There’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. Anger is an emotion that, at certain times, has its uses; for example, if someone was to wrongly take something from you, anger can alert you to this injustice and ready you to respond. However frequent anger outbursts, aggressive behaviour or anger directed towards yourself can significantly impact your wellbeing. Difficulty controlling your anger can have an adverse impact on your relationships, work and reputation. Our Psychiatrists and Psychologists are trained in anger management and can help you in resolving such issues.
It’s normal for people to feel angry from time to time. Anger becomes a problem when the intensity, frequency and uncontrollable nature of the outbursts become more prominent and areas of your life start to be negatively impacted.
Anger can lead people to lash out at others, which in turn, can lead them to be fearful or resentful towards you. This can have flow-on effects in your relationships. Partners may leave, children may not want to talk and friendships may end because of anger.
People with anger problems are triggered relatively easily; they may fly off the handle, say things they later regret and resort to physical acts of aggression. Anger outbursts can have significant financial consequences and may lead to problems with the law.
Anger issues can lead to problems at work; clients may irritate you or colleagues may get under your skin. This, in turn, may affect your work performance, professional reputation, earning capacity and the satisfaction you derive from work.
Unhelpful coping strategies often go hand in hand with anger problems. Alcohol and some drugs can reduce a person’s inhibition, impair judgement and, therefore, increase the risk of anger outbursts. On the other hand, some people with anger problems turn to drugs and alcohol or self-harm in an attempt to contain or cope with their anger.
Anger can be a primary emotion or it can be a secondary emotion masking a range of other underlying feelings. As a primary emotion, anger often arises in response to certain situations or triggers. We each have our own triggers for what makes us angry, but some common ones include:
- Being misunderstood or treated unfairly
- Others disrespecting you or your property
- Being threatened or attacked
- Losing something meaningful, including possessions, relationships or identity
As a secondary emotion, anger can often mask other emotions such as:
- Rejection, hurt and feeling devalued or unworthy
- Embarrassment, guilt or shame
- Powerlessness and overwhelm
- Fear and worry
- Frustration, jealousy or sadness. Anger can sometimes be a manifestation of sadness in teenagers, especially boys
Anger is an emotion/feeling, whereas aggression is a behaviour/action. Aggressive behaviour includes hostile, destructive and/or violent acts. Aggression can be in the form of physical violence, throwing objects, damage to property, self-harm, or verbal threats, demands or insults.
Anger issues and aggression often go hand in hand, but not always. Anger can lead someone to become aggressive and may increase the risk of aggression in certain people. However, anger can also be managed and expressed in more healthy ways. Emotions like anger are hard to control directly, however, aggression is a choice and can be replaced with new strategies and skills.
One of the first steps to anger management involves learning your early warning signs. As a starting point, try asking yourself the following questions:
- How do I know when I’m angry?
- How do others know when I’m angry?
- What events/people/places/things make me angry?
- How do I react when I’m angry? How does this affect others?
People with anger problems often report they go from calm to extreme rage in a matter of seconds. In reality, anger issues often occur on a continuum and can be noticed before it gets overwhelming. Some early warning signs include:
- Feeling hot or flushed
- Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth
- A tight feeling in your chest or your heart beating faster
- Increased pressure in your head or tension in your neck muscles
- Stomach discomfort
- Clenching your fists
- A strong urge to escape the situation or lash out
- Beginning to raise your voice or act abrasively
- Losing your sense of humour
Firstly, anger doesn’t always mean throwing things, yelling or cursing. Sometimes anger can manifest itself as social withdrawal or sulking. We all feel angry at times, however, some people are easier to anger than others. These people often have a low tolerance for annoyance or frustration, which can manifest as a struggle to take things in their stride.
There may be a genetic element to anger, some babies are born more irritable than others and some biomarkers have been linked to aggression. Responses to anger can also be learned; we may have been exposed to aggressive or other unhealthy expressions of anger whilst growing up, or, we simply may not have been taught to deal with emotions effectively. Family background and social context can be another factor; if anger is commonly expressed, and even rewarded, in the family home or peer group, it may become a comfortable emotional state to resort to. In some families or social circles, anger issue is seen as a more acceptable emotion than the feelings it aims to cover up (e.g. hurt, fear, loss).
Here are some simple tips for managing your anger:
Take ‘time-out’. Sometimes it is our immediate surroundings that cause our fury. If you notice yourself getting angry, try to remove yourself from the situation (for example, go for a walk or take a toilet break). If you can’t physically remove yourself from the situation, try taking a ‘mental time-out’ (for example, mindfulness exercises or distracting yourself with music). For certain times of the day that are more likely to be stressful, such as family mealtimes, plan to have some time to yourself before or after this period.
Slow your breathing. When you take long slow deep breaths it will slow your heart rate and, in turn, help you feel calmer. Secondly, shorter breathing and a faster heart rate are sometimes features or signs of anger. In addition, this could be a early warning sign of anger.
Repeat a calming phrase (e.g. “take it easy” or “calm down”) or a coping statement (e.g. “I can communicate best I stay calm and composed”). Repeat this to yourself whilst you are deep breathing
Delay and distract yourself. Delay your response to prevent impulsive actions you may later regret. Think about or do other things to take your mind of the source of anger for a period of time. A simple practice like counting backwards can be good on the spot form of distraction.
Consider other perspectives. Anger can hijack our rational mind and give us tunnel vision. It can be helpful to step back from the situation and think of all the other ways in which it could be interpreted. Then we can work out if our response is proportionate to the situation.
Get active. Physical exercise can often be a great way to release anger, stress and physical tension. Exercise has known benefits for physical and mental health
Psychologists have a sound understanding of human behaviour and emotion. They are therefore well placed to help you manage your anger and any behavioural and emotional problems that result. A psychologist may work with you to:
Increase your awareness and understanding of anger triggers (i.e. the people, places, situations, behaviours and thoughts that trigger your anger)
Early warning signs
Recognise your early warning anger signs, which is key in preventing anger from reaching overwhelming levels.
New specific techniques
Learn new anger management techniques, which can replace current unhelpful ways of coping and reduce future anger outbursts and aggression.
Improve communication skills and effective ways of negotiating your needs. Often anger outbursts can be averted by better communication. Your psychologist can help you to stop and listen to what is being said, and gain skills in how to respond in a way that is appropriate and gets your needs met respectfully.
Challenge your thinking
Check your thinking (called ‘cognitive restructuring’). When you are angry your thinking can become overly dramatic and extreme. This type of extreme thinking might make you feel justified and alienate others who might have been willing to help you. Psychologists can work with you to identify and change unhelpful thinking styles that contribute to your difficulties
Be a better problem-solver. There are ways to deal with problems that don’t involve getting angry. With strong problem-solving skills, some instances of anger can often be avoided altogether. However, not all problems have a clear solution and we can, at times, feel stuck. A psychologist can help you learn skills to manage the more difficult problems we encounter in life.
Anger issues management difficulties are common and can be managed well with effective treatment. Call our friendly staff to make an appointment with an Epsychiatry psychologist today.