A closer look at anger, violence, and how to cope with those feelings
Why do people get angry?
Anger is a normal and healthy emotion experienced by everyone at some point.Sometimes, anger can be a positive emotion, driving us to right wrongs or fix injustices. But sometimes a person’s anger can become uncontrollable and harmful—and it can even lead to violent behavior.
There are many different reasons why people get angry. Some reasons why you might be feeling angry include:
Being treated unfairly
Having no control over things
Being stressed or under a lot of pressure
Experiencing body changes, which cause major mood swings
Having a personality that has a short fuse
All of these things can lead to anger, which is an OK feeling to have. Anger can be a difficult emotion to express and manage, particularly because we have often been taught not to show or express our anger. It is not uncommon to feel guilty or ashamed about being angry, even though it’s a very normal and necessary emotion.
Anger only becomes unhealthy when it’s expressed in a way that hurts others or yourself. Likewise, if you bottle up your anger and don’t express it at all, you might find that it will come out in ways that you didn’t expect. There are many ways of expressing your anger, but becoming violent should never be an option.
Expressing your anger in negative ways
Just as everyone feels angry from time to time, everyone also expresses their anger in different ways. Some ways are more constructive than others, and chances are, you’ve learned how to express your anger and frustration from the people in your life or the situation you grew up in.
Violent behavior, toward oneself and others, can result from anger. It is one way that people express anger and try to control the situations that they find themselves in—but violence is never a positive or constructive way to deal with your emotions.
Certain factors might put you at a greater risk of acting out violently. For example, you might be violent because the people you hang out with use violence or other types of aggression. You might think violence is more acceptable because you’ve seen it on television, in the movies or in video games. You might also act violently because someone—like a bully or even a family member—is being violent toward you. If you grew up in a violent household, you might think that it’s OK to deal with your feelings in a physically aggressive way. Research shows that children who grow up with disruptive home situations might have a harder time controlling anger and are more likely to act out violently. This is often called a “cycle of violence.”
Recognizing the potential for violence
There are certain warning signs that people might have a hard time controlling their violent behavior. Here are a few examples:
Regular loss of temper
Frequent physical fighting
Drug or alcohol abuse
Vandalism or property destruction
Harming other living things, like animals
Making frequent threats toward others
Managing your anger and breaking the cycle of violence
The good news is that any learned behavior—such as violence—can also be unlearned. The key is to first take control of situations that make you angry and manage your reaction to frustration.
Here are some tips to get started:
Use your anger as a signal. When people are angry, they can say or do things that they regret later. If you feel that you are becoming angry, do something to cool down, like counting backwards from 100.
Think about the things that trigger your anger. By identifying common factors in the situations that seem to trigger your anger, you might be able to predict and prepare for future anger-producing circumstances.
Take a “time out”. If you feel that you might lose control, get yourself out of the situation that is provoking you. Tell the person or people you’re arguing with that you need some space to cool down and that you’ll continue this conversation when everyone is calm again. Take a break from the situation to reevaluate what’s happening and think about your next steps and whether any actions could be potentially harmful. Keep telling yourself “I can calm down” and “I’m not going to let this get to me.” Going to a quiet place to chill out will allow you the time to gather your thoughts and feelings to go back into the conversation feeling confident.
Use this time out to think about what really is going on. For example, if you’re feeling angry because your teacher or boss yelled at you, your anger might be stemming from a deeper feeling of inadequacy or disappointment in yourself. Your feelings are often deeper messages. Question why you’re actually feeling this way.
Use your coping skills. Doing something active like kicking a soccer ball, punching a pillow, working out, or going for a run can help you release some angry energy and calm down. Playing video games is another great way to channel anger and violence into a place where it’s more appropriate. If you feel as if you are going to get into a fight, it’s better to do it in a video game than in real life. Music is a great way to release extra energy and get over the intense feelings you have. Strap on the headphones and play your favorite music for a while. It might be helpful to even make a playlist with some jams on it you can listen to when you’re feeling angry.
Talk to the person who is making you angry. When feeling more in control of your emotions, explain your side of things and assert your opinions in a positive way. For example, use “I-statements” such as, “I feel this way because…” Be prepared to keep your cool if the other person doesn’t respond the way you think he or she should.
Respect others’ opinions and reactions. It is important to remember that you can only control your reactions to situations and you can’t control the other person’s. Remember, it’s OK to disagree. If you’d like more information on conflict resolution, check out our Resolving an Argument article.
Don’t let it all hang out! While it’s important to express yourself, it isn’t always best to “let it all out.” In fact, fully acting on your angry feelings without taking others into consideration could actually have negative and harmful consequences. Try to be mindful of the time and place you’re sharing your feelings and be mindful in how you’re doing it.
Avoid using drugs and alcohol. Sometimes it’s easy to turn to substances like drugs and alcohol to help you forget or suppress angry feelings, but the relief you get from drugs and alcohol is only temporary, and the side effects of abuse can make a situation worse.
Talk to someone. Friends and family can be great sources of support if you’re feeling angry and frustrated—as long are you’re talking with them in positive ways and not taking your anger out on them. It can be relieving to vent about your frustrations and get to a place where you can laugh about it. If you don’t have anyone to talk to in person, there are lots of apps and online support groups you can join to find support.
What can I do if I keep getting angry?
If you find that you keep getting angry, or that you are lashing out and regularly becoming violent toward people or things, it may be helpful to speak to a friend or family member, or a healthcare professional like a counselor or your doctor. Speaking to someone may help you identify why you’re getting angry and help you deal with your anger so you don’t need to resort to lashing out.
Information for this article was provided by:
U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Anger Management: Facilitator Manual & Workbook (This is a manual for group therapy. Certain sections hold relevant material that may be of interest to individuals who would like to learn more about anger management.)