Understanding Anger

When it comes to understanding emotions, anger is one emotion that is often less understood and studied. It is important to note that anger can be adaptative or maladaptive. If you are feeling angry about how someone you witness is treated, you may be inclined to use your anger to stand up for that person and help them out. On the contrary, you may use that same anger in an unhealthy way to yell and perhaps to the more extreme, become physical. As humans, we all experience anger at one point or multiple points in our lives. There is a misconception that if you display anger, you must be an aggressive individual. This is not the case. Anger is a normal emotion and part of the human experience. However, what we do when we feel angry is important to consider. This blog will discuss why humans become angry in the first place, what happens to one’s body when they experience anger, and tips to deal with it.

Why do humans get angry?

A person might feel angry when they feel that their needs are not being met and have unfulfilled expectations. When an individual feels threatened or unsafe, their brain’s fight-or-flight response kicks in, leading the individual to use anger as a self-defense. Anger can often result if you feel disrespected, or if you feel that one may be taking advantage of you.

Next time you notice yourself feeling angry, try to tap into which core need is being unmet. Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel threatened or unsafe?
  • Are my expectations not being met?
  • Am I being taken advantage of?
  • Am I being disrespected?

Anger is also impacted by biological and physiological factors. Hormone imbalances may impact the intensity as well as the frequency of one’s anger responses. For some anger may become a habit due to their environments and childhood surroundings.

What happens internally when one experiences anger?

Anger amongst other emotions originates in the amygdala. When an individual experiences anger, their amygdala will become activated, delaying their ability to use their logic to respond adaptively. Our bodies readily prepare to respond to the threat by increasing blood flow to our muscles and getting them ready to fight or flight. Individuals may experience an increase in blood pressure or heart rate.

What to do when I feel angry?

  1. Learn to accept anger as part of the human condition. Rather than suppressing the emotion or pretending you don’t struggle with it, learn to accept it. Acceptance does not equate that you approve of it. It merely gives you the ability to move forward despite the struggle, and perhaps take the steps you need to tackle your anger.
  2. Rather than becoming upset when your needs are unmet, learn to communicate with those you love about your needs in an honest and healthy way. Try to avoid blaming and pointing fingers. Get into the habit of using “I statements” to express what you feel in an adaptative manner. For example, you may tell your spouse, “I feel angry when I find myself completing all the house chores with no help” instead of “You make me feel angry when you don’t offer to help me with the house chores.”
  3. Get in touch with your body. Try noticing which parts of your body react when your anger flares up. In response, engaging in deep breathing can be helpful in terms of regulating your body’s physiological response to anger and calming it down.
  4. Taking a timeout can be helpful. Step away from the person or situation and give yourself a break. Try to do something relaxing for yourself before returning to the source of anger and addressing it.
  5. Try to practice solution-oriented techniques. Rather than perseverating on your anger, use it to resolve the problem. It is important to bear in mind that we cannot control everything and we must be realistic when setting these expectations.
  6. Learn how to forgive. Holding grudges may negatively impact your functioning, preventing you from moving forward. Forgiveness is a powerful tool. It helps you stay less bitter.
  7. Practicing mindfulness can help you deal with anger. It entails focusing your attention onto the present moment without judgement. As you become more aware of your anger in the moment, it will have less influence over your behaviors and allow you to be inclined with your values.
  8. If you notice your anger may be out of control, it may be a sign to reach out to professional help. In therapy, you will learn tools to help you deal with your anger, as well as better understand the triggers and what you can do to lead a more joyous life.

In conclusion, anger is a complex emotion that deserves attention and understanding. As a clinical psychologist, I have witnessed the transformative power of clients gaining insight as well as skills to manage their anger constructively. If you or someone you know is struggling with anger-related issues, do not hesitate to reach out for support. It would be my honor to support you on your emotional health journey.

Dr. Aryeh Berlin is a New Jersey licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Aspire Psychological Group. Dr. Berlin has vast clinical training experiences including a residential adolescent addiction treatment center in Israel, community mental health centers, and youth detention centers. Dr. Berlin has lectured on parenting children with emotional and behavioral difficulties, child development, helping children with school-related challenges and trauma. Audiences included attorneys, mental health professionals, parents, and educators.

Understanding Anger