Why are you Angry?

anger management

Anger is an emotion that’s experienced universally, and can vary in degree of intensity from frustration to rage. Definitions of anger differ slightly between sources; “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism” (Merriam-Webster), or “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility” (English Oxford Living Dictionaries).

While anger is a normal part of the human experience, for some people it can become problematic. The most obvious problem is anger that leads to aggressive or violent behavior.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help reduce the likelihood of aggressive or violent behavior as a result of anger (Henwood, Chou & Browne, 2015).  Self-directed CBT resources are widely available in the form of on-line resources, books, and workbooks.

CBT interventions can target different aspects of one’s anger response.  From the behavioral side of things, relaxation training can help lower an individual’s state of physiological arousal so that they may approach a situation more calmly and rationally.  A calmer state can allow for other behavioral skill building, such as active listening, clarifying the problem, assertive communication, and conflict management. Cognitive targets for intervention often include thoughts and assumptions that increase feelings of anger.  Once identified, these types of cognitions can then be challenged with more realistic, anger-reducing ways of thinking (Deffenbacher, 2011).

Anger can also be problematic in a less obvious way, such as when it acts as a blanket or cover for other, more vulnerable emotions such as fear or sadness. It’s an ideal choice for a cover, as it tends to energize us and brings with it feelings of power or control (Novaco, 1976). However, it also prevents us from addressing and resolving whatever feeling it’s serving to cover. This can present itself when we respond in a defensive or irritated manner toward a loved one who’s hurt our feelings. It increases the likelihood of a negative interaction, and doesn’t allow us the opportunity to discuss how our feelings were hurt. In this way, anger can have a negative impact on relationships.

Finding what’s underneath anger requires a willingness to explore a fuller range of emotions. When anger comes up, giving yourself a moment to reflect on what prompted it may help identify other emotions that are present. This may be accomplished alone, through journaling, or talking it through with someone you trust. For example, if you responded angrily toward your partner when they needed to work late, you may realize that you were feeling insecure, and questioning whether or not time with you was a priority for them.

If you have trouble identifying underlying feelings, check in with your thoughts to see if they provide any clues for you.  Our thoughts and feelings are often closely related, so thoughts can help us “dig down” to what other emotions may be under the surface. Themes around what makes us angry may also be useful.  They can help us hone in on the kinds of situations that we struggle to manage effectively, and point to areas of personal importance that we may want to improve.

If you’re struggling to manage your anger reactions, or are unable to identify the emotions under your anger, you may want to seek the help of a therapist.  They can support you in working toward reducing aggression, and identifying and connecting with your emotions in a safe environment.

Online resources:

Anger. (n.d.). Retrieved February 7, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anger

Anger. (n.d.). Retrieved February 7, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/anger


Deffenbacher, J.L. (2011). Cognitive-behavioral conceptualization and treatment of anger. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 18, 212-221.

Novaco, R.W. (1976). The functions and regulation of the arousal of anger. American Journal of Psychiatry, 13(10), 1124-1128.

Henwood, K.S., Chou, S. & Browne, K.D. (2015) A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effectiveness of CBT informed anger management. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 25, 280-292.