When Does Expressing Anger Indicate An Anger Management Problem?
Not to speak in clichés, but we all experience anger sometimes. And sometimes? It’s warranted. Like when your loafer roommate fails to pay rent again or you discover that your partner has been conducting an affair… with your best friend! Not that we’re endorsing that you throw a temper tantrum or anything like that (but side whisper: we’re not judging either 😉
Anger can also serve as a constructive motivator, like when your anger compels you to change your life for the better or to speak out when you witness another person being mistreated or abused.
And then… there are those times when anger isn’t so constructive, like when you attempt to suppress your anger for days and days until—like an unattended pot on the stove—you boil over.
As a general rule of thumb, anger becomes problematic when it becomes: frequent, explosive, violent, out of proportion to the severity of the situation, passive-aggressive, vengeful, or interferes with your relationships, employment, academic performance, or legal and medical status.
You might also be asking, “Why are some people more predisposed toward anger than others?”
You’ve probably heard that anger was a secondary emotion: an emotional camouflaging technique that disguises fear, guilt, stress, or hurt—and that’s essentially true.
For reasons both biochemical and environmental, some individuals have a lower threshold for frustration and a higher level of emotional reactivity, which transforms anger into a near-reflexive response. Like a tap to the knee at a doctor’s visit that makes your entire leg jerk forward…
Luckily, unlike your patellar reflex, YOU CAN learn to rewire your anger response.
What Are Some Destructive Ways In Which People Express Their Anger?
Destructive anger comes in different flavors that don’t necessarily involve punching holes in walls or screaming until the neighbors file a noise complaint. Unhealthy forms of aggression include:
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder: This is THE classic anger management disorder, in which an individual erupts with volcanic anger at even the slightest provocation
- Chronic Anger: Like a fever that continues to linger, you always seem to have a low-grade level of irritability or crankiness
- Simmering Anger: You internalize your rage, until “like the straw that broke the camel’s back”, you explode when encountering a minor setback
- Passive-Aggressive Anger: You know just how to cut someone to ribbons by using faux-sweetness, silence, or craft; You are a master of half-slights that leave people asking, “Was what he or she just did intentional? Or am I going crazy?”
- Self-righteous Anger: You think that your belief system makes you better than other people; and you use your “superiority” as a rationale for brutal honesty or bullying
- Stress-induced Anger: You respond to stressful situations by snapping at anyone within your firing range
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of An Anger Management Problem?
- People (plural) inform you that you have an anger management issue: This may seem like a “duh” statement, but most people with rage control issues first discover that they have a problem by receiving negative feedback from friends, family, or romantic partners
- You have frequent & volatile eruptions of:
- Verbal Aggression: Including screaming, throwing tantrums, name-calling, issuing threats, sarcasm, mockery, criticism, or coercion
- Physical Aggression: Your out-of-control anger escalates into physical assault or you provoke physical altercations
- Resentment: You seethe with fury or hold grudges over minor disagreements or mishaps
- Ill Will: You have repeated fantasies about delivering the perfect comeback, obtaining revenge, or witnessing another person get hurt/injuring someone else
- Interpersonal Consequences: Your social & romantic relationships are plagued by chronic instability
- Familial Consequences: You direct violence toward family members, including parents, siblings, spouses, or children
- Educational & Employment Difficulties: You experience occupational or academic setbacks because of your inability to regulate your temper (including losing your job or being suspended/expelled)
- Your anger has health consequences associated with it: Hypertension; digestive, skin, or sleep problems; a heart attack or stroke)
- Legal Problems: Your legal standing has been tarnished by assault charges, incarcerations, lawsuits, or more+
How Can Counseling & Therapy For Anger Management Issues Improve My Condition?
So, you have an anger management problem—the irony perhaps being that you find the thought of seeking counseling services to be mildly annoying at best and infuriating at worst; but you recognize that your problem requires some outside assistance. What next?
Next, your therapist will help you to:
- Understand the anatomy of your anger: Why anger functions at the physiological and psychological levels as it does; What your specific “flavor” of anger is (See: Types of Destructive Anger above); and identify the root cause of your emotional reactivity (e.g. a past history of abuse or a self-sabotaging fear of abandonment in your relationships that reveals itself as misplaced anger)
- Work toward the cognitive restructuring of your anger: By modifying destructive thought processes that perpetuate your anger
- Develop a relaxation regimen: And no! We don’t mean by simply counting to ten! Your therapist may recommend: mindfulness, meditation, psychotherapeutic yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, journaling, exercise, or connecting you with any manner of activity that you enjoy in order to achieve stress reduction
- Practice managing your outbursts: By communicating “legitimate” anger in less aggressive ways
- Mend Fences: Enhance and repair the quality of your social, familial, and romantic relationships, using Family, Couples, or Marriage Counseling as needed
- Improve your medical status: By connecting you with healthcare providers who can treat your anger-related somatic problems (such as hypertension or digestive disturbances)