Anger Basics

What is anger?
Anger is an emotion.  It’s everything from the frustration people feel when their roommates leave the milk out to the rage they feel when someone is genuinely cruel to them.

How is anger different from aggression?
While anger is an emotion, aggression is a type of behavior.  Specifically, it’s a behavior with the intent to harm someone or something.  It can be physical (hitting, pushing, etc.) or verbal (name calling, insulting, etc), direct (yelling at someone) or indirect (spreading rumors).

Why and when do people get angry?
People become angry when they perceive a situation as unpleasant and unfair (assess your angry thoughts here).  They become even angrier if they think the situation was the fault of someone else, was done intentionally or could have been avoided.  Several additional factors can influence how angry a person gets in a particular situation.  For example, people are more likely to get angry if they are already tense or on edge, if they have a particular goal in mind and that goal is interfered with, or if they feel that the situation is so negative, they simply can’t cope with it (learn more).

Is all anger problematic?
No.  In fact, anger is a valuable emotion that helps people confront injustice.  Anger alerts us to the fact that something is wrong or unfair and energizes us to respond.  In that sense, anger is an important motivator.

What’s the best way to express anger?
There are infinite ways to express anger (aggression, assertiveness, problem solving, exercise, suppression, etc.).  The appropriate response depends on the context of the situation that elicited the anger in the first place.  For example, though violence is generally not a healthy response, it may be appropriate for the purpose of protection in a case where someone is being assaulted.  Likewise, if someone is being treated unfairly by their boss, holding that anger in may be the most appropriate response given the power differential and threat of job loss.  Most often, though, it’s best to try and channel anger into a prosocial, problem-solving behavior (i.e., try to solve whatever problem is causing the anger in the first place).

How do I know if I have an anger problem?
Everyone gets angry from time to time.  It’s a relatively common emotion and most people experience it without any severe or long-lasting consequences.  The best way to judge whether or not someone has an anger problem, then, is to consider the severity of consequences they do experience.  Common consequences of problematic anger include frequent physical or verbal fights, damaged relationships, physical injuries or property damage, dangerous or risky driving, substance abuse, other negative emotions like sadness, guilt, or fear, and physical health problems.

Is there an actual “Anger Disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)?
Anger and aggression are described as symptoms for several conditions (e.g., Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Episode, Borderline Personality Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder) in the DSM-5.  However, anger is not listed as the primary feature of any condition currently represented in the DSM-5 (learn more).

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