Experiencing anger is normal. People often feel angry in response to being attacked, criticised, insulted or deceived. Anger can be useful but it can also be unhelpful and frightening. When something makes a person feel angry, adrenalin causes your body to prepare to help protect itself. This process means the person has lots of energy to deal with the ‘threat’ but can also make them feel really tense. It is important to release this energy and tension, but it can sometimes be difficult to do so in ways that are constructive and helpful. Often when people experience anger they find that fighting back (e.g. acting in an aggressive way) or running away (e.g. avoiding a situation) from an experience releases the energy and tension. However, behaving in this way can often make things worse for themselves and the people around them.
Therefore being angry is not a problem – it’s how you manage it.
Do I have a problem with anger?
There are a number of ways you can recognise the signs that you are struggling with anger:
- Quick to anger, often with ‘little’ things being able to set ‘it off.’
- Aggression and violence including physical violence and aggressive behaviour (e.g. screaming or shouting).
- Cycles of problematic behaviour. This is often the case where people feel remorse following the unhelpful behaviour associated with angry outbursts. People may try to be on ‘their best behaviour’ following an outburst and work hard to show how sorry they are. However, this can be really hard to maintain and often leads people to feel stressed and angry again.
- Not feeling fully satisfied with life.
- Problems with relationships and work.
- Substance abuse and addiction – often worsening the situation.
- Frequently being in confrontational or violent situations.
- Experiencing ‘road rage’.
- Frequently experiencing negative thoughts.
- Feeling misunderstood, like no one “gets” them.
- Breaking or destroying objects when angry or frustrated.
When is anger a problem?
Anger is a problem when it negatively impacts on you or the people around you. Anger can be a problem if it is expressed excessively or unhelpfully or it if it suppressed. When a person doesn’t express their anger, or expresses it during inappropriate times or in unsafe ways, it can damage their health and relationships. For example, if something made you angry in the past but you didn’t express your anger at the time (perhaps because you felt you couldn’t or didn’t want to) then that anger can get ‘bottled up’ or ‘suppressed’. This can have negative consequences in the longer term. For example, you may find that when something happens to frustrate or upset you in the present, you feel extremely angry and respond more aggressively to the new situation. Trying to suppress anger can also lead to other types of unhelpful behaviour, such as responding in a ‘passive aggressive’ way (e.g. being sarcastic or unhelpful, or refusing to speak to someone).
People sometimes get angry quickly, often over quite small things. You may feel you are unable to let go of your anger. Often people having these experiences believe that others do not understand how they feel which can make the situation worse.
If you can’t express your anger in a safe or constructive way, this can be problematic for your mental and physical health and impact on the things that are important to you. For example, it can increase the likelihood of:
- Sleep difficulties
- Alcohol or drug addictions
- Compulsive behaviour e.g. excessive cleaning, overworking
It often affects people’s:
It can also impact on:
- Heart and circulatory system
- Blood pressure by increasing it
- Digestion, influencing the development of heartburn, ulcers, colitis, gastritis or irritable bowel syndrome
The evidence base suggests that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is effective in helping people manage their experiences of anger. Anger management may involve one-to-one counselling or working in a small group. Most one-to-one and group work includes at least an element of CBT. However, everyone is an individual and although CBT can be extremely effective, sometimes a different therapeutic approach or a therapy tailored to the individual and their needs is more appropriate. The assessment stage of any therapeutic intervention provides an opportunity to develop an in depth understanding of your difficulties on which a tailored individual therapy can be developed specifically for you.