Understanding anger and how to deal with it

Understanding anger and how to deal with it - Centres for Health and Healing

Everyone gets angry at some time. It is an emotion that everyone has occasionally.

In some people, their anger may stay inside. This can be part of what leads to depression – they are depressing their anger.

In other people, anger is more obvious. For some of those, it is a major problem – and an overwhelming and powerful emotion that seems to control them as the red mist descends, sometimes frighteningly abruptly.

“Anger” as a word derives from Old Norse angra meaning “vex” and angr meaning “grief”. Vex is a word that comes from Latin vexare meaning “disturb, shake”. 

As well, the words”anxious” and “angst” are linked to the word anger. These etymologies reveal a great deal about where anger comes from before it rises up in us.

Many people are taught in their childhood that anger is a bad thing. But, in fact, many positive changes have come about due to anger – such as that people became collectively angry with slavery, the Nazis and apartheid and then collectively fought for positive change. So anger does have a place and it can serve a purpose.

However, for those who seem to be angry too often and too ferociously, it is a huge problem. Thankfully, there are some ways to help manage it.

What leads to anger?

There is a multitude of reasons for someone to feel angry. Some of these are innate, for survival purposes.

If someone or something threatens us we can get angry. This is because fear usually precedes anger, even if just for a split second. Fear to varying degrees is also behind the anger that arises due to impatience, feeling ignored, being criticized or if someone displays anger towards us.

In mental health terms, anger that is most frequently looked at is anger to do with something or some things from the past. That is, unresolved histories –  and as the phrase goes: “If it’s hysterical it’s historical.” 

This can often be felt or witnessed when someone’s anger is greater than what is in front of them. Consider a child getting absolutely raged at for spilling a drink.

Or the grown man or woman who is absolutely furious with the shop assistant because of the time they’ve had to wait to pay. In actual fact, the source of anger like this could be from having a childhood where one or both parents frequently ignored them and so their basic needs for love and approval were largely unmet.

This is also frequently why people who have drunk too much alcohol or who are on certain drugs, especially cocaine, can be hostile and aggressive. There is most likely repressed anger that has risen to the top.

Another reason behind anger is due to stress and anxiety. People feel out of control and this creates powerful emotions that can transform into anger.

Modern society certainly plays its part in this. We live in an increasingly busy world. Then, the past couple of years with uncertainty around the world due to Covid-19 and more recently the war in Ukraine have only added to this feeling of powerlessness – and anger can arise from that.

What are the phases of anger?

Phases of anger - Centres for Health and Healing

There are considered to be five phases to what is known as the “cycle of anger”.

They are:

  1. Trigger.
  2. Escalation.
  3. Crisis.
  4. Recovery.
  5. Depression.

There are also certain emotional and physical symptoms that often precede or come with anger. They are:

  • An increase in irritability.
  • Headaches.
  • Tightening facial muscles.
  • Speaking loudly or shouting.
  • Teeth grinding.
  • Nervous tension.
  • Throwing or breaking things.
  • Dizziness.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Starting arguments or fights.
  • Shaking or trembling.
  • Sulking.
  • Self-harm.
  • Sweating more than usual.
  • A sudden increase in energy levels and then a severe crash with fatigue.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Legs feel weak.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Palpitations.
  • Stomach ache.
  • Stomach butterflies.
  • The sensation of tingling, most often in the hands.

What ways are there to control anger?

Realizing what is likely to set anger off can help a great deal. This could be such as when there’s a feeling of irritability that is building up for some reason. 

Get to recognize some of the emotional and physical symptoms. For instance, is there chest tightness, palpitations, a stomach ache forming?

If experience says any of these is a sign or signs that anger is coming, take time out by going for a walk, meditating or playing some relaxing music. Calming methods help a lot of people with anger issues. These also include at the moment slowly counting to ten or taking deep measured breaths. 

Remind yourself where this could go – and that you don’t want it (unless it is needed as part of, say, putting down a healthy boundary). Learning how to respond rather than react is very useful. But this takes time, discipline and patience. 

Start some beneficial life practices – try yoga, mindfulness, Pilates or play some sport. These will help with overall calm and in the case of sport, it acts as a great release too. 

Running and walking are also useful to many people, especially in peaceful nature, such as in a park or the countryside. Swimming is to be considered too as it is terrific for physical and emotional wellbeing. In therapy, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) has helped many with anger problems.

Is anger due to painful experiences?

A problem many people encounter is that in the heat of the moment they cannot pause enough to stop their anger from taking hold. Frequently, this can be due to unresolved trauma resurfacing.

Something happening reminds them of another instance, although most often the person will not even be aware of that. Then their pent-up anger explodes before they know it.

In these cases, the calming techniques are really just like placing a cover over an active volcanic crater. It always has the potential to erupt and blow the cover – and frequently it does.

This sort of anger is often followed by negative feelings of remorse, shame, guilt, regret and depression. There can also be bewilderment and terror – the ferocity of the anger and how quickly it came on them actually frightens the person who became angry.

They feel powerless over it. They often sense it comes from deep within.

If a person can admit honestly that their anger is out of their control, it is the first thing towards dealing with it. Many people will not do this though because they know then there is lots of work to do, and perhaps they know deep down that they will have to look back at painful experiences.

Unresolved traumas can lead to anger

Unresolved traumas can lead to anger - Centres for Health and Healing

However, many with anger issues have no idea that it’s due to unresolved traumas. It is always most likely to get progressively worse unless what’s underneath is looked at and resolved – and this needs help from a therapist with expertise in this area.

Without this sort of professional expert help, not only will it get worse, but many will increasingly turn to drinking, drugs or develop a process (also called behavioural) addiction – such as workaholism, food, gambling, sex or shopping – in an attempt to push down their trauma and the painful feelings it leaves inside them. This is not only a difficult and terrible way to live for them, but also for those close to them as well.

There are some people who continually attempt to suppress or subdue their anger. But this only makes for a life of stress, anxiety and frustration.

Some people need to discuss and deal with their anger as well because with the help of counselling it can be realized that they are making situations happen so that they can rage. They feel compelled to do this because if they feel bad, raging changes the way they feel and the situation they have subconsciously created – the argument – acts as a distraction.

Anger that is frequent and overwhelming needs to be looked at with professional help. It might be that a counsellor can suggest some positive life changes – the anger could be acting as a guide for someone to make these changes, such as leaving the place where they live, a relationship or a job.

But with extreme and frequent anger it is most often that only when the real wound – the trauma – is looked at under expert guidance that real positive change can happen. This is achievable for everyone with an anger issue.

Get in touch

Contact the team at Centres for Health and Healing to discuss how we can help you or somebody you care about.

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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