Experiencing Anger

by Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

Anger is a completely normal emotion we sometimes experience when we perceive injustices, betrayals, criticism, disrespect or other violations. Anger can be experienced in a range of intensity from a sense of annoyance and irritation to a highly charged rageful outburst. The spectrum of angry feelings includes frustration, displeasure, agitation, fury, wrath, resentment, and bitterness.  In this article, the terms, ‘emotions’ and ‘feelings’, will be used interchangeably – although some researchers describe differences between the two terms (perhaps another future article!).

When we perceive that someone or something is unfair and we feel helpless to instantly “fix it” for ourselves, this can result in feeling anger.  Anger is sometimes interpreted as a BIG feeling in our society and often judged as a “bad” feeling. As far as emotions go, anger is neither good nor bad. However, the way anger is handled, expressed, or managed can result in better or worse outcomes.  

Research indicates that anger is related to the basic human instinct for “fight, flight, or freeze” which is actually about survival.  Anger tends to make us ready for “fight”, but this may or may not mean a true physical brawl. “Fight” can mean working for something better and seeking overall improvement as related to the triggers for anger with increased motivation to have more effective communication and improved understanding, and even greater motivation for seeking solutions. An example is when a parent angry because chores are left undone creates a proactive plan for completing chores with a child who has been angry about having to do chores! “Fight” can also result in a person becoming antagonistic, provoking, and feeling mad and entitled, reveling in the escalation of the feeling with multiple justifications. An example is the familiar road rage incident when a driver perceives that someone has intentionally violated or disrespected them by pulling out in their path. Then the driver chases that person to cut them off, or slam on brakes, or scream obscenities at them.

The outcomes of each experience are vastly different. The first outcome becomes productive and effective. The second outcome maintains fury and may result in danger and vengeance. The first is a controlled response to the feelings of anger and the second is an impulsive reaction to the feelings of anger.

The experience of anger depends on several things including, but not limited to:  personality, temperament, learned behavior. Persons with the ability to practice self-awareness and monitoring, managing their experience of anger, often create responses to a triggering situation. These people do not tend to “lose control” as they experience anger.  Persons who tend to believe they are superior and better than other people and blames others, hold grudges, focus on things outside of their control (and believe they are being slighted) more so than what is actually within their control often have impulsive, not well thought out, reactions to their experience of anger. These people appear to “lose control” when angry.

Again, anger in itself is not a negative emotion despite the “bad rap” our society has given it. How we experience anger is what can be more positive or more negative. Anger expressions and experiences impact relationships and how we function in daily life, in our communities, and in our jobs. Managing anger begins with understanding what triggers anger for you and if there are patterns of angry experiences. Do you lash out, withdraw, fuel the inflammation with more negativity, become assertive and solution-focused, seek understanding? Once we have greater awareness of our anger experiences we can determine if they result in outcomes that allow us to improve our circumstances or if they result in destruction and regret.

There are many things that can be done to assist with dealing with anger effectively. These include things such as coping and self-care and self-regulation strategies (deep breathing, mindfulness, exercise and physical movement), journaling, healthy sleep, reviewing whether there may be different interpretations of the situation other than your perspective.

Sometimes we believe that anger is controlling/managing us rather than us controlling/managing anger. If this is the case, there is help available for sorting out the contributing factors and developing healthy anger experiences. Sometimes the triggering factors are simply related to the stressors of daily activities. However, in some cases, a number of relatively common mental health conditions can impact the experience of anger such as:  Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, various Personality Disorders, Impulsive Disorders, and others, as well as Substance Use Disorders.

The likelihood of better outcomes occurs when there is reflection and patience on what instigated the angry feeling can sometimes result in improved and more productive communication, more effective understanding, and even greater motivation for problem solving.

Behavioral Healthcare Associates, LLC (BHA) is a comprehensive mental health practice with experienced licensed therapists and a Double Board-Certified Child/Adolescent and General Psychiatrist available to assess and treat general mental health and substance use concerns. If you are interested in speaking with someone regarding anger issues, or seeking assistance with other emotional and behavioral health concerns, please contact us at 919-292-1464 to schedule an appointment, or find more information at our website         www.behavioralhealthcareassociates.org