Anger: Hold Your Horses!

Is Anger Always Negative?

Anger is our response to external influences which cause emotional pain such as feelings of injury or violation. In response to an attack we release a negative emotion or “energy” at who and what prompted it. It is an expression common to all of us and need not be seen as detrimental if used in the right way as it gives us the necessary strength and drive for fight or flight if we are faced with opposition or unfairness. In and of itself it is neither good or bad; however when applied with the wrong motives, it can be detrimental.

When Does Anger Become Harmful?

Our culture and upbringing is likely to influence the way we express our anger. For example, if we have been punished for expressing angry feelings, or witnessed adults expressing anger in an uncontrolled way, it may influence us to model similar behaviour or to suppress it when we grow up. Uncontrolled anger can lead to violent and destructive behaviour which are directed towards us or others.

Angry feelings lead to the release of adrenalin in our bodies which increases our excitement by making us energetic and alert, preparing us for the action required for fight or flight. The tension built up during this process is release through an expression of anger which is our body’s way of maintaining the balance between mind and body, enabling us to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Effects of Anger

We release the tension and frustration that arises from angry feelings through words and actions- this is not problematic in itself. However, if feelings are suppressed, they can have detrimental physical and emotional affects upon our health and wellbeing.

It has been suggested that detrimental effects of anger have more to do with its frequency and intensity. Anger expressed within a normal range lasts for minutes and then subsides. Suppressed anger in its subtle form is more insidious- causing resentment, impatience, misery and irritability which can last for hours and days. Consistent and prolonged angry feelings increase our chances of hypertension, stroke, heart disease, cancer and depression.

Research suggests that anger unchecked can lead to explosive outbursts of anger in up to 8% of the population which can be redirected at spouses and children as domestic violence and is a contributory factor of serious mental illness.

Physical Effects of Anger

  • digestion (contributing to the development of heartburn, ulcers, colitis, gastritis or irritable bowel syndrome)

  • heart and circulatory system (leading to blocked arteries)

  • blood pressure (driving it too high)

  • joints and muscles (resulting in inflammations, such as in arthritis)

  • immune system (making you more likely to catch 'flu and other bugs, and less able to recover from operations, accidents or major illnesses)

  • pain threshold (making you more sensitive to pain).

Emotional Effects of Anger

  • depression (when the anger is turned inwards)

  • addictions (to alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs)

  • compulsions (eating disorders, such as excessive dieting or binge-eating, overworking, unnecessary cleaning and any other behaviour that is out of control, including sexual activities)

  • bullying behaviour (trying to make someone else feel bad, because you think it will make you feel better)

  • ill thought-out political activity. (A terrorist blowing up a bus, or a pacifist on a prison hunger-strike could both be 'acting out', on a bigger stage, their personal difficulties with anger)


Developing a Healthy approach to Anger

  1. Acknowledgement of anger to avoid denial and internalisation

  2. Working out the underlying source of anger and put it into context

  3. Reduce angry feelings by giving others the benefit of the doubt

  4. Calm down and reduce intensity of anger by counting to 10

  5. Being assertive without character assassination

  6. Listening to understand and contribute to conflict resolution

  7. Exercise forgiveness to release positive psychological and physiological healing

How Do I Behave?

We need to understand how we respond to our frustrations. It may be helpful to ask those who are close to you about how you behave. A review of your family history and how your parents and other role models responded when angry will provide helpful clues to our behaviour. It is also useful to examine how you learnt to resolve conflicts in your upbringing and how you do so now.

Recognise Sources of Anger

Learning from the past can help us to deal with the future. Acknowledging past feelings of hurt, particularly from childhood such as sibling rivalry, parental abuse or neglect or the loss of someone close may lead to residual angry feelings. Realisation of past hurt can help us to deal with such feelings in the present and put them into context.

Dealing with Anger in the Present

Create thinking time to deal with feelings in a more rational way. Walk away, say that you are angry and unable to speak and find a way of calming down that is safe for you and others. Count to 10 as it may help to respond differently.

Dealing With Underlying Resentment

Try to understand the reasons for your angry feelings. Are you angry with yourself, others or a situation? Is it justified? Is it to do with the past or the present? What action can be taken? It helps to talk through your unresolved feelings with someone else who is not involved personally. Try to make sense of your feelings so you can take appropriate action.

Recent Posts

See All