My mother used to tell me that I had a temper like my father. He was – and in ways still is – prone to being angry, short-fused, impatient…many qualities I seemed to have inherited by being his child.
My anger would get me in trouble a lot with my parents, teachers, and others. It would range from me acting out, yelling, refusing to do any sort of work or chore, to – on my worse days – physical fights or striking things (I think there’s still a few dents in the walls at my parents’ house). Once I got past a certain point, I would lose control…even at times not being able to remember what I did when I was angry. I’ve ruined relationships because of it, hurt people, and it got to the point where I had to make some changes for my own sake and before I went too far.
Thankfully, I am not as quick to anger as I was then, and I’m not the same person. I’m more patient, less frustrated, and can handle my now extremely rare bouts of wrath much easier than I could as a younger man. After having a conversation with someone recently – both of us describing incidents of violence brought on by rage or finally lashing out – I decided to do some research into why some people are more prone to these sort of reactions, and help others the way I helped myself move past that part of my life. That being said, with the rest of this post I’ll try to answer a few questions about this topic.
What is anger? Why do we get angry?
In all of my reading, anger is described as a “basic” or natural emotion that everyone will experience. It is also described as, often, a secondary response to either a primary emotion: being in a situation of sadness, feeling threatened, if one of our basic needs like food or sleep are not met, being frightened, or experiencing loneliness. If you’re following so far, that tells me that we’re supposed to feel angry at some points in our lives. I’d also add that we shouldn’t feel upset or ashamed that we do, at points, feel angry. Rather, I’d say how we react to or in anger is probably more important.
Some researchers also think that anger later in life is the result of childhood or past experiences. For example, if you were subject to some situation where you couldn’t adequately express your anger in the past (e.g. bullying, abuse, or trauma)…you may still be coping with it at present. This may mean that current situations where you feel frustrated or ones that may evoke similar emotion can make you react with anger. Also, some people think that if you witnessed a parent or other adult express their own anger aggressively or violently, you may be more prone to do the same – or even be so afraid of becoming that angry that you suppress it. Eventually, that anger may surface in other situations.
So, why are some people more angry than others?
I think we can all agree that everyone is different. The same goes with anger and how an individual may react to it. So, what can make some people seem more easily angered? Reasons can include higher-stress lifestyles, genetics (yes, there is evidence that if your folks are more easily angered, you may be as well), and our own individual ways of assessing situations. With that last point, some articles I’ve read suggest that if you’re more sensitive or are more emotional in general than someone else, you will be more prone to reacting angrily (since anger falls under basic emotional response).
Another reason, as described in the section above, could be socio-cultural or socio-economic. By the former, I mean that anger is often looked at as being very negative in society. Because of this, there may not be very many resources to help an individual learn to express and deal with their anger – thus making them more prone to outbursts. By the latter, I read a study that suggests that Americans with lower social status expressed more anger because a lower social standing was associated with greater frustration – stemming from leading more adverse lives. On the other hand, the same study also concludes that Japanese people with higher social status experienced more anger because, as being part of an important group or relationship is seen as self-defining and central to what it means to be a person in this culture, expressing anger is frowned-upon due to such expressions having the potential to ruin these relationships.
How can I tell if I have an anger problem?
This list is not comprehensive, but here are a few items that could point to someone having anger issues:
- Inability to take criticism
- Feeling that anger needs to be hidden or suppressed
- Arguing with others constantly
- Holding grudges
- Feelings of impatience, irritability, hostility, or resentment that lead to outbursts when angry
- Becoming physically violent to people or objects when angry, or being short-fused
- Avoiding situations where one knows one may become angry/angrier
- Lack of ability to control anger escalating
Some of the symptoms above may even be worsened by alcohol or drug use. While – as mentioned before – anger itself is not a problem, expressing anger during and in ways like the items in the list above could lead to a lot of problems for someone who can’t get their anger under control.
Are there things I can do to help with my anger?
Let’s take a quick look at ways to help control and manage anger.
One of the best ways I found that helped me was to first own that I had a bad temper and that I had a problem. I would realize and accept that I was angry in certain situations, but chose not to let the situation escalate nor get the better of me. I also would continually remind myself that it is very difficult to make smart choices when feeling a powerful emotion like anger, so I chose to let the anger subside before doing anything else.
Another method, as I preach to myself in sports, is the concept of having a “short memory”. If I missed a shot or dropped a ball, I wouldn’t let myself dwell on it nor think about it while setting up another shot or play. In the same way, I didn’t let a past event dictate how I would react to a present event. Also, I did not allow myself to sit and steam about an event that made me angry – it just didn’t make sense to stay angry at the past or something I could no longer change.
Another very important step in managing anger is recognizing one’s triggers, and figuring out exactly what can make you angry and how to work through them. This may mean avoiding the trigger altogether (for example, I dislike traffic…so I leave for work earlier and either leave the office early or later depending on the day) or attacking it head-on (e.g. if you have disagreements with another person, trying to iron out your differences in a civil manner). This isn’t an easy process, and I think I’m still working on some of my triggers to this day.
Finally, and probably the most helpful for me, I found that improving my thinking, communication, and relaxation skills became an invaluable asset in helping me recover from my anger problems. Instead of rushing to reply or get the last word in, I began to learn how to express my thoughts and feelings (even if they were coming from a place of anger) in a calmer, less aggressive way. When this became too difficult to do in a situation, I’d let myself walk away (or politely excuse myself) to cool down and then re-approached the situation later. You’d be surprised what taking a good, deep breath before speaking can do for you.
I hope this post has been both insightful and helpful. If you or someone you care about is struggling with issues with anger or other mental health conditions, there is always help. While I did not address (and have never been to) counseling or ever saw a professional for anger, I know these resources exist and would definitely recommend them if someone chose to take that route.
I’d love to hear your stories, comments, and opinions as well. Feel free to reach out to me 🙂
As always, keep fighting the good fight (shout out to my friend Kyle),