What is anger?
We all feel angry at times – it’s part of being human. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, which we might experience if we feel:
- invalidated or unfairly treated
It isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ emotion; in fact it can sometimes be useful. For example, feeling angry about something can:
- help us identify problems or things that are hurting us
- motivate us to create change, achieve our goals and move on
- help us stay safe and defend ourselves in dangerous situations by giving us a burst of energy as part of our fight or flight system
Most people will experience episodes of anger which feel manageable and don’t have a big impact on their lives. Learning healthy ways to recognise, express and deal with anger is important for our mental and physical health.
When is anger a problem?
Anger only becomes a problem when it gets out of control and harms you or people around you. This can happen when:
- you regularly express your anger through unhelpful or destructive behaviour
- your anger is having a negative impact on your overall mental and physical health
- anger becomes your go-to emotion, blocking out your ability to feel other emotions
- you haven’t developed healthy ways to express your anger
“It feels like there’s a ball of fire in the middle of my chest that blurts its way straight out of my mouth and burns the people around me.”
What is unhelpful, angry behaviour?
How you behave when you’re angry depends on how well you’re able to identify and cope with your feelings, and how you’ve learned to express them (see our page on causes of anger for more information).
Not everyone expresses anger in the same way. For example, some unhelpful ways you may have learned to express anger include:
- Outward aggression and violence– such as shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hitting or throwing things and being physically violent or verbally abusive and threatening towards others.
- Inward aggression– such as telling yourself that you hate yourself, denying yourself your basic needs (like food, or things that might make you happy), cutting yourself off from the world and self-harming.
- Non-violent or passive aggression– such as ignoring people or refusing to speak to them, refusing to do tasks, or deliberately doing things poorly, late or at the last possible minute, and being sarcastic or sulky while not saying anything explicitly aggressive or angry.
“My brain goes blank and I absent-mindedly release my anger through physical violence towards myself or objects around me. I don’t realise how destructive I’ve been until immediately afterwards.”
If you find you express your anger through outward aggression and violence, this can be extremely frightening and damaging for people around you – especially children. And it can have serious consequences: it could mean you lose your family, job and get into trouble with the law. In this case it’s very important to seek treatment and support.
But even if you’re never outwardly violent or aggressive towards others, and never even raise your voice, you might still recognise some of these angry behaviours and feel that they’re a problem for you. For example, you turn your anger inwards and self-harm or deny yourself food.
“I internalise anger and punish myself by self-harm”.