According to the American Psychological Association, anger is an emotion characterised by antagonism toward something or someone that a person feels has deliberately done them wrong. Anger can be a result of frustration, feeling hindered or being barred from something that is considered important. Many things can trigger anger, including stress, family issues or financial problems. Feelings of anger can be rooted in fear, disappointment, feeling overwhelmed or feelings of inadequacy. For some people, anger is caused by an underlying disorder, such as addiction or depression. Anger itself is not considered a mental disorder, but it has been identified as a symptom of several mental health conditions.
6 Common causes of anger
- Feeling attacked
- Unfair treatment
- Being disrespected
- Stress or stressful situations
- An underlying mental health condition
6 Conditions that can cause anger issues
Mental health conditions can contribute to the severity of a person’s anger and may be the underlying cause of anger issues. These conditions include:
Many people think of depression as mainly including feelings of sadness combined with a lack of motivation. However, anger is a common symptom of depression, whether it is expressed or bottled-up.
There are several types of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). They are all typified by varying degrees of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour patterns. And anger is known to also be commonly prevalent in those living with OCD.
- Alcohol abuse
The connection between Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD (which includes alcoholism, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction) and anger is cyclical. Someone who is angry may drink often and heavily to self-medicate, but this alcohol abuse can, in turn, cause hostility and sometimes intense anger and aggression.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that causes a lack of focus and hyperactivity in some people. Most people are not aware that anger and frustration are also a significant part of an ADHD diagnosis.
- Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes alternating periods of mania and depression – sometimes to a severe degree. Many people with bipolar disorder also experience bipolar rage. This unpredictable and unstable anger can lead to problems.
Anger is one of the recognised stages of grief. While grief is often marked by feelings of sadness and hopelessness, the death of a loved one can be followed by disruption and change. For example, losing a spouse can lead to having to move homes or a change in financial status. It is common for any of these changes to cause anger.
Is anger healthy or unhealthy?
When it comes to mental and emotional wellbeing, health experts have come to recognise that anger can be a positive and beneficial tool if it is expressed appropriately. It can give a person a way to express negative feelings or provide the motivation to find the solution to a problem.
- Our primal “fight” response stems from anger. Anger alerts us when something is dangerous, or someone wants to hurt us and provides the aggression needed to overcome a deadly antagonist.
- Anger can be a motivator. Emotion studies* have discovered that anger is associated with what is called approach-related motivation, i.e., that there are two basic motivational forces that underlie all behavior – the impulse to move toward something desired, and the impulse to move away from something unpleasant. Research shows that anger significantly activates the left anterior cortex of the brain, which is associated with positive approach behaviours.
- Anger can give a sense of control. Anger provides us with a sense of control and corresponding confidence that empowers us to act and move from an undesirable position to a desirable one.
- Anger can increase cooperation. Anger can facilitate increased cooperation and harmony in relationships. If a person’s anger is justified and expressed constructively to another person (a perceived wrongdoer) whose response is appropriate, misunderstandings and conflict are often resolved.
- Properly dealing with anger expands emotional intelligence. Ultimately, having a willingness to embrace any difficult emotion, such as anger, rather than avoiding or repressing it, is a sign of emotional intelligence. When a person is emotionally intelligent, they do not resist anger, but instead, seek to understand and regulate it.
Excessive anger can cause problems
Anger is a natural human emotion, but when it spirals out of control, it can wreak havoc on all aspects of our lives.
- The biological effects of anger: When we are angry, our heart rate goes up, blood pressure escalates, adrenaline levels increase and our senses become keener. These changes can be beneficial when faced with a threatening situation, but the long-term effects of this biological response can lead to health issues like hypertension, heart disease and weakened immunity.
- The emotional effects of anger: Frequent and prolonged bouts of anger can cause emotional havoc. Constant irritability, anger or rage are emotional symptoms that can cause a person to develop a hostile, cynical, and mistrustful view of the world
- The social impact of anger: Anger does not just affect the individual experiencing it. It also has significant social implications. People who cannot control their anger often have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. Anger can be misused as an instrument to dominate and intimidate others in both personal and work relationships. Anger can also impact a person’s professional life through decreased productivity, increased workplace conflict and even job loss.
The purpose and benefits of anger management
Recognising and managing anger is important, but in the case of extreme anger keeping one’s temper in check can be difficult to do. Coping with anger is an acquired skill — anyone can learn to control feelings of anger with time, patience and focus. For example, simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing, yoga or exercise can help calm angry feelings. However, there are instances in which a person may benefit from consulting a mental health professional or attending an anger management class.
One such instance is if a person suffers from a hair-trigger temper.
Managing anger does not mean never getting angry. Rather, it involves learning how to recognise it, cope with it and express anger in constructive ways. Anger management therapy is a form of counselling that helps one take control when overcome by anger.
The following are 5 of the main benefits of anger management therapy:
- Anger management therapy helps to identify triggers
The first step toward controlling anger is knowing what triggers it. It is likely that there is an underlying theme or pattern to a person’s anger issues. When an individual understands their triggers, they can approach challenging situations with greater degree of self-awareness.
- Anger management therapy teaches healthy coping mechanisms
Anger management counselling is not about learning to suppress anger. It provides understanding and tools to process and move on from it in a healthy way. This can be done through verbally expressing frustrations or concerns and resolving interpersonal problems before they escalate – or by learning relaxation techniques that ease the fight-or-flight response.
- Anger management therapy reduces stress and anxiety
Anger and anxiety go together. Feeling on-edge all the time can take a serious toll on physical and mental health. But improving one’s anger management skills can help to ease stress and anxiety. Anger management therapy teaches one to remain as calm as possible during stressful situations, stopping anger from becoming overwhelming.
- Anger management therapy supports quality personal and professional relationships
Anger is internal – an emotion – but it can precipitate hard to control behaviors. To act impulsively when angry can put a strain on personal and work relationships. People with anger issues often struggle with the feelings of guilt and shame that follow an outburst. Learning to manage anger protects relationships from being undermined or damaged.
- Anger management therapy builds empathy
Sometimes, we respond in anger when we do not understand a person’s intentions. They may be misguided in their decisions or provocative in their communication but in most cases the people who anger us do not mean us deadly harm. Rushing to anger removes our ability to look at a situation rationally and view it with an open mind. Anger management counselling teaches the empathy that comes with understanding another person’s perspective.
Anger is a natural, adaptive response to a perceived or real threat. The instinctive way humans express anger is to respond aggressively – stemming from the natural fight or flight response that allows us to defend ourselves when attacked. It can inspire powerful feelings and aggressive behaviors. Some people are more “hotheaded” – they get angry more easily and more intensely than the average person. There are some who suppress their anger but are chronically irritable and antisocial – or they show their anger by being passive-aggressive. Expressing angry feelings in an assertive yet non-aggressive manner is the healthiest way to express anger. Mastering the art of anger management takes work, but the payoff can be life changing. Learning to control anger and express it appropriately will help to support positive relationships and lead a healthier, more fulfilled life.