By: Lisa Maddox, MS, RMHCI
In case you need a reminder: all emotions have a purpose and anger is normal. We all experience it! A crucial first step for many of our clients and their families is to understand anger and its importance. In fact, anger even has its benefits:
- It’s linked to our fight or flight response and helps us with survival.
- It can motivate us to make positive changes in our lives.
- It can empower us to fight back when faced with potential harm.
In modern times, it’s important for us to understand anger because it can arise at inappropriate times or overwhelm us and cause us to strike out at things that we perceive as threats.
Common Causes of Anger
People often express anger in different ways, but research has shown four common triggers for anger: frustrations, irritations, abuse, and unfairness. Some things that fall into these categories would be stress, not feeling appreciated or treated fairly, financial challenges, work or relationship issues, a car accident or bad traffic, violence or abuse.
Why do I feel angry?
Anger is linked to helping us survive in life-or-death or extreme circumstances. Anger is the energy you need to fight your way out of danger. While we do not experience this every day, we sometimes read incredible stories of superhuman strength that arises in the face of danger – anger is important in these instances! When you feel angry one question you can ask yourself is, “Am I feeling angry because I feel threatened in some way?”
Anger is also linked to injustice. This can be in the form of social injustice, bullying, or rule breaking. The anger response to injustice varies based on how close you are to the situation, or the person involved in the injustice. In this case you want to ask yourself. “How can I channel this energy I have into changing the situation and communicating the problem?”
Anger can also be a secondary emotion. Often anger is just the tip of the iceberg, because it’s an easy emotion to see. However, there are a variety of emotions underneath that could be fueling the anger. If you find yourself getting mad over every little thing, it might be a symptom of frustration in a different area of your life. Often, when we are experiencing anger, it is a result of feeling vulnerable, sad or rejected. If you are feeling anger as a secondary emotion, your next question should be, “What can I do to alleviate these feelings rather than act in anger?”
Types of Anger
There are three types of anger that shape how we react to a situation:
- Passive Aggression – This type of aggression comes from a need to be in control. It often starts because the person does not want to admit they are angry, and they don’t like confrontation. Examples of behaviors associated with passive aggression can include becoming silent, sulking, procrastinating, and acting like “everything is fine.”
- Open Aggression – This type of aggression is more physically or verbally aggressive. This type of aggression is when someone lashes out in anger or rage and can often hurt themselves or others. This comes out as fighting, bullying, blackmailing, accusing, shouting, bickering, sarcasm and criticism. This type of aggression also comes from a need to control.
- Assertive Anger – This type of anger is the best way to deal with anger. This comes out as being controlled and confident, talking and listening, and open to help when dealing with a situation. With assertive anger, you think before you speak, you are confident in what you say, but you’re also open and flexible to the other side. Assertive anger can help relationships grow!
To begin to understand anger, we need to be able to identify it! I challenge you to take a minute and reflect on how you handle anger and what type of anger you use. Ask yourself, “Where does my anger come from and what is causing it?” Ready for part 2 of this series where we will dive into anger management tips for adults and children? You can read it here!
Looking for tips to help your child stay calm? Check out 7 Tips for Teaching Calming Techniques here! We also recommend reading Teaching Sportsmanship Skills to help your child become a better team player. As always, contact us here if you would like support in navigating parenting challenges or are looking to schedule an assessment.
Want to teach your child about anger through reading? Kiddos in our clinic love the “Train Your Dragon” series! Train Your Angry Dragon is an intuitive way to teach your young reader about emotions and anger management. We love sharing our favorite books with clients & families, which is why we are so grateful to work with Bookshop to share books with you! If you make any purchase at Bookshop within 48 hours of using our links above, we receive 10% of your purchase, which we use to buy more books to use in session with our kiddos. It’s a win-win!
What to do When Your Temper Flares by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.