What Is Anger

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Anger is a natural, sometimes irrational, human emotion typically triggered by psychological, emotional, or physical pain. It can be characterized by a feeling or desire to lash out verbally or physically.

What Is Anger?

Also known as rage, fury, or wrath, anger is one of the primary human emotions marked by bitterness, hostility, and aggression. It is an intense emotion that involves enmity and antagonism towards another person as a response to certain threats, triggers, hurt, or provocation, usually perceived to be deliberate by the individual. A 2008 study 1 defines this emotion as a common experience and “a feeling that is evoked when individuals perceive a situation as involving injustice or when they believe that they are being treated badly or unfairly.” It is one of the most debated universal emotions and as elemental as sadness, happiness, surprise, disgust, or anxiety. This strong feeling of displeasure can range from mild irritation to intense fury. People can experience aggression when feeling threatened or rejected. It can also be a secondary reaction to extreme stress, failure, loss, or injustice. Sometimes, it occurs due to certain anger-triggering thoughts as well.

Well-controlled rage can have a beneficial impact as it motivates a person to make positive changes. It can help people when they are threatened. It prepares us to fight and motivates communities to stand against injustice. This unpleasant emotion can be expressed in different ways as different types of anger affect people differently. A 2017 research paper 2 suggests that behaviors accompanied by aggression and rage serve many different purposes and the nuances of aggressive behaviors. This study adds, “Anger is also an outwardly directed communicative signal establishing differentiation and conflict within interpersonal relationships and affective bonds.”. It can be recognized by people’s tone of voice, body language, and other non-verbal cues.

Understanding Anger

According to a 2014 study 3 , the ultimate behavioral reaction of anger is reactive aggression and is closely associated with the “fight, flight, or freeze” response of the sympathetic nervous system. This response prepares a person to fight or flee from a perceived threat for survival. A 2013 study 4 mentions that certain neural systems implicated in reactive aggression including the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and the periaqueductal gray (the basic threat system) critically result in rage or fury. Several factors such as exposure to extremely threatening events contribute to the responsiveness of those systems. Similarly, regions of the frontal cortex that regulate the basic threat system are related to increased anger when dysfunctional. “Frustration occurs when an individual continues to do an action in the expectation of a reward but does not actually receive that reward, and is associated with anger,” add researchers. Research 5 has shown that reactive aggression can be observed in all mammalian species and is considered a part of their graduated response to threat. Higher levels of danger from the closest threat trigger reactive aggression when escape is impossible.

While experiencing chronic aggression, an individual can often experience certain physical effects such as elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate. Studies 6 explain that, after the “fight-flight-freeze” response is activated, the adrenal glands secrete stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol into the bloodstream and lead to a series of mind and body reactions. These reactions include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Headache
  • Inability to concentration

While people of all genders experience the same amount of aggression, several researchers suggest that men and women often experience it differently due to socialization. Society often labels this emotion as masculine. Men experience stigma while expressing sadness or fear, but women experience it while showing fury. Research 7 suggests that women tend to engage in more indirect forms of aggression such as spreading rumors. It has been reported that females are less aggressive than males. A recent 2021 study 8 has explained that aggression was significantly associated with trait anger for men only. It has been reported that men are more likely to engage in passive-aggressive acts.

Types Of Anger

Types Of Anger

It is surprisingly a complex emotion and can occur in several different circumstances for various reasons. Because of the complexities, there is no solid agreement among psychologists about how many forms of aggression people experience. People can express it in various ways, but some of the most common causes help explain certain different types of aggression. When researching this emotion, experts often refer to the five common types mentioned below:

1. Passive

This type is often referred to as passive-aggressiveness and is considered one of the most common ways of expressing this emotion. People with this type tend to never accept that they are angry. It allows them to avoid dealing with the situations that trigger them to be angry. They are more likely to express their emotion by making judgemental comments, holding grudges, using sarcasm, and spreading rumors. A 2010 research paper 9 suggests that this kind of personality trait often can be a significant sign of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder.

2. Open aggression

Aggressively angry individuals tend to express their intense emotions outwardly. While experiencing this unpleasant emotion, they often yell and commit physical violence such as destroying property or inflicting pain on others to retaliate against the injustice they endured.

3. Habitual

People with this type are usually grumpy and habituated to get angry at small things. Most of the time, they look for a reason to fight and find flaws in everyone.

4. Assertive

This kind of aggression creates positive anger and helps relationships to grow. It helps an individual to deal with this unpleasant emotion in a healthy manner by expressing it in a controlled, confident, and patient way. It allows one to think before speaking, communicate properly, and deal with the situation effectively.

5. Additive

Some people are addicted to being angry. The rush and excitement of this emotion play the role of a cue for them. They tend to pick fights only because they want an emotional ‘high’.

