Anger is a normal emotion we all experience. It is the emotion you may feel when you perceive someone has deliberately “done you wrong,” or when you feel you have been mistreated, injured, or are faced with obstacles preventing you from attaining your goal. It can range from a fleeting annoyance to a more intense feeling of rage.
Anger is one of the six identified basic human emotions, (the others are happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, and disgust). These basic human emotions have been honed over the course of human evolution and are designed to help us survive. For example, anger alerts us to a possible threat or that something is not right in our environment. In this context, anger is necessary and helpful, as it captures your attention, rallies you to respond, and hopefully motivates you to find a solution to the problem. If you stop to think about it, you may realize just how frequently you feel anger (or some form of emotion on the anger spectrum – annoyed, frustrated, peeved), even if short-lived each day.
While anger is very common, the experience of anger can vary widely from person to person. For example, people vary in terms of how easily they anger, how often they experience anger, how intense the anger is felt, and how long the anger lasts.
When Does Anger Become a Problem?
While there is no official anger disorder or diagnosis, anger becomes a problem when the frequency or severity of anger interferes with your functioning--in other words, when anger consistently negatively impacts your relationships, work performance, legal standing, and/or emotional well-being. People with anger problems tend to experience anger more often, more intensely, for longer periods of time, and to a degree that is destructive or hurts other people.
Anger is problematic if you feel you have trouble controlling your anger-response or coping with anger in healthy ways. If you often regret what you say or do when angry, this can also indicate you may be struggling with overwhelming anger. If you or others describe you as being quick tempered or having trouble controlling your temper, this may be an additional indication of anger issues.
Finally, because anger often stimulates release of stress hormones (such as adrenaline), increases your heart rate, and raises your blood pressure, chronic anger can have detrimental long-term physical health consequences.
What Causes Anger Issues?
Difficulty managing anger can be related to different causes and is often multifaceted. Certain temperaments can lead to individuals being more easily frustrated, irritable, or short-fused. Certain personality types also are more prone to anger than others, each with different things triggering them to feel mad. For example, persons with obsessive or compulsive tendencies may value control and be more perfectionistic, leading them to be easily angered over minor imperfections in themselves or others.
Early relationships and parenting styles may also play a role. For example, individuals whose caregivers used overly strict, harsh, or physical punishments are more likely to develop low self-esteem or anger difficulties. Children initially learn how to cope with anger from their parents or caregivers and will often imitate poor anger coping styles. Individuals with histories of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse are also more likely to struggle with anger issues.
Individuals may also find they are struggling more with managing anger when they are under more stress, struggling with family problems or financial issues, or stretched beyond their limit. Finally, difficulties coping with anger may be the result of an underlying psychological disorder such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or other mental health conditions.
Treatment for Anger Problems
All of us experience difficulty coping with our anger at times, and we all have said and done things we regret in the heat of the moment. Given this, when should someone seek help for anger issues? You should consider seeking help if you feel you cannot control your anger, that you often say and do things you later regret, if you are hurting other people around you, and if it is negatively impacting your relationships, work, legal standing, or mental well-being.
A therapist will work with you to develop a range of anger management techniques that will help you develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving. A key focus is learning how to express your anger in a healthy way and is called assertiveness training. When expressing your feelings and needs in an assertive – i.e. non-aggressive - way, you are making your needs known clearly, but respectfully and without hurting other people. Your therapist may also explore underlying factors contributing to your anger in an effort to reduce your anger so that it is no longer something that needs to be managed.
In addition to working specifically on your anger issues, your therapist will also identify and work on any additional underlying mental health difficulties that contribute to anger issues, such as depression, general stress management, past trauma, and harmful interpersonal patterns.