What causes anger?
According to the NHS (2019), anger can be caused by a number of different causes and different people will experience
different reasons for their anger. Common causes of anger include:
- unsettling memories from the past
- being treated unfairly by others and feeling powerless about it
- feeling threatened or attacked
- other people not respecting your authority, feelings or property
- being interrupted when you're trying to achieve something, such as a goal you've set.
It's important to understand that it's not people or events that make you angry, but your reaction to them.
There are various reasons for finding your anger harder to control than usual.
People whose anger is being caused by unsettling memories from the past may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can lead to outbursts of anger. Dealing with lots of problems and/or stress can also make it more difficult to control your anger. Additionally, habits picked up from childhood can also influence how you react to anger. For example, growing up, you may have been around adults who had bad habits when it came to managing their feelings and emotions, such as anger. Furthermore, using substances such as drugs and alcohol can affect the way people act; they can make some people act more aggressively than usual.
It's perfectly normal that some of the things that make you angry may not bother other people at all. This can make it difficult to explain why you feel this way. However, it is important to remember that talking to someone could help you find a solution.
Symptoms of anger
Anger varies in intensity, ranging from mild irritation to violent rage. Like other emotions, feelings of anger can have an effect
on the rest of your body (physical symptoms). There are also mental symptoms and behavioural changes associated with feelings of
- Faster heartbeat
- Tense muscles
- Clenching your fists
- Tightness in your chest
- Feeling hot
- Feeling tense or nervous
- Being unable to relax
- Easily getting irritated
- Feeling humiliated
- Resenting other people
- Ignoring people or sulking
- Starting fights
- Breaking things
Anger affects different people in different ways. Some people may react immediately to something that has caused them to become
angry, while others may suppress their feelings, remaining visibly calm on the outside, even though that isn't the case on the inside.
Built-up feelings can cause you to explode when it all becomes too much. Anger can lead to intimidating, violent or bullying behaviour making those around you feel worried and frightened. It can also lead to domestic abuse.
If you find your anger overwhelms you when faced with difficult situations, your behaviour could be affecting your relationships at home and at work, and even the way you feel about yourself.
Identifying the problem
We can all feel angry from time to time. However, for some people, these feelings of anger can feel too difficult to manage and can even
spiral out of control. According to Mind (2018), anger 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
Unhelpful ways of expressing anger include outward aggression and violence (e.g. shouting, swearing, being physically violent, being
verbally abusive, etc.), inward aggression (e.g. telling yourself that you hate yourself, denying yourself basic needs such as food
or things that make you happy, self-harming, etc.) and non-violent or passive aggression (e.g. deliberately doing things poorly/late,
ignoring people, refusing to do tasks, being sarcastic or sulky, etc.).
Your GP will be able to discuss the different options available to manage your anger, although you might find you can deal with your anger
Before you visit your GP, it's helpful to try to understand your own pattern of behaviour and what may have happened in the past to trigger your anger. Try to work out what makes you angry now and think about your life at home when you were growing up. Did members of your family get angry and lash out, or did they bottle up their feelings, causing resentment? Were you able to voice your opinions as a child, or were you often told just to be quiet? How do you feel about the way you handle anger now?
If you are carrying around angry feelings from your childhood, it's important to acknowledge them, but you should also try to change your attitude towards these feelings. Talk about them and try to accept that nothing can change what has happened in the past. Hanging on to angry feelings from years gone by can cause you unnecessary problems, but if you can identify them, you may be able to change the way you deal with current situations.
Treatments that can help you deal with your anger include:
- talking therapy and counselling
- cognitive behavioural therapy
- anger management programmes
- help for abusive and violent behaviour
- assertiveness training
If you're struggling to find somewhere to get help, you can see your GP as they may be able to refer you to a local anger management
programme or counselling. You can also
refer yourself for therapy on the NHS, without a referral from a GP.
Anger can prevent you from getting the help you need.
You should never express your anger aggresively towards professionals who are trying to help you. This doesn't
help anyone and can cause delays and setbacks in your efforts to access professional help. Healthcare professionals and therapists
deserve to feel safe at work, just as you do when working with them. Therefore, displaying aggressive or threatening behaviour towards
them can result in them feeling that they cannot help you.
The Mind charity website has useful resources on managing outbursts and long-term coping . Furthermore, if you feel you've been unfairly refused treatment, they have resources on complaining about health and social care .
Cognitive behavioural therapy
This is a type of counselling which helps you to change the way you think about certain situations and how you behave. Unlike some other therapies,
it focuses on the "here and now" problems and difficulties. Instead of focusing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks
for ways to improve your state of mind by boosting your self esteem and confidence.
Anger management programmes
According to the NHS (2019), an anger management programme typically involves 1-to-1 counselling and working in a small group.
These are focused sessions designed for people who may have had a single violent episode, or who have been violent in the past and now feel unable to make changes to their behaviour. Your GP can offer advice. Some are one-day courses, and others may take place over a period of weeks or months.
These programmes look at the rules of anger management and how to express your angry feelings calmly.
There are also private courses and therapists who can help with anger issues. Always ensure sure any therapist you see is registered with a professional organisation, such as the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP).
Assertiveness training teaches you how to express your feelings and needs in a calm, considered way that is respectful of the other people around you.
It may help if your problems are due to a difficulty expressing your anger constructively. You can ask your GP about this and find out
about assertiveness training classes from your local library.
NHS, 2019. Get help with anger. [online] nhs.uk. Available at:
Mind, 2018. When is anger a problem? [online] Mind.org.uk. Available at: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anger/about-anger/.
Did you know?
Anger is a natural feeling we experience when we feel frustrated, hurt or rejected.
It's a powerful emotion which, if not managed properly, can have a devastating effect on your family, work and overall wellbeing.
The NHS has a useful resource called the 5 steps to mental wellbeing .