Anger Management

Anger Management

What is anger?

We all feel angry at times – it’s part of being human. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, which we might experience if we feel:

  • attacked
  • deceived
  • frustrated
  • invalidated or unfairly treated

Most people will experience episodes of anger which feel manageable and don’t have a big impact on their lives. Learning healthy ways to recognise, express and deal with anger is important for our mental and physical health. (Our pages on managing outbursts and long-term coping have some tips on how to deal with anger.)
It isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ emotion; in fact, it can sometimes be useful. For example, feeling angry about something can:

 

 

 

 

  • help us identify problems or things that are hurting us
  • motivate us to create change, achieve our goals and move on
  • help us stay safe and defend ourselves in dangerous situations by giving us a burst of energy as part of our fight or flight system

How you behave when you’re angry depends on how well you’re able to identify and cope with your feelings, and how you’ve learned to express them (see our page on causes of anger for more information).

Not everyone expresses anger in the same way. For example, some unhelpful ways you may have learned to express anger include…

 

Outward aggression and violence – shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hitting or throwing things and being physically violent or verbally abusive and threatening towards others.

Inward aggression – telling yourself that you hate yourself, denying yourself your basic needs (like food, or things that might make you happy), cutting yourself off from the world and self-harming.

Non-violent or passive aggression – ignoring people or refusing to speak to them, refusing tasks, or deliberately doing things poorly, late or last minute, being sarcastic or sulky while not saying anything explicitly.

When is anger a problem?

Anger only 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
  • It feels like there’s a ball of fire in the middle of my chest that blurts its way straight out of my mouth and burns the people around me.

Effects on your body

  • a churning feeling in your stomach    
  • tightness in your chest    
  • an increased and rapid heartbeat    
  • legs go weak    
  • tense muscles    
  • you feel hot
  • you have an urge to go to the toilet    
  • sweating, especially your palms    
  • a pounding head    
  • shaking or trembling    
  • dizziness    
The best advice I was given was to stop briefly once I am angry to ask myself what painful emotion I am feeling in the situation where I became angry. A bit of compassion for my own pain often stops me from taking that pain out on others.

Effects on your mind

  • feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax    
  • feeling guilty    
  • feeling resentful towards other people or situations    
  • you are easily irritated    
  • ‘red mist’ comes down on you    
  • feeling humiliated 

Recognising these signs gives you the chance to think about how you want to react to a situation before doing anything. This can be difficult in the heat of the moment, but the earlier you notice how you’re feeling, the easier it can be to choose how to express and manage your anger.

Feelings of anger arise due to how we interpret and react to certain situations. Everyone has their own triggers for what makes them angry.

Potential triggers…
  • threatened or attacked    
  • frustrated or powerless    
  • like we’re being invalidated or treated unfairly    
  • like people are not respecting our feelings or possessions    

How you interpret and react to a situation can depend on lots of factors in your life, including:

  • your childhood and upbringing   
  • past experiences
  • current circumstances

Thinking about how and why we interpret and react to situations can help us learn how to cope with our emotions better. This aids us to control our behaviour!

It can also help us find productive strategies to handle our anger.

You may have grown up thinking that it’s always okay to act out your anger aggressively or violently, and so you didn’t learn how to understand and manage your angry feelings. This could mean you have angry outbursts whenever you don’t like the way someone is behaving, or whenever you are in a situation you don’t like.     

You may have witnessed your parents’ or other adults’ anger when it was out of control, and learned to think of anger as something that is destructive and terrifying. This could mean that you now feel afraid of your own anger and don’t feel safe expressing your feelings when something makes you angry. Those feelings might then surface at another unconnected time, which may feel hard to explain.    

You may have been brought up to believe that you shouldn’t complain, and may have been punished for expressing anger as a child. This could mean that you tend to suppress your anger and it becomes a long-term problem, where you react inappropriately to new situations you’re not comfortable with. If you don’t feel you can release your anger in a healthy way, you might also turn this inwards on yourself.  

