead to an escalation in situation.
  • Observing the situation for how it really is through reframing techniques.
  • Determining what is an appropriate response to triggers.
  • How to de-escalate situations.
  • How to live a balanced, less stressful life.