Learn about common triggers, expressions, and consequences of anger.
Anger is an experience common to every person on earth. We experience it as babies by learning to share our favorite toy, as teenagers when our parents tell us “no”, and as adults when our favorite football team loses by one point. While it is often an unpleasant experience, there are many things that you can learn about yourself by observing what makes you angry and how you express that anger.
People who express their anger in an inappropriate or harmful way may experience problems in their relationships or other aspects of their life. One study found that “dysfunctional levels of anger are associated robustly with a variety of adverse mental and physical health consequences as well as interpersonal conflict and aggression” (Fernandez & Johnson, 2016). Experiencing anger is inevitable, but it is possible to learn to react thoughtfully while in this negative state rather than immediately lashing out–which usually leads to regrettable words and actions.
When you perceive that you have been wronged, anger is the reaction and the need to correct that perceived wrong (Lazarus, 2000). It can also be seen as an attempt to obstruct attempts to obtain your personal goals (Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009). How you choose to express your anger–and theoretically right the wrong–can range from submission to resistance to retaliation depending on the situation.
How someone experiences anger is completely dependent on the person. It is important to emphasize the difference between someone’s experience of anger and how they express that anger. It is possible for someone to feel furious on the inside, but look normal on the outside. It is also possible for someone to experience a mild annoyance–such as getting cut off in traffic– and then express their anger through extreme road rage and violence. Unfortunately, many people lack the skills to express anger in effective ways at the right time which can lead to negative consequences (Fernandez & Johnson, 2016).
Anger can be experienced in a variety of ways including emotion, mood, and/or temperament (Fernandez & Kerns, 2008). The difference between each of these experiences is the length of time they happen. Emotions are momentary or short-lived, moods last hours or even days, and temperament is a key component of someone’s personality.
Everyone has experienced anger as an emotion. Maybe someone said something rude to a cashier or threw their trash on the ground which ignited a temporary flash of anger. These intermittent life annoyances may cause momentary feelings of anger which usually fade away naturally. Sometimes, these flashes of anger linger and turn into angry moods. If someone is in an angry mood more often than not, that person may have an angry temperament.
Everyone expresses their anger differently and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to express your emotions. However, sometimes the way you express anger can be detrimental to yourself or those around you. It is possible to learn skills to better manage your anger and regain control of your life through an anger management support group or formal anger management program.
Signs anger might be a problem:
Physical aggression intended to hurt
Verbal behavior intended to hurt
Actual violence (such as hitting) (Fernandez & Johnson, 2016)
It is never okay for someone to be physically or emotionally violent with you–or for you to be physically or emotionally violent to someone else. Consider seeking out professional help if anger has risen to this level.
If you feel like you would like to gain better control of your anger, coping skills are a great tool for when emotions become overwhelming. It will take some practice before you figure out what skills work best for you. Keep trying and you can develop better anger coping skills over time. Here are some tips:
Practice Deep Breathing
When you feel anger bubbling up, try pausing and taking three slow, deliberate, deep breaths. This pause will give you time to respond instead of immediately reacting with anger–a state where you might do or say something you do not mean.
Journal to Recognize Triggers
In general, there are usually common people, places, or situations that trigger anger. Gaining a better insight into what your triggers are means you can be better prepared when you encounter them down the road. Daily journaling is one way to do this.
Step Away from the Situation
If you begin to feel signs of anger in your body, step away from the situation. Simply giving yourself a moment to calm down will allow the first wave of anger to pass.
Anger is a complex human experience. It can be an emotion, mood, or temperament and can range in intensity from irritation to fury. Try different coping skills (such as deep breathing or distracting yourself) to gain better control over your anger. If you or someone you love gets so angry it affects everyday life, consider seeking professional help or an anger management support group. Everyone can learn better anger management strategies to minimize the detrimental effects of this universal human experience.
Carver, C. S., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2009). Anger is an approach-related affect: Evidence and implications. Psychological Bulletin, 135(2), 183–204.
Fernandez, E., & Johnson, S. L. (2016). Anger in psychological disorders: Prevalence, presentation, etiology, and prognostic implications. Clinical Psychology Review, 46, 124–135.
Fernandez, E., & Kerns, R. D. (2008). Anxiety, depression, and anger: Core components of negative affect in medical populations. The SAGE Handbook of Personality Theory and Assessment: Volume 1 — Personality Theories and Models, 659–676.
Lazarus, R. S. (2000). Cognitive-motivational-relational theory of emotion. Emotions in Sport.