Understanding and managing anger

The aim of this article is to explore anger, why we become angry and when anger becomes a problem. It also aims to look at how our past affects how we deal with anger and how therapy and anger management can help.

What is anger?

Being angry is part of being human, and it is a natural response when we feel under attack, threatened, insulted, hurt or deceived. Of course, anger at times can be useful and helpful, however it can also be frightening and leave us feeling shaken up and distressed. Anger causes your body to release adrenaline, and prepares your body for ‘fight or flight’ mode. Anger gives you energy but also makes you feel tense and wound up The release of this built up energy, tension is good for you, but finding ways to do this constructively and safely can be difficult.

Choosing to fight back or run away isn’t usually helpful, and the anger we experience can often lead us to responses that can sometimes make things worse instead of making them better. Being angry is not in itself a problem, and is a natural reaction and something we all experience, how you deal with your anger and manage it is where problems can arise.

Why do we become angry?

Each of us has our own unique triggers for becoming angry, and it differs hugely dependent on who we are. Often we become angry about something that is happening to us at the time, and is usually something that is over quickly. For example, sounding your horn if you are caused to break suddenly by another driver. You are made angry, but express it quickly and move on. Some common causes for becoming angry are listed below.

  • Being unfairly treated by others.

  • Being discriminated against.

  • Instances of being threatened or assaulted.

  • Feeling powerless or frustrated.

  • Being bossed around.

  • Being lied to or deceived.

  • Something simple as running late for work due to traffic.

How our past affects our anger in the present

There are many factors from our past that affect how we manage anger as adults. Our cultural background or how we were brought up will impact upon us as adults, and many people in childhood, are given messages about anger that make it hard to manage feelings of anger as an adult. We may have been told that it is ok to act out of anger, however aggressively or possibly violently.

We may have learnt to become angry whenever you do not like a situation, or the way someone is behaving towards you. Witnessing anger between your parents or other adults as a child may lead you to view anger as destructive or terrifying. Maybe as a child you were told that it is better to not complain and put up with things, or maybe you were punished for expressing anger, and now struggle to own your feelings, leading to suppression of anger in adult life.

Looking back into our past can help us to recognise the triggers to our anger, and give us an opportunity to understand why we become angry in the present. Not learning how to appropriately manage our anger can lead to difficulties in resolving feelings of frustration.

When does anger become a problem?

Often we are experience short bursts of anger, which are quickly dispersed once expressed, however anger can become an issue when it begins to harm the people around you and is not expressed appropriately, or is expressed in unsafe ways.

Anger can become bottled up or suppressed if for example, there was an incident in your past that made you angry, however you were not able to express your anger because either you couldn’t or felt you weren’t allowed to. Unaddressed anger from our past can have a negative impact on our present lives. We may find ourselves responding more angrily or aggressively than is appropriate when we are upset or annoyed by small things.

Attempting to suppress our anger can lead to other types of behaviour such as responding to others in a passive aggressive way, being unhelpful or sarcastic or refusing to speak to someone altogether. You may find that you get too angry to quickly over small things. This can leave you feeling as if you are burdened with anger, and unable to get rid of it. Some of the effects that anger has on your mental, emotional and physical health are listed below.

  • Depression or anxiety.

  • Problems sleeping.

  • Addictions to alcohol or drugs.

  • Compulsive behaviours.

  • Self-harm.

  • Heartburn or ulcers.

  • High blood pressure.

How therapy and anger management help

As written earlier, anger can be caused and triggered by many different things, dependent on our individual experiences and personalities. Anger management and anger management therapy is designed to minimise and manage the feelings that anger creates by letting people explore the root issues and triggers behind angry outbursts.

Therapy will give you the opportunity to take a deeper look at some of the unproductive thoughts that you have learnt about anger, and confront how your anger affects others and negatively impacts your quality of life. Some key components of anger management and anger management therapy are:

  • Understanding your triggers for angry outbursts.

  • Investigating your thoughts, feelings and ideas about your anger.

  • Learning to manage your anger.

  • Develop skills to pinpoint frustrations early on.

  • Express your needs while remaining calm.

  • Lessening the difficult side effects of anger in its different forms.

  • It empowers you to empowers you to reach goals and solve problems without resorting to anger, or angry responses.

In closing

We all experience frustrations and anger, and can become wound up over a wide variety of issues. However, when we are able to recognise and accept the difficulties we have with anger, how we deal with it, and the impact this has on our life and relationships, then we can begin to use anger in a safe and constructive manner, and learn to cope more effectively with grievances and injustices that we experience.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced Integrative Therapist who has assisted people in understanding their anger, and its root causes. He is experienced in assisting you with developing the tools you need to manage angry outbursts, and can work with you to understand the impact anger has on your life & relationships. He is based in Shoreditch, East London.

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