Where Does Anger Come From, and How Can It Be Managed and Used Well?


What is anger? Is it a mood, a feeling, a reaction, something that just happens? Is getting angry normal or something to be avoided because it can be so destructive? Can anger be controlled so that you never experience it? Or can it be managed so that you can use it productively? Looking at these questions can help you understand your feelings of anger and perhaps provide a start on dealing with it.

What is Anger

Most psychotherapists agree that anger is a normal feeling that occurs in reaction to some kind of provocation or "trigger." Anger has various shades, ranging from reactive irritation, to chronic or sarcastically negative attitude, to spontaneous blind fury and calculated revenge, with many different degrees in between.

Anger is usually rooted in a fear or a belief that something is not the way it should be, such as:

  • threats of an immediate or anticipated danger

  • perception that your rights are being violated

  • the idea that you are being deprived or cheated

  • frustrating situations and annoying people

  • unexpected disappointments and obstacles

Anger can also develop from dwelling on seemingly unsolvable problems, as a kind of misguided but ego-protecting reaction against feeling hurt, sad, or helpless.

Variations in Normal & Dysfunctional Expressions of Anger

We all are familiar with how young children express their anger -- temper tantrums complete with yelling, wailing, and throwing themselves on the floor. It would be abnormal and even impossible for a small child to sit quietly, reflect on the cause of their anger, and choose a productive response.

We learn as we age that anger is scary to others, or at least disapproved of. There is tremendous parental and social pressure to handle anger in acceptable ways -- which usually means suppressing or masking it until we explode. Trying to hide anger typically leads to more problems, so that's not a healthy solution.

Older kids and teens whose anger builds when feeling unappreciated, disrespected, disallowed, or unheard may engage in outer-directed violence such as hitting, destroying property, or giving others the silent treatment. Some who have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse might use inner-directed violence instead, like hunger strikes or self-injury.

Adults also express anger in a wide range of ways, from being passive aggressive or sabotaging themselves or their co-workers, to being very argumentative about everything, to engaging in domestic violence and other extreme acts of force.

Psychotherapists see a lot of kids and teens for behavior problems stemming from "acting out" in anger. And it is often the case that adults with depression have internalized a deep-seated but suppressed anger.

But does anger always become a problem?

Managing Versus Controlling Anger

Anger can be channeled in positive or negative directions to produce healthy or unhealthy outcomes. You might say that trying to control anger so that you can't feel it or never feel it is the negative, unhealthy, counterproductive approach. Managing your anger response can be the positive, healthy, and even creative approach.

In anger management counseling, clients learn how to directly admit to feeling angry without having to act on that feeling in a destructive way.

For example, let's say that Mitch has a reputation for flying off the handle at small irritations at work. In counseling Mitch learns that he's actually feeling unsafe and unheard. With his counselor's help, he learns to confront the anger-provoking situation in a matter of fact way by stating his feeling out loud and seeking collaboration in problem solving. That conversation could sound like this:

I get more angry every day about how unsafe these work conditions are. What I need is to have the authority to make some changes that I can feel good about. I have some suggestions -- when can I present them to you?

As a result of counseling, Mitch uses his anger to problem solve. His healthy anger response is to acknowledge his feeling, and the fear behind it, and to seek a change that will benefit himself and others. This is excellent anger management.

If you struggle with finding healthy ways to express and manage your anger, I'd like to help. Call 309 - 346 - 5378 today to ask about anger management counseling. You'll be glad you did.

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