Anger is a universal emotion. We all feel annoyed, frustrated, or outraged from time to time. Yet there’s a common misconception about anger, that it usually manifests as shouting or violent behavior. Anger is a lot more complex and nuanced than that. Anger is a feeling that can be channeled helpfully, or it can be expressed in ways that compound negative consequences. Often, we’ve learned how to express anger by the way we’ve grown up or by the lesson of ‘what not to do.’ Anger is neither inherently good nor bad – it’s simply an emotion. Emotions are part and parcel of being human, acting as built-in guides to alert us to our environment and how we should respond within it. Anger is a healthy emotion to feel; everyone has the right to anger depending on their circumstances. Feeling angry might be particularly relevant and justified to the times we’re experiencing now- threatening situations (acute and chronic threats), health pandemics, obstructed freedom of movement, loneliness, financial and routine changes- many of us might feel anger as a result of disrespect, confusion, uncertainty or frustration.
Assertive anger is a really constructive type of anger expression. If this is your type of anger, you use feelings of frustration or rage as a catalyst for positive change. Rather than avoiding confrontation, internalizing anger, or resorting to verbal insults and physical outbursts, you express your anger in ways that create change and get you closer to having your wants and needs met – without causing distress or destruction. Expressing anger assertively helps you address what you want, without transgressing other people’s rights and boundaries. Assertive anger is a powerful motivator. Use assertive anger to overcome fear, address injustice, and achieve your desired outcomes in life.
Behavioral aggression is a choice to react physically toward the feeling of anger. This form of anger expression is physical and often aggressive, or at the very extreme end of the spectrum, violent. Aggression is a behavior that has an intended motivation to cause harm to someone else who doesn’t wish for it. This might look like breaking or throwing things, or physically intimidating or attacking someone. Expressing anger by using behavioral aggression often has negative legal and interpersonal consequences, as this highly unpredictable and impulsive behavior erodes your ability to form trusting and respectful relationships. It’s worth noting that emotions, like anger, don’t automatically generate aggression or violence- take time to reflect on what might be the real motivation for you to choose aggression once you’ve felt anger. As you feel your anger rising, remove yourself from the situation if possible and use grounding self-talk (“take it easy, stay cool”) to regain control of your emotions or try a deep breathing technique until you feel yourself physically calm down enough to reconsider what is happening and what options you have of reacting differently.
Chronic anger feels like an ongoing and general sense of resentment of other people, a sweeping sense of frustration with certain circumstances, or often anger towards oneself. It’s embodied by a sense of nagging and perpetual irritation: the prolonged nature of this type of anger can have profoundly adverse effects on one’s health and wellbeing. Spend some time reflecting on the underlying causes of your anger. Your indignation might well be justified, though it likely does not serve you to be chronic and ongoing. If you can identify the source of your resentment, you may be able to resolve the inner conflict you’re experiencing by forgiving yourself and others for past transgressions. The process of forgiveness is powerful and empowering and can help to resolve lingering hurt and frustration. Learning how to express emotions assertively can help greatly.
Judgmental anger is righteously indignant – this type of anger is usually a reaction to a perceived injustice or someone else’s shortcomings. What often underlies this is a core belief that you are either better than, or less than, others. Although judgmental anger assumes a morