When Does Anger Become a Problem?
In the most general sense, anger is a feeling or emotion that ranges from mild irritation to
intense fury and rage. People often confuse anger with aggression. Aggression is behavior that is intended
to cause harm to another person or damage property. This behavior can include verbal abuse, threats, or violent acts.
Anger, on the other hand, is an emotion and does not necessarily lead to aggression. Therefore, a person can
become angry without acting aggressively.
term relating to rage and aggression is hostility. Hostility refers to a complex set of attitudes and judgments
that motivate aggressive behaviors. Whereas anger is an emotion and aggression is a behavior, hostility is an attitude
that involves disliking others and evaluating them negatively.
Anger becomes a problem when it is felt too intensely, is felt too frequently,
or is expressed inappropriately.
Power and Control:
The unhealthy manifestation of anger is about power and control.
People can misuse power and control to get their needs met in relationship with others and in situations that involve conflict,
particularly when they feel threatened or insecure. This misuse of power and control is learned from others, often at a young
age, and can become a normal pattern of behavior for some people.
There are situations and behaviors that
really make us angry. These are called triggers
and need to be identified so that we can learn to take charge of our anger. Anger can be caused by both external and
internal triggers. An external trigger might be someone’s behavior that causes us distress (such as a coworker
or spouse) or an event (such as a traffic jam or a canceled flight). An example of an internal trigger is a faulty message
or internal dialogue that we give ourselves that get us all worked up. Sometimes these thoughts are based on assumptions or
incorrect information. Memories of trauma and conflict and traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.
needs to be expressed for healthy adjustment. Like other emotions, anger is accompanied by physiological
and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of your
energy hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Indicators like rapid breathing, a racing pulse, or a raised
tone of voice are cues to your escalating anger.
Cues are your signals, or warnings.
Cues let you know that you are getting angry. Your cues are part of the buildup or escalation phase
of your anger. Types of cues:
- Situations – problem situations that you know create a context in which you usually escalate, e.g., holidays, discipline
- Red Flag Words – words that are unique to
you and that you are especially sensitive to because of past events. These events can involve internal processes (e.g., thinking
about situations that were anger provoking in the past) or external processes (e.g., experiencing real-life, anger-provoking
situations in the here and now).
- Physical changes – the
way your body registers stress, e.g., muscle tightness, stomach tension, clenched fists and jaws.
- Negative Self-talk – negative thoughts you say to yourself (not out loud), e.g., “I’ll show him
- Mental Imagery – Mental pictures and visualizations
during escalation – things you see in your mind’s eye, e.g., picturing that your spouse is out using again.
- Emotional – Feelings you have during your escalation, e.g., powerlessness, scared, hurt, ashamed,
Studies show that the average person has between 14 to 15
anger episodes per day. These often arise when our expectations are not met upon demand. Although
to feel angry is within the normal limits of human emotions, it is often mismanaged and misdirected. Unfortunately,
we have been socialized to suppress our feelings of anger. As a result, anger either tears us apart from
the inside (ulcers) or promotes intermittent eruptions of verbal or physical abuse. In many cases, we do
not deal with our anger in a healthy manner.
Substance Use and Anger:
Substance use and abuse often coexist with anger and violence. Data from
the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, for example, indicated that 40 percent
of frequent cocaine users reported engaging in some form of violent behavior. Anger and violence often can have a causal
role in the initiation of drug and alcohol use and can also be a consequence associated with substance abuse.
Individuals who experience traumatic events, for example, often experience anger and act violently, as well as abuse
drugs or alcohol. Many people struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues are victims of traumatic life
events, which, in turn, lead to substance use, anger, and violence.
1. Safety and Well-Being
2. Power and Control
3. Perfection and Pride
4. Self-Sufficiency and Autonomy
5. Self-Esteem, Feeling Important, Status
What Anger Is:
What Anger Isn’t:
- A response to an emotion.
- A source of discovery.
- A part of assertion.
- A gift.
- A healthy release.
form of protection.
Suggestions for Managing Your Anger:
a time out
- Keep an anger journal
- Monitor your anger
- Don't ignore, avoid or repress your feelings
potentially explosive situations before they happen
- Develop realistic expectations for yourself and others
- Stay in shape
- Use empathy
- Take responsibility for your actions
to anticipate your anger
- Employ self-care
- Learn to forgive
Reading on Anger:
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
When Anger Hurts by Kim Paleg & Matthew McKay
The Anger Control Workbook by Matthew McKay & Peter
The Macho Paradox by Jackson Katz
Angry Young Men by Aaron Kipnis
The Angry Child by Tim Murphy and
Loriann Hoff Oberlin
A Volcano in My Tummy by Elaine Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney