Everyone gets angry. Anger is a natural response to threats; it can inspire us to defend ourselves when attacked or motivate us to deal with injustice or problem situations.
However, we all need to manage our anger. Social norms and common sense tells us that we can’t lash out every time someone irritates or upsets us.
Anger varies in intensity: what makes one person mildly irritated might trigger intense rage in another. Similarly, people express anger in different ways. Some do so verbally: they may shout, swear, name-call or make threats. Others become violent, hitting or pushing others or breaking things. Some people display anger in more passive ways – for example, ignoring others or sulking. Other people may feel very angry but keep it all bottled up or turn it against themselves – for example, they might cope with their intense emotions by self-harming.
Anger and aggression are not the same thing. Anger is an emotion that we feel, while aggression is the behaviour that sometimes stems from angry thoughts and feelings. You can be angry but choose not to behave aggressively.
Anger tends to be associated with hostile thoughts, physiological arousal and maladaptive behaviours.
Thoughts often focus on perceived rights and wrongs and a sense of injustice (‘I’m being disrespected’; ‘I’m being treated badly/unfairly’, ‘I’ve been let down again’, ‘They’re making a fool of me’). There is often a sense others have fallen short of our standards or expectations (‘This isn’t good enough’; ‘I won’t stand for it’, ‘I can’t trust anyone’).
Anger results in physiological changes. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up and your adrenaline levels rise. It can impair concentration and memory. Other physical symptoms can include fist or teeth clenching, tense muscles, stomach churning/butterflies, and shaking, amongst others.
When angry, you may feel restless, tense, on edge, uptight. You may feel the urge to hit out; shout or argue; ignore or not talk to a person/sulk; storm away from a situation; or make sarcastic comments.