What is Anger?
Anger is a natural emotion experienced by all humans, typically in response to hurt or threat, for example, feeling ignored or under attack. When we get angry, a complex physiological process occurs between our body and mind, whereby chemicals such as adrenaline are released, causing us to experience the following:
- Increased energy
- Muscle tension
- Accelerated heart and breathing rate
- Facial flushing or sweating
- Internal sensation of heat
- Poor impulse control
How do we express anger?
We all express our anger differently and research suggests that we do so through ‘modelling’ behaviours we learn from our environment in early childhood. The three most common types of expression include:
Passive anger is characterised by internalising, or ‘bottling up’ your unpleasant feelings and avoiding direct conflict by any means. However, indirect forms of conflict are employed instead, for example, the ‘silent treatment’ or aversive body language. Often, people who engage in passive expression fear causing upset, or letting others down and are prone to ‘people pleasing’, whereby the needs of others are prioritised. Research indicates that internalisation of anger can be equally harmful as aggressive means of expression, therefore, it may be useful to seek therapy to develop assertive skills.
Assertive expression of anger is deemed healthier, as it involves appropriate honesty, self-expression, and directness, for example ‘I feel upset when you ignore me, I would appreciate you listening to what I am saying’. When we are angry it can be difficult to remain assertive instead of aggressive, although, there are many ways to implement healthy, non-threatening communication styles which can be learned in online therapy.
Aggressive expression is direct externalisation of anger, often through inflicting verbal or physical attack to self or others such as, shouting ‘Listen to me you idiot!’ or punching a wall. In many cases, people who aggress report a ‘red mist’ experience, whereby their judgement is clouded during the conflict, followed by self-criticism and regret when anger has reduced. If this sounds familiar, you may benefit from seeking psychological assessment and learning healthier outlets for anger.
How can therapy help?
Whether you engage in passive and/or aggressive types of expression, or simply wish to enhance existing skills in assertiveness, there are therapeutic options that may suit your needs. In therapy, the phrase ‘Anger management’ can be misconceived as learning to get rid of anger, which is impossible because anger is a necessary and healthy emotion with many functional benefits.
According to theory, anger is caused by unmet needs, for example, basic human needs include feeling loved or belonging. Therefore, in counselling and psychotherapy we refer to anger management as learning how to communicate your feelings or needs in healthier ways and addressing the underlying causes of distress. Sometimes this involves reviewing forms of anger expression that you have been exposed to throughout your life experiences and learning to change your perspective.
There are therapeutic approaches which can also help you learn your triggers and replace passive or aggressive responses with new thoughts and behaviours that facilitate staying composed but getting your point across through assertiveness. Even if you struggle with feeling angry most, or all the time, your counsellor can help you focus on implementing practical methods which promote healthier communication. Other useful skills you may develop in counselling include self-soothing, mindfulness, relaxation, and compassionate self-talk, which all improve self-expression and wellbeing.
Medical disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice by a qualified doctor.