Identifying The Roots Of Anger

Identifying The Roots Of Anger

The causes can vary as they may be triggered by certain external factors such as bullying, loss, humiliation, past trauma, and internal factors such as failure or frustration. The emotion of aggression is not always associated with a present circumstance rather it can be the reaction of an experience also. This reaction is mostly about how a person reacts to the event.

Certain negative thought patterns contribute to the outburst. The patterns include:

1. Blaming

When a person blames another for every negative event to avoid responsibility or shame.

2. Rigidity

When an individual has a low tolerance for frustration. Because of this, they are unable to reconcile the present happening with what they thought should happen.

3. Collecting cues

When someone creates unreasonable and non-existent events in their head until they reach the level of ‘outburst’. They may overreact to justify their aggression.

4. Assumptions

When a person assumes that another person is intentionally hurting or disrespecting them. They assume a hostility that has no existence.

5. Genetics and hormones

The ability to deal with certain hormones plays a huge role in how one deals with rage or fury. A 2012 research paper 10 mentions that one might find it more difficult to manage their emotions if their brain doesn’t react normally to serotonin.

Other than these patterns, the leading cause is people’s environment. Family problems, extreme stress, financial issues, traumatic past experiences can be the primary reason behind the formation of aggression. A recent 2019 study 11 explains that certain disorders like alcoholism can trigger aggression issues also as it is considered a contributing cause of aggression.

Stages Of Anger

Stages Of Anger

It is a pervasive emotion that affects the body, mind, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Certain terms are used to describe this emotion such as intensity, threshold, expression, frequency, and duration. It typically follows a pattern or a cycle that helps one to understand the most appropriate response.

The five stages of this cycle include:

1. Trigger

When someone perceives a threat, the trigger phase prepares their body to respond. An individual’s adaptive state subtly changes into his/her stressed state during this stage. This phase varies from person to person and can occur from either the environment or their thought processes.

2. Escalation

The progressive appearance of the response occurs in the escalation phase. It prepares one’s body physically for a crisis that often causes rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and blood pressure.

3. Crisis

The reaction reaches a peak in this stage. It makes the body fully alert and prepares it to take action in response to the trigger. Logic and rationality become limited as the aggression instinct takes over. In extreme cases, people take harmful actions against themselves or others.

4. Recovery

After the emotion has been spent or controlled, an individual returns to his adaptive or normal state steadily. But the inappropriate intervention serves as a trigger later.

5. Depression

The stage marks a return to one’s normal state below the normal signs. It helps the body to recover equilibrium. During this phase, a person may experience embarrassment, guilt, regret, and depression.

Anger Management

The concept of anger management dates back thousands of years in human history. Prominent philosophers and psychologists supported this idea of avoiding situations that can incite rage. Anger management 12 refers to a therapeutic process of decreasing the negative impacts of aggression on an individual. Research says that the process is about becoming aware of your underlying feelings or needs and developing healthier ways to manage the emotional upsets. It involves a range of skills that help one to recognize the triggers and take action to calm down. Being a natural human response, the associated feelings cannot be avoided completely but one can deal with the situation in a productive way.

This therapeutic process reduces the emotional and physical arousal that intense rage or fury can cause. Holding the emotion inside often causes passive-aggressive behavior. It is extremely important to express these feelings in a socially appropriate way to solve the problems, handle emergencies, and maintain healthy relationships. In modern times, trained professionals have developed therapies to help people with aggression issues. It provides a set of recovery guidelines along with a controlled platform where people can release their emotions.

Anger As A Sign Of Mental Health Condition

While it is a normal human response, this emotion can be a sign of an underlying mental health condition also. It is closely associated with several critical mental health disorders such as:

1. Chronic depression

This potentially destructive emotion and the irritability and hostility in depression are closely interlinked with each other. A 2004 study 13 suggests that chronic depression patients often tend to experience anger attacks or rapid onset of intense aggression.

2. Bipolar disorder

A 2013 study 14 has shown that bipolar disorder in adults is associated with aggressive behaviors, especially during acute and psychotic phases. Such patients are prone to agitation that can lead to impulsive aggression.

Read More About Bipolar Disorder Here

3. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Studies 15 have reported that the experience of fury is very common in posttraumatic stress disorder patients. They often have an intense outburst of this emotion with little to no provocation.

Read More About Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Here

4. Oppositional defiant behavior (ODD)

According to a 2017 research paper 16 , a frequent and persistent angry mood is one of the most common symptoms of oppositional defiant behavior.

5. Narcissistic personality disorder

Research 17 suggests that narcissistic individuals are extremely sensitive to insult and tend to react to such criticisms with aggression and hostility. The experience of fury is considered a significant trait of this personality disorder.

