Anger is a powerful emotion that young people can find difficult to manage in a constructive way. From a very early age, people learn to express anger by copying what is modeled and reinforced by others and by testing what is allowed.
Some people experience a loss of control and explode in rages that may lead to physical abuse or violence.
Some people can sit with their anger and then either wait for it to pass or redirect it to a healthy outlet such as exercise, but unexpressed or suppressed anger can be a problem for people. Bottling up or ignoring anger can lead to it being expressed indirectly. A potentially destructive outcome of this approach to anger is passive-aggressive behaviour (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on). Another harmful outcome of anger suppression can occur when people turn their anger inward leading to a negative self-appraisal and in extreme cases, self-loathing. Anxiety and depression can also be the result.
Practitioners also need to be aware of the many influences on the way people express and deal with anger.
Beliefs about anger
People develop attitudes and beliefs about what type and level of anger expression is acceptable and for what reasons. These beliefs are formed and shaped throughout one’s life and are subject to family, cultural and in some cases religious influences.
The Australian Psychological Society [add hyperlink] highlights the uneasy relationship that mainstream Australian culture has with anger expression. This results in many people being brought up to believe that:
- It is inappropriate to express anger directly
- That anger must not be tolerated
- That it is always dangerous to express anger
Deeper core beliefs can be reflected in the justifications used by some people as an excuse not to take responsibility for the harm that aggressive and potentially violent behaviour does to others and at times themselves. For instance, anger-motivated aggression can be used to justify terrorism, or to coerce and bully people into doing things against their will.
Learned habitual behaviour
Throughout their upbringing, children model ways of dealing with anger from significant people in their life. People who are easily angered often come from families that have poor communication skills and do not have constructive ways to share their emotions. Someone who, within their family of origin, has learned to express and manage their angry feelings in an intimidating and aggressive manner may believe that they are just acting 'normally'. People’s anger-related behaviour can become a conditioned response to particular stimuli especially when it when is reinforced or rewarded, or simply goes unchallenged
The gender of a young person also has an influence on how anger is experienced and expressed. It is not always the case but in general young men believe that anger is a more legitimate emotion to express. They often express anger in the in place of underlying emotions like hurt, sadness or grief which they find harder to express. The reverse is often true for young women who can be uncomfortable about expressing anger directly. In this way underlying anger can be expressed as anxiety, irritability or depression.
Underlying issues and conditions
There are a range of underlying issues and conditions that can to create frustration and compromise a person’s ability to deal effectively with anger, including:
- Complicated grief (see grief module)
- Health issues or medical conditions (eg: chronic pain, diabetes)
- Acquired brain injury
- Mental health conditions (e.g. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), psychotic symptoms)
Alcohol and other drug (AOD) related factors
A range of AOD related states can all impact on how a person expresses their anger. Intoxication is an obvious concern for many practitioners. A person’s behavioural response while intoxicated depends on the drug’s effect on the central nervous system, the amount taken, the tolerance of the person and numerous other factors. At times substance use helps a young person control their anger and other times it is the opposite. The capacity of a person to keep anger-related behaviours in check is also restricted when people are withdrawing or coming down, hung over or unable to obtain required substances
Stress and recent irritations
When our stress-level increases, our tolerance for frustration decreases. The following stress-inducing circumstances impact on how a person deals with their anger:
- Tiredness, hunger and other physical states like headache
- Level of psychological and emotional distress including anxiety and fear
- An accumulation of recent irritations that add up during the course of a day or even longer periods that lower tolerance for frustration. For some clients this can be the frustration of navigating the system of services to get a suitable and appropriate response
The effectiveness of one’s ability to manage anger
The degree to which people feel in control of how they deal with their anger is partially determined by their:
Level of self-awareness and emotional literacy
- Knowledge of and ability to apply emotion regulation techniques
- Personal temperament and cognitive ability
- Problem solving and interpersonal skills