LOOK OUT FOR WARNING SIGNS

Anger can cause a rush of adrenaline through your body, so before you recognise the emotion you’re feeling you might notice:

your heart is beating faster   

your breathing is quicker

your body is becoming tense    

your feet are tapping    

you’re clenching your jaw or fists    

Recognising these signs gives you the chance to think about how you want to react to a situation before doing anything. This can be difficult in the heat of the moment, but the earlier you notice how you’re feeling, the easier it can be to choose how to manage your anger.

Past experiences

If you’ve experienced particular situations in the past that made you feel angry, such as abuse, trauma or bullying (either as a child or more recently as an adult), and you weren’t able to safely express your anger at the time, you might still be coping with those angry feelings now.

This might mean that you now find certain situations particularly challenging, and more likely to make you angry.

Sometimes your present feeling of anger may not only be about the current situation but may also be related to a past experience, which can mean that the anger you are feeling in the present is at a level that reflects your past situation.

Becoming aware of this can help us to find ways of responding to situations in the present in a safer and less distressed way.

Current circumstances

If you’re dealing with a lot of other problems in your life right now, you might find yourself feeling angry more easily than usual, or getting angry at unrelated things.

If there’s a particular situation that’s making you feel angry, but you don’t feel able to express your anger directly or resolve it, then you might find you express that anger at other times.

Anger can also be a part of grief. If you’ve lost someone important to you, it can be hugely difficult to cope with all the conflicting things you might be feeling. Cruse Bereavement Care can offer support and information in this situation.

Breathing techniques have helped me to control my anger. I know that if I take a moment to concentrate on my breathing and not my anger, I’ll have something else to focus on.

Warning signs

cause a rush of adrenaline through your body, so before you recognise the emotion you’re feeling you might notice:

  • your heart is beating faster    
  • your breathing is quicker
  • your body is becoming tense    
  • your feet are tapping    
  • you’re clenching your jaw or fists   

If you think about how to manage your anger when you’re feeling calmer, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed by it in the heat of the moment. In particular, you can:

warning

Buy yourself time to think

Sometimes when we’re feeling angry, we just need to walk away from the situation for a while. This can give you time to work out what you’re thinking about the situation, decide how you want to react to it and feel more in control. Some ways you can buy yourself time to think are:

  • Counting to 1
  • 0 before you react.    
  • Taking yourself out of the situation by going for a short walk – even if it’s just around your block or local area.    
  • Talking to a trusted person who’s not connected to the situation, such as a friend, family member, counsellor or peer support group. Expressing your thoughts out loud can help you understand why you’re angry and help calm you down. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, you can confidentially call the Samaritans24 hours a day to talk about anything that’s upsetting you. (For other organisations that can help please see our useful contacts page.)    

What helps me is getting away from the situation to cool down.

Buy yourself time to think

Sometimes when we’re feeling angry, we just need to walk away from the situation for a while. This can give you time to work out what you’re thinking about the situation, decide how you want to react to it and feel more in control. Some ways you can buy yourself time to think are:

  • Counting to 1
  • 0 before you react.    
  • Taking yourself out of the situation by going for a short walk – even if it’s just around your block or local area.    
  • Talking to a trusted person who’s not connected to the situation, such as a friend, family member, counsellor or peer support group. Expressing your thoughts out loud can help you understand why you’re angry and help calm you down. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, you can confidentially call the Samaritans24 hours a day to talk about anything that’s upsetting you. (For other organisations that can help please see our useful contacts page.)    

What helps me is getting away from the situation to cool down.

Learn your triggers

Understanding what sort of situations trigger your anger means you can develop strategies to cope and think about how to react before the situation happens. You might find it helpful to keep a diary or make notes about the times you have felt angry. You could record:

  • What were the circumstances?    
  • Did someone say or do something to trigger your anger?    
  • How did you feel?    
  • How did you behave?    
  • How did you feel afterwards?    

Develop communication skills

Being excessively angry and aggressive can get in the way of communicating your feelings and thoughts effectively. People may focus on your anger, and find it hard to listen to what you’re saying. On the other hand, if you are able to express your anger by talking in an assertive, respectful way about what has made you angry, then you’re more likely to be understood by others.