How To Cope-Up With Anger

How To Cope Up With Anger

This emotion can become problematic for a person if it causes extreme outbursts, aggression, and even physical violence. It is very important to control this intense emotion to avoid doing or saying something that one may regret later. Here are 5 ways one can reduce or control their temper:

1. Think before you act

One may act impulsively when experiencing aggression arousal. One should take a moment to collect their thoughts before saying or attempting anything that they may regret later.

2. Practice yoga and meditation

Regular practice of yoga and meditation helps to reduce the restlessness of the mind. A 2016 research paper 18 suggests that a mindfulness-based program is capable of decreasing feelings of rage or fury, hostility, physical and verbal aggression.

3. Take deep breaths

This exercise is extremely beneficial to drop out aggressiveness instantly. The moment one can feel the aggression arousal, they should close their eyes and take deep breaths. Studies 19 suggest that deep breathing exercises help the mind to calm down by releasing stress.

4. Search for possible solutions

Instead of repeating the problem in mind, one should focus on resolving the issue. Remember that being angry cannot fix anything but only makes it worse.

5. Learn to forgive

Forgiveness is an extremely powerful tool. If one allows repetitive negative and aggressive feelings in their mind, these thoughts can swallow them up in bitterness and a sense of injustice. Forgiveness helps one to learn from the event or the situation and strengthen the relationships.

6. Seek professional help

If coping strategies don’t help, one should consider consulting with a doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a therapist. A mental health specialist can help one to work through the underlying triggers that may induce rage or other emotional issues.

Overcome Anger Issues

Learning to control rage is a challenging skill for everyone. While many can adopt the ways to manage their aggression, some people find it very difficult to control their intense emotions. However, it is important to know when one needs professional help for their temper issues if it seems out of control and causes one to do or say certain things that one may regret later or emotionally or physically hurt others around them.

Anger At A Glance

  1. Anger is one of the primary human emotions marked by bitterness, hostility, and aggression.
  2. Chronic aggression, an individual can often experience certain physical effects such as elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate.
  3.  Causes Of Anger can vary as they may be triggered by certain external factors such as bullying, loss, humiliation, past trauma, and internal factors.
  4.  It is very important to control this intense anger to avoid doing or saying something that one may regret later. 
  5. This therapeutic process reduces the emotional and physical arousal that intense rage or fury can cause.
👇 References:
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  2. Williams R. (2017). Anger as a Basic Emotion and Its Role in Personality Building and Pathological Growth: The Neuroscientific, Developmental and Clinical Perspectives. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1950. []
  3. Lupis, S. B., Lerman, M., & Wolf, J. M. (2014). Anger responses to psychosocial stress predict heart rate and cortisol stress responses in men but not women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 49, 84–95. []
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  7. Denson, T. F., O’Dean, S. M., Blake, K. R., & Beames, J. R. (2018). Aggression in Women: Behavior, Brain and Hormones. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 12, 81. []
  8. Fahlgren, M. K., Cheung, J. C., Ciesinski, N. K., McCloskey, M. S., & Coccaro, E. F. (2021). Gender Differences in the Relationship between Anger and Aggressive Behavior. Journal of interpersonal violence, 886260521991870. Advance online publication. []
  9. Hopwood, C. J., Morey, L. C., Markowitz, J. C., Pinto, A., Skodol, A. E., Gunderson, J. G., Zanarini, M. C., Shea, M. T., Yen, S., McGlashan, T. H., Ansell, E. B., Grilo, C. M., & Sanislow, C. A. (2009). The construct validity of passive-aggressive personality disorder. Psychiatry, 72(3), 256–267. []
  10. Meneses, A., & Liy-Salmeron, G. (2012). Serotonin and emotion, learning and memory. Reviews in the neurosciences, 23(5-6), 543–553. []
  11. Parrott, D. J., & Eckhardt, C. I. (2018). Effects of Alcohol on Human Aggression. Current opinion in psychology, 19, 1–5. []
  12. Steffgen G. (2017). Anger Management – Evaluation of a Cognitive-Behavioral Training Program for Table Tennis Players. Journal of human kinetics, 55, 65–73. []
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  15. Leonhardt, B. L., Lysaker, P. H., Vohs, J. L., James, A. V., & Davis, L. W. (2018). The experience and expression of anger in posttraumatic stress disorder: the relationship with metacognition. Journal of mental health (Abingdon, England), 27(5), 432–437. []
  16. Ghosh, A., Ray, A., & Basu, A. (2017). Oppositional defiant disorder: current insight. Psychology research and behavior management, 10, 353–367. []
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  18. Sharma, M. K., Sharma, M. P., & Marimuthu, P. (2016). Mindfulness-Based Program for Management of Aggression Among Youth: A Follow-up Study. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 38(3), 213–216. []
  19. Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. []
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