- threatened or attacked
- powerless to a problem, situation or person
- invalidated or treated unfairly
People can interpret situations differently, so a situation that makes you feel very angry may not make someone else feel angry at all (for example, other reactions could include annoyance, hurt or amusement). But just because we can interpret things differently, it doesn't mean that you're interpreting things 'wrong' if you get angry.
How you interpret and react to a situation can depend on lots of factors in your life, including:
- your childhood and upbringing
- past experiences
- current circumstances
Whether your anger is about something that happened in the past or something that's going on right now, thinking about how and why we interpret and react to situations can help us learn how to cope with our emotions better. It can also help us find productive strategies to handle our anger.
Your childhood and upbringing - How we learn to cope with angry feelings is often influenced by our upbringing. Many people are given messages about anger as children that may make it harder to manage it as an adult. For example: You may have grown up thinking that it's always okay to act out your anger aggressively or violently, and so you didn't learn how to understand and manage your angry feelings. This could mean you have angry outbursts whenever you don't like the way someone is behaving, or whenever you are in a situation you don't like.
You may have been brought up to believe that you shouldn't complain and may have been punished for expressing anger as a child. This could mean that you tend to suppress your anger and it becomes a long-term problem, where you react inappropriately to new situations you're not comfortable with. If you don't feel you can release your anger in a healthy way, you might also turn this inwards on yourself.
You may have witnessed your parents' or other adults' anger when it was out of control and learned to think of anger as something that is destructive and terrifying. This could mean that you now feel afraid of your own anger and don't feel safe expressing your feelings when something makes you angry. Those feelings might then surface at another unconnected time, which may feel hard to explain.
Past experiences - If you've experienced particular situations in the past that made you feel angry, such as abuse, trauma or bullying (either as a child or more recently as an adult), and you weren't able to safely express your anger at the time, you might still be coping with those angry feelings now. This might mean that you now find certain situations particularly challenging, and more likely to make you angry. Sometimes your present feeling of anger may not only be about the current situation but may also be related to a past experience, which can mean that the anger you are feeling in the present is at a level that reflects your past situation. Becoming aware of this can help us to find ways of responding to situations in the present in a safer and less distressed way.
Current circumstances - If you're dealing with a lot of other problems in your life right now, you might find yourself feeling angry more easily than usual or getting angry at unrelated things. If there's a particular situation that's making you feel angry, but you don't feel able to express your anger directly or resolve it, then you might find you express that anger at other times.
Grief - Anger can also be a part of grief. If you've lost someone important to you, it can be hugely difficult to cope with all the conflicting things you might be feeling.
How anger can help us positively - Anger isn't necessarily a 'bad' emotion; in fact it can sometimes be useful. For example, feeling angry about something can:
- help us identify problems or things that are hurting us
- motivate us to create change, achieve our goals and move on
- help us stay safe and defend ourselves in dangerous situations by giving us a burst of energy as part of our fight or flight system
Anger as a problem - Anger only becomes a problem when it gets out of control and harms you or people around you. This can happen when:
- you regularly express your anger through unhelpful or destructive behaviour
- your anger is having a negative impact on your overall mental and physical health
- anger becomes your go-to emotion, blocking out your ability to feel other emotions
- you haven't developed healthy ways to express your anger
- outward aggression and violence - such as shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hitting or throwing things and being physically violent or verbally abusive and threatening towards others
- inward aggression - such as telling yourself that you hate yourself, denying yourself your basic needs (like food, or things that might make you happy), cutting yourself off from the world and self-harming
- non-violent or passive aggression - such as ignoring people or refusing to speak to them, refusing to do tasks, or deliberately doing things poorly, late or at the last possible minute, and being sarcastic or sulky while not saying anything explicitly aggressive or angry
Violence - If you find you express your anger through outward aggression and violence, this can be extremely frightening and damaging for people around you and especially around children. And it can have serious consequences: it could mean you lose your family, job and get into trouble with the law. In this case it's very important to seek treatment and support.
Therapy - If you’d like to know the root cause of your anger and learn ways to help your anger, please see www.jilljesson.com