If you’ve been feeling angrier these last few years, you aren’t alone. From the spats on social media to the highest political offices, everyone has something that ticks them off, and it’s often for a good reason. But anger that burns too hot or too often can wear you out and rip up your relationships, so how do you know when it’s a problem? Read on to figure out if you have anger issues – and what you can do about them.
What are “Anger Issues”?
Anger is a natural part of you. It’s there to tell you when something unfair is happening, or your boundaries or needs are being ignored. Feeling angry does not mean you have an anger issue. Instead, it’s how you act on your anger that’s healthy or unhealthy.
When you handle your anger in a healthy way…
- You feel motivated to tackle your problems.
- Your own needs and values become clearer.
- You get better at protecting your boundaries and standing up for yourself.
- You can better gauge when something is wrong or unfair.
- It’s easier to treat yourself and other people with fairness and respect.
But when anger is handled in an unhealthy way…
- It damages your relationships with other people.
- It doesn’t help you solve problems – and might cause new ones.
- You have more feelings of stress, exhaustion, sadness, guilt or hopelessness.
- You feel unhappier with yourself or more depressed about life.
Look at the role that anger plays in your life. Does it help you deal with problems, or make things harder? Do you feel good about how you handle frustrating situations, or would you rather act differently?
It’s also useful to ask people you trust whether they think you have issues managing your anger. Some of my clients worry that they’re “too angry” only to discover that everyone else thinks they’re too passive. Other clients believe that they’re just being honest, or “keeping it real,” but accidentally come across as aggressive.
What Do Anger Issues Look Like?
Unhealthy anger can look like many things. Not all of these may apply to you, but if one of them does, it’s worth exploring further.
- Angry outbursts – Yelling, throwing things, violence, losing your temper, feeling like you’ve lost control.
- Passive-aggressiveness – An indirect way to express anger without actually talking about it. Passive-aggressiveness is often coupled with feeling resentful or like you aren’t able to express yourself openly. However, since the cause of the anger isn’t being addressed, it’s still there to cause tension for you and others.
- Putting people down – Insults, sarcasm, giving others the cold shoulder, or otherwise disrespecting them.
- Fights and hurtful arguments – Disagreement is normal, even in the best relationships. Friendly or not-serious arguments are common, too. But regular arguments that feel hurtful, disrespectful, or which have angry outbursts indicate a problem.
- Anger addiction – Oddly enough, anger can be habit-forming. If you spend a lot of time with people, news, or media that make you feel angry, self-righteous or upset, it’s worth reconsidering whether that’s having a good impact on your mental health.
- Reckless behavior – Getting into fights, injuring yourself, getting blackout drunk, or putting yourself in harm’s way. This can be a way to “blow off steam” for a while but it comes at a high risk, and doesn’t solve the problem that angered you.
- Substance abuse – Many people use alcohol or other drugs to cope with feelings of anger. But regularly doing this can raise your risk of addiction, and it still leaves you with the problem that caused the anger in the first place.
Improving Your Anger Management
The good news is that you can turn your anger into a force for good. You do not have to reject the part of yourself that gets angry; in fact, I think you should listen to it. By understanding where your anger comes from, and what it’s trying to tell you, you can better tackle the real problems in your life and even grow as a person.
I’ll be adding a more in-depth post on this next week, but for now, here is the most critical anger skill I’ve found. It’s been useful in my own life, and I recommend it to all of my therapy clients with anger issues. This skill is to wait.
Anger makes you think you have to react immediately. But few things in life need your immediate reaction. If you see an awful post on the internet, or someone you know upsets you, ask yourself: Do I have to respond to this right now? Can I afford to step away and come back to the problem later?
You don’t have to “bottle up” your feelings or “give in.” Just pause the issue for a while. I suggest at least 30 minutes, or a full day if you have the time. Use that time to stomp away, complain to a friend, write your thoughts down, throw rocks in your backyard, or whatever helps you safely work things through in your head. Then, if you decide it’s worth dealing with after all, you’ll be able to do so more effectively.
Putting a pause on anger can be hard, but my clients report that it’s always useful when they manage it. And there are skills you can practice to make it easier. If you’re interested in exploring therapy to better handle your anger, drop me a line – or stay tuned for my next post about it!