1. What is anger?
Anger is a common emotion and it is an unavoidable part of life. Most people have experienced anger on occasions during their life and it can be consider a natural response to being frustrated, confronted, betrayed, disrespected or attacked. In some instances anger can even help protect the people we love and motivate us to achieve our goals. However, anger can also be frightening and destructive. If it is not dealt with in a constructive and meaningful way, then anger can cause an inappropriate response to a situation/person resulting in a negative effect on us, the people around us, and society as a whole. Unhealthy anger expressed outwardly or experienced inwardly, can result in serious physical health difficulties such as high blood pressure or heart disease, as well as mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety, and addictions. It can also lead to poor decision making skills, sleep difficulties, chronic risk-taking, self-harm, isolation, poor relationships and compulsive or violent behaviours.
2. Causes, signs and symptoms
Anger is often brought on because something is happening to us at the time, with which we do not agree with. When we are faced with a perceived challenge or threat, anger can activate a response in us to protect, defend or attack. However, aggression is a learned behaviour that can be changed. When we become angry a subtle series of noticeable events occur. These include an external trigger that is linked to what is happening; our interpretation (thoughts and beliefs) of that trigger; and our increased levels of physical arousal that is brought on by the activation of the ‘fight or flight’ response and the subsequent production of adrenaline. Often this chain of events might occur so quickly that it might appear like we just suddenly ‘snapped’ without actually being aware of the processes that lead to this. Anger can be considered an emotional reaction to undeveloped feelings of hurt, loss, abandonment, or failing to get a basic need met.
The most common sign of anger difficulties includes the anger becoming a problem for the individual or the people around them. Further signs include verbal aggression or physical aggression that occurs regularly over a period of at least three months. The aggressive behaviour is grossly disproportionate to the magnitude of the psychosocial stressors and the outbursts cannot be explained by another mental health disorder and are not the result of substance use or a medical disorder. The outbursts should not be premeditated or serve a premeditated purpose. Finally, it is also typical that the angry outbursts will cause impairment of functioning or distress, and may lead to legal or financial difficulties.
4. Anger Treatment
Anger is normally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Choice of treatment depends on the severity of the disorder, and individual choice. In some cases, self-help books or leaflets may be helpful. Psychologists provide different techniques and therapies. Psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Integrative Therapy are commonly used when working with anger difficulties. CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviour and teaches the person new ways of thinking and behaving that may help in reducing angry verbal or physical outbursts. This kind of therapeutic approach will focus on identifying triggers for anger, reframing situations and developing healthy and constructive coping mechanisms. Integrative therapy might focus on identifying early attachment difficulties and exploring how these might contribute to the current difficulties around anger. Strategies to address the angry outburst will also be discussed and these may for instance include the use of relaxation exercises or mindfulness meditations. Anger can also be treated through the use of medication and your GP will be able to provide you with guidance on what medication to take. At present two types of medications are commonly used to treat anger – antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Some of these medications start working immediately whilst others take several weeks to start working. Common to all medication is that it may cause side effects and some medication should not be taken for prolonged periods of time.