Anger Issues: Definition, Management, and Tips to Control Anger
What is anger, what are common anger issues, and how do you control your anger? Find out more about the science behind anger to better understand its roots and how to manage anger issues.
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Anger is an intense emotion, generally directed towards others as a result of a perceived threat or unfair treatment and caused by discomfort, pain, and other people. Anger includes physiological arousal (activation of fight and flight responses), changes in cognitive thought processes (for example, heightened attention to threat), and changes in facial expressions such as furrowed eyebrows and downturned lips. Feedback loops where anger continues to build on itself can result in physical or verbal aggression, generally directed towards others (Alia-Klein et al, 2020). But anger is extremely common. Historical records suggest that it has been common to get at least mildly angry a few times per day to a few times per week (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). So what, exactly, are anger issues? And when does anger become an issue?
What Is Anger?
To better understand anger issues, let's first talk about where anger comes from. We may know anger from having experienced it, but what exactly is anger? Anger has been defined as a negative emotion that arises when something blocks our movement toward a desired goal. This suggests that anger is simply a disruption in what psychologists call ' approach motivation' (Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009).
Approach motivation is our natural tendency to pursue good things—positive feelings, goals, and other outcomes. This is in contrast to avoidance motivation, which our natural tendency to avoid bad things—often things were afraid of or otherwise don't want to deal with.
Most negative emotions involve avoidance motivation. They make us want to retreat, hide, or run away. Positive emotions, on the other hand, generally lead us to want to approach things. This understanding of emotions makes anger a very unusual emotion indeed. Anger and other anger-like emotions are the only approach-focused negative emotions that we know of. With anger, we don't want to run away—we want to fight!
So, anger is a special negative emotion that has its own unique function and benefits. Although managing and controlling anger is necessary to function in the modern world, we want to do so carefully because anger does not like to be suppressed or ignored (more on that soon).
Anger as an Emotion
Anger is truly a unique emotion. Although all emotions are somewhat social (they are caused by others and affect others), anger is often thought to be the most social negative emotion. It often involves a desire to make an uncomfortable situation for someone who has made our situation uncomfortable. Often, we seek to right what we perceive as a wrong (this is righteous anger). And as a result, our anger can actually result in rectifying injustice and restoring a positive emotional state for ourselves (Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009). So it's important to remember that even though anger can be uncomfortable, it has an important purpose. As long as we use it in a wise and controlled manner, it can help us achieve what we want in life.
Anger is an emotion and is differentiated from actions such as aggression and violence (Thomas, 2001). Other emotions that are closely related to anger include:
Anger Issues: Two Ends of the Anger Spectrum
When we think of the prototypical person with anger issues, we might think of a cartoon character with a bright red face and steam shooting out of his ears. Indeed, excessive or uncontrollable anger is one anger issue. This type of anger that is expressed outwardly is known as 'anger out'. Anger out can lead to challenges in personal relationships and at work—people don't generally like being around an angry person and might make assumptions about that person's ability to control themselves.
What is less often talked about are the people who don't express anger at all despite having anger. They might be poked, and prodded, and tormented but don't respond. In the TED talk below, Juna Mustad refers to these folks as 'anger stuffers'. They have their anger so well controlled that they don't release it all.
Stuffing anger, also known in the research as anger suppression or 'anger in', can have dangerous consequences. Suppressing anger can lead to greater pain and greater anger-related emotions in response to pain (Quartana & Burns, 2007). Interestingly, 'anger in' is also related to increased hypertension, while anger out is not (Hosseini et al., 2011).
Video: A Mindful Approach to Managing Anger Issues
Many things can trigger anger. However, men's anger tends to be more often triggered in some ways while women's anger is triggered in other ways (Thomas, 2001). Knowing these differences may help you better understand your unique version of anger and how to manage your anger more easily.
What triggers anger in men?
Some research suggests that an attitude of hostility, resentment, and suspiciousness can increase the likelihood of a person becoming angry more often (Fives, Kong, Fuller, & DiGiuseppe, 2011). Other cognitions that lead to anger include awfulizing and low frustration tolerance (Martin & Dahlen, 2004).
Keep in mind that these issues can also be anger triggers in women, but generally to a lesser extent than men.
What triggers anger in women?
Women's anger is often triggered by violations of core values, or it may arise in response to powerlessness, disrespectful treatment, and lack of reciprocity (i.e., exchanging things with others for mutual benefit). More often than not, powerlessness is a key component of women's anger. For example, women often want something to change, but they can not make it so, often even failing to get people to listen to them and this produces intense anger.
Given these circumstances, women’s anger often involves a mixture of feelings such as hurt, frustration, and disillusionment. But they can regain a sense of power when using anger to restore justice, respect, and relationship reciprocity (Thomas, Smucker, & Droppleman, 1998).
Understanding Your Anger Issues
To better understand your anger (and anger issues), ask yourself these questions:
When you better understand what your anger is and where it comes from, it can be easier to address anger issues and learn effective anger management strategies.
Managing Anger Issues
Anger management is generally taught in a classroom setting, and its goals are to impart knowledge, provide alternate perspectives, and help people practice a variety of anger management strategies. This approach is preferred because having other people around to empathize, provide feedback, and role-play conflicts can really help those with anger issues better understand how to effectively deal with anger.
Anger management may be needed when anger is too frequent, too intense, too prolonged, or managed ineffectively, but each of these different anger issues needs to be addressed with different strategies and by learning different skills (Thomas, 2001). For example, those who express their anger too often or too intensely need to develop cognitive skills for reframing their anger and expressing it in ways that others can work with. While those who often suppress their anger in ways that lead to bodily symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches must learn to communicate their anger more directly.
Techniques for Managing Anger Issues
Evidence suggests that these techniques can beneficial for helping people better manage their anger issues (Thomas, 2001).
1. Keep an anger journal
An anger journal can help you better understand the triggers of your anger. Note down in your journal when core values are being violated. Try to explore what it is exactly that is triggering your anger. What thoughts are you having? What emotions go along with your anger? What could you do to resolve this anger effectively?
2. Manage angry thoughts
Practice reframing anger as an opportunity to fuel change. Stopping rumination cycles can also help to stop the thoughts that fuel anger.
3. Advocate for yourself
Practice assertiveness strategies, negotiation, and boundary setting to help get your needs met and reduce feelings of powerlessness.
Video: Anger Management Techniques
Books on Managing Anger Issues
Here a few books to help you keep learning more about how to manage anger issues:
Anger can be an intense and difficult emotion. Anger issues involve not only expressing too much anger but expressing too little. That's why it's so important to learn more about your anger and how you can better manage it.