What is Anger?
Anger is a normal human emotion, characterised by feelings of displeasure, annoyance and hostility and is experienced by people of all ages, genders, cultures and nationalities. In fact, there is scientific evidence that anger is a universal emotion, along with fear, disgust, contempt, joy, sadness and surprise. Anger can range from mild annoyance to intense rage. It is normal to report feelings of frustration or anger 2-3 times a week, and using anger constructively can even lead to positive outcomes. For example, anger may motivate an individual to seek justice and fairness, and push many social and civil revolutions forward. However, if one finds they are feeling angry often and using it non-constructively – it is beneficial to seek professional assistance, especially due to the extensive range of consequences associated with such a negative emotion.
Consequences of Anger:
Anger is often described as making one’s “blood boil,” probably because the emotion is accompanied by many physiological changes in the body including, but not limited to, increased heart rate, flushing, high blood pressure, sweating, temperature increase and muscle tension. Reason for this is because anger activates the body’s fight-or-flight response; often leaving a person feeling exhausted. Anger has been associated with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, substance abuse, and if experienced acutely, can even precipitate a heart attack or brain stroke possibly leading to death. Not only is feeling angry unpleasant for a person to experience in and of itself, it may also cause many psychological and social problems. When angry, one’s perception, reasoning, judgment and rationalising skills are impaired, increasing the likelihood of a person making poor decisions, blaming or criticising others, acting impulsively, social withdrawal, partaking in delinquent behaviour and turning to verbal and physical aggression. It is not surprising that individuals affected by anger-issues are likely to experience interpersonal problems.
Cause of Anger:
Anger is commonly triggered by misunderstandings, lack of communication, feeling hurt, or frustrated by an inability to obtain a goal. However, while a particular event may trigger anger, there is no one specific cause for feeling angry. Rather, anger is most likely caused by a combination of internal and external factors, whether biological, personal, situational, environmental or psychological. Internal factors can be understood as existing solely within the individual such as their temperament, tiredness, reduced problem solving skills, bad memories, biological-make up, anxious or depressive symptoms, feeling tense or agitated, brain injuries, nervous system issues, and more. External factors can be understood as existing outside the individual such as situational and environmental factors (a threat, traffic, loud noise), violent music or television, delinquent parents or peers, financial or social stressors, drugs, alcohol, and so on.
Types of Anger:
Chronic anger is characterised by prolonged resentment, whereby an individual is always looking for something to get angry at, and finds it difficult to move on from anger-inducing situations. This type of anger can have detrimental effects on a person’s immune system, mental health and relationships.
Volatile anger can be understood as an unpredictable or spontaneous episode of uncontrollable, excessive or violent anger. This type of anger is more common amongst males compared to females, and drug-effected individuals compared to sober individuals. A more extreme form of volatile anger is ‘intermittent explosive disorder,’ a clinical mental illness (see below Clinical disorders & anger for more information).
Judgmental anger involves criticising, belittling or correcting others in an attempt to control or hurt them, and to make one feel better. This type of anger is associated with finding fault and blaming others, and often leads to resentment.
Passive-aggressive anger is often explained as ‘sugar-coated hostility’ or ‘hidden anger’ whereby an individual expresses anger in an indirect way, making it difficult to recognise. This masked-type of anger is characterised by sarcasm, emotional neglect, avoidance and hostility.
Overwhelming anger typically resembles a temper tantrum and usually occurs when an individual is placed in a highly frightening situation, or when they are experiencing a combination of internal and/ or external stressors in which they cannot cope with.
Retaliatory anger also known as ‘payback anger’ involves an individual getting back at someone who has hurt or upset him or her. It is very common amongst close family and friends. Whether intentional or not, this type of anger is quite toxic as it can lead to a payback cycle, which may escalate into two individuals strongly disliking each other.
Self-inflicted anger involves inflicting emotional or physical harm against oneself, usually due to feeling guilty about something they have done, or something someone has done to them. Examples include negative self-talk, self-harm and over or under eating.
Constructive anger is usually fuelled by societal or social injustices. This type of anger is often exerted to enforce positive change, such as getting involved in a political movement.
Clinical disorders & Anger:
According to the DSM-5, the most recent edition of the most commonly used mental health diagnosis manual, there is no clear diagnosis or category for anger disorders, however there is a ‘disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorder’ category consisting of some angry or aggressive-type disorders. Within this category, diagnoses such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Intermittent Explosive Disorder resemble anger or aggressive behaviour the most closely. For more information on theses diagnoses, see below:
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) typically surfaces during early childhood and is characterised by being easily angered, irritated and frustrated. In order to meet the diagnosis for this disorder, an individual must present with argumentative, angry/irritable mood, or vindictiveness towards anyone except for a sibling, for at least 6 months, occurring most days when under the age of five, and at least once a week when aged 5 and over. Individuals with this disorder usually have issues with authority, temper tantrums and enjoy annoying others, usually impacting negatively on their social, educational and occupational functioning. ODD affects approximately 5.1% of 4-17 year old Australian children a year, effecting males (5.6%) slightly higher than females (4.5%). In children this condition is sometimes comorbid with ADHD, and, if left untreated can lead to conduct disorder. Only recently has ODD been recognised in adults, therefore there is less research surrounding this topic. However, it is believed ODD in adults is often comorbid with other mental illnesses such as antisocial or borderline personality disorder, anorexia and depression.
Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is a more extreme/ clinical version of volatile anger. This illness typically surfaces during early adolescence and is characterised by explosive fits of rage, short temperedness and impulsivity, which can be frightening for individuals in company of the IED-affected individual. In order to meet the diagnosis for this disorder, an individual must experience repetitive, disproportionate and impulsive episodes of verbal aggression at least twice a week for 3 months and physical aggression at least three times in 12 months, negatively impacting one’s social, financial, educational or occupational situation. Episodes of aggression are triggered by minor provocations lasting approximately 30 minutes, often resulting in domestic abuse, car accidents, self-injury accidents, destruction of property, physical fights and legal issues. During the aggressive episode the individual believes their behaviour is justifiable, but once they calm down are left feeling embarrassed, guilty or remorseful. Affecting approximately 5-10% of individuals throughout their lifetime, IED is more common amongst men compared to women; young adults (<40) compared to older adults (≥40); and abused individuals compared to non-abused individuals. This condition is often comorbid with depression, anxiety, and substance-use disorders.
Many other mental illnesses may present with angry or aggressive-type symptoms. In fact, many mental health professionals believe anger manifests as a feature of a range of underlying psychological conditions including Bipolar disorder, Generalised anxiety disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Paranoid Personality Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Psychotic Disorder, Narcisstic Personality Disorder, Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct, and Pyromania. However it is worth noting that for each of the disorders mentioned, whilst anger may be a symptom, it is neither necessary nor sufficient in and of itself to support a diagnosis.
Signs you may be using anger in a non-functional way:
– Constantly repeating your point of view in an argument.
– Speaking over others and not considering their perspective.
– Frequent use of violent language and behaviour.
– Brooding over the situation instead of problem solving.
– Fantasising about seeking revenge.
– Discriminating/ prejudicing against others due to their race, religion, status, gender, age etc.
– Constantly blaming others and never acknowledging fault.
Signs you may need anger management therapy:
– If you feel angry very often, and if it lasts a long time (long after the event has passed).
– When feeling angry turns into aggressive behaviour (violence).
– If you feel your temper is negatively impacting on your relationships.
– When close friends and family are worried about your anger.
– If you are using drug or alcohol to cope with or manage your anger.
– If you’re depressed or anxious about your anger.
– If your anger has gotten you in trouble with the law.
– If you regret the way you behave when angry.
How can Psylegal help you manage your anger?
Our treatment for anger management focuses on understanding and managing your anger and controlling symptoms of rage with the intention of building more positive relationships, and greater personal satisfaction. Counselling sessions are not aimed at suppressing or bottling up your anger; rather, they aim to teach you methods to express feelings of anger in a controlled way.
Our highly trained and experienced Anger Management Psychologists will draw on evidence based treatment strategies to tailor an individualized treatment program taking into consideration your unique therapeutic goals and needs.
Give us a call today on 1300 79 22 09 for an obligation-free discussion.
You can also check out our Anger management group course, which focuses on learning the triggers and early warning signs of anger, and effective techniques to calm down and manage a potential problematic situation before it gets out of control. Medicare rebates are available. You will need a referral from your doctor.
Medicare rebates are available. You will need a referral from your doctor.