Being assertive means standing up for yourself while still respecting other people and their opinions. It can:

  • make communication easier    
  • stop tense situations getting out of control    
  • benefit your relationships and self-esteem    

 

 

Examine your thought patterns

If you’re feeling upset or angry, you might find yourself automatically thinking or saying things like:
“This is all their fault.”    
“They never listen.”    
“This always happens to me.”    
“Other people should behave better.”    

But often there are lots of different ways we could interpret a situation. It can make you feel worse if you think in terms of ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘should’, because in reality things are rarely so black and white. Making an effort to replace these words with softer terms like ‘sometimes’ or ‘could’ when thinking about your situation might help you to break up negative thought patterns, reflect more calmly on your situation and find new ways through conflicts.

The best advice I was given was to stop briefly once I am angry to ask myself what painful emotion I am feeling in the situation where I became angry. A bit of compassion for my own pain often stops me from taking that pain out on others.

Learning to be assertive might not feel easy to start with, but here are some things to try:

Think about the outcome you want to achieve. What’s making you angry, and what do you want to change? Is it enough just to explain what you are angry about?    
Be specific. For example, you could open your statement with, “I feel angry with you because…” Using the phrase ‘I feel’ avoids blaming anyone and the other person is less likely to feel attacked.
Really listen to the other person’s response and try to understand their point of view.    
Be prepared for the conversation to go wrong and try to spot when this is happening. If you feel yourself getting angry, you might want to come back to the conversation another time.    

The organisation MindTools provides tips on respectful assertiveness on their website.

What helps me is acknowledging how I’m feeling and why, then taking time to address it productively.

Support for Anger

What help is available?

If your difficulties with anger are related to a mental health problem and/or traumatic experiences then you might find that treatment and support for this also addresses your anger. (See our A-Z of mental health for information on treatments and support for different diagnoses and experiences).

Talking therapy and counselling

Talking therapy and counselling involves talking about your problems with a trained professional (such as a counsellor or psychotherapist) who can help you explore the causes of your anger and ways to manage it. 

How do I access these treatments?

To access most treatments, the first step is usually to talk to your GP.

In some areas, you can also self-refer for counselling through the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

 

 

Anger can be a barrier to getting help                

Accessing professional help isn’t straightforward; it can be challenging and sometimes you might experience setbacks or delays.

Anger toward healthcare professionals can cause more problems and delays in getting the help you want. Healthcare professionals have a right to feel safe at work; so if your behaviour becomes aggressive or threatening, they may not feel able to help you. 

What can friends and family do?

This section is for friends and family of someone who is experiencing problems with anger.

It can be very difficult when someone you care about is experiencing problems with anger – especially if they sometimes direct their anger towards you, others close to them, or themselves.

We are all responsible for our own actions, so ultimately it will be up to them to learn how to manage and express their anger appropriately. But there are still lots of things you can do to help support them:

  • Stay calm. Although you probably have a lot of difficult feelings of your own, if you can stay calm it can help to stop anger escalating.    
  • Try to listen to them. If you can, allow them time to communicate their feelings without judging them. Often when someone feels that they are being listened to, they are more able to hear other people’s points of view as well. And sometimes just being given permission to communicate angry feelings can be enough to help someone calm down.    
  • Give them space. If you notice that continuing the conversation is making it worse, give them space to calm down and think. This could be something like going into another room for a while, or spending a few days apart. It’s important to give yourself space as well, so you don’t find yourself getting too angry.    
  • Set boundaries. While there are lots of reasons why this can be difficult, it’s important to set limits and boundaries. Be clear in advance about what sort of behaviour is and isn’t acceptable to you, and think about what action you can take if someone crosses the line. You don’t have to put up with any behaviour that makes you feel unsafe or seriously affects your own wellbeing.    
  • Help them identify their triggers. This is something you can try when you’re both feeling calm, away from any heated situation. Identifying someone’s triggers for anger can help you both think about ways you can avoid triggering situations, and plan how to handle them and how to communicate when they do arise. But try not to be judgemental, or accusatory. While it can be useful to give specific examples of when you remember them getting angry, be aware that this is probably upsetting for them to think about.    
  • Support them to seek professional help. For example, you could help them arrange to see their GP, or help research anger management courses. See our pages on treatments for anger and supporting someone to seek help for their mental healthfor more information.    
  • Look after your own wellbeing. It can be difficult at times to support someone else, so make sure you’re looking after your own wellbeing too. (See our information on How to cope when supporting someone else for more on this.)    

Help for abusive and violent behaviour

If your anger means you’re acting in an abusive or violent way it’s important to get help. You might feel worried that asking for help will get you in trouble, but it is often the most important first step towards changing your behaviour. You can contact:

  • Your GP. They can talk through your options with you, and refer you on to any local services. In many areas, the NHS, social services or your local council will run programmes to help perpetrators of domestic abuse change their behaviour.    
  • Respect runs a phoneline offering advice, information and support on 0808 802 4040. You can also email them on info@respectphoneline.org.uk or use their live chat on their website. Live chat is available Tuesdays and Thursdays 10 am-4 pm. They run programmes across the country to help you understand and change your behaviour.    
  • The Freedom Programme runs online and in-person courses for anyone who wants to change their abusive behaviour.    
  • The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) runs courses to help people learn new ways to tackle situations where violence could arise.  

Accessing professional help isn’t always straightforward; it can be challenging and sometimes you might experience setbacks or delays. It’s understandable that you might sometimes feel frustrated and angry about your situation – especially if you don’t feel you’re getting the help you want.

But if you express your anger aggressively towards your healthcare professionals, this can cause more problems and delays in getting the help you want.

Healthcare professionals have a right to feel safe at work; so if your behaviour becomes aggressive or threatening, they may not feel able to help you.

What if they don’t recognise they have a problem?

You might find that the person you are supporting doesn’t recognise they have a problem and/or refuses to seek help.

It’s understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless as a result of this. But it’s important to accept that they are an individual, and that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.

(Our pages on helping someone seek help have more information on what you can and can’t do in this situation.)

Who else could help?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
0800 9177 650
alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk
Peer-lead support programme following 12 steps to support you to stop drinking.

Beat
adult helpline: 0808 801 0677
youthline: 0808 801 0711
b-eat.co.uk
Offers information on eating disorders and runs a supportive online community. Also provides a directory of support services at helpfinder.b-eat.co.uk

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

01455 883300
bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists
Information and details of accredited counsellors and psychotherapists practitioners.

Be Mindful
bemindful.co.uk
Information about mindfulness and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Guidance on how to learn mindfulness, including course listings.

Cruse Bereavement Care
0808 808 1677
cruse.org.uk
Charity providing support after someone you know has died.

Galop
London LGBT+ advice line: 0207 704 2040
National LGBT+ domestic abuse helpline: 0800 999 5428
galop.org.uk
Support lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people who’ve experienced hate crime, sexual violence or domestic abuse.

Men’s Advice Line
0808 801 0327
mensadviceline.org.uk
Confidential helpline for all men (whether in heterosexual or same-sex relationships) experiencing domestic violence by a current or ex-partner.

Mind Tools
mindtools.com
Information on how to communicate in a respectfully assertive way.

Moodjuice
moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk 
Free online self-help guide from the NHS.

National Domestic Abuse Helpline
0808 2000 247
nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk
24-hour phone-line for women experiencing domestic abuse.

National Self Harm Network (NSHN)
nshn.co.uk
Survivor-led closely monitored forum for people who self-harm, and their friends and families.

Refuge
0808 2000 247
refuge.org.uk
A national charity that runs safe houses for women and children escaping domestic abuse, and works with families to effect change.

Respect
0808 802 40 40
Men’s advice line: 0808 801 0327
respect.uk.net
Information and support for people who are worried about their violent or aggressive behaviour towards loved ones.

Samaritans
116 123 (freephone)
jo@samaritans.org
samaritans.org
Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK PO Box 90 90 Stirling FK8 2SA
24-hour emotional support for anyone struggling to cope.

Turning Point
turning-point.co.uk
Provides services for people with drug, alcohol and mental health problems.

Women’s Aid
womensaid.org.uk
Offers information, an online forum, support and info for children and young people, and a directory of local services for women and children experiencing domestic abuse.

 

Leave a Reply