Some people develop a chronic problem with anger. An anger problem exists when people become dependent on anger as a primary means of expressing themselves; when they inappropriately use anger or the threat of violence as a weapon to get their way. Inappropriate and uncontrolled anger is harmful for both targets of anger and the angry person. Inappropriate anger destroys relationships, makes it difficult to hold down a job, and takes a heavy toll on physical and emotional health.
Signs of an anger problem
The following are signs that a person has an anger problem:
- Verbal, emotional, physical or psychological abuse associated with feeling angry
- Feeling angry a lot of the time
- Anger lasts for a long time, and well after the triggering event has passed
- People close to a person are worried about their anger
- Anger is impacting negatively on personal and work relationships
- When a person thinks they have to get angry to get what they want
- Anger seems to get bigger than the event that set it off
- Anger affects other situations not related to the original event
- The person is becoming anxious or depressed about their anger
- A person is using alcohol or other drugs to try to manage their anger
- Where a person gets angry with the people closest with them, or with less powerful people, rather than dealing with the situation that sparked off their anger in the first place
- When a person uses hostility and aggression as a way of frightening other people to get what they want (adapted from psychology.org)
Tristian Loo (2011) suggests that people with problems managing anger have a ‘low frustration point’ that is often combined with an ‘irrational perception of reality’. A person’s frustration point and the tendency to develop anger problems are shaped by:
- Genetic or physiological factors
- Developmental influences
- Past trauma
- Psychological or internal sources
- Sociocultural or external sources
Genetic or physiological predisposition
Some people are have a genetic or physiological predisposition that results in them being easily angered or irritable and can mean that bringing anger under control is more challenging than for the average person. While these signs are usually present from a very early age, chronic anger and aggressive response styles are learned. Importantly, all people can develop strategies that help them understand and control their anger regardless of predisposition or impairment.
During adolescence young people learn how to regulate their emotions and take responsibility for their behaviour. As they develop this capacity, young people can be more emotionally volatile and can find regulating strong feelings such as anger challenging (see adolescent development). Feinstein (2009) points out that this can make young people more sensitive to stress and susceptible to frustration that can provoke anger, particularly when they have had insufficient sleep.
Insecure attachment to primary caregivers also has an impact on young people’s ability to regulate strong emotions such as anger. If anger is a threat response that is activated when a person feels unsafe; growing up in an environment that rarely felt safe, with no appropriate modeling of anger, can have a devastating impact on a young person’s ability to self regulate anger (Kolts, 2012). It is important to remember that the young person did not choose these early life factors but they can choose how they want to manage them.
Compared to the general population, a disproportionately large percentage of youth AOD clients have experienced past trauma. An impaired stress/hormone system is often the result, particularly where the trauma has occurred in early childhood. This can make regulating anger more challenging. (For further information see Trauma module).
Psychological or internal sources
Rigid views about how people ‘should’ act and how things ‘should’ happen combined with a lack of ‘cognitive flexibility” and limited problem-solving ability can result in frustration. Further information about internal sources can be found in Part 2 of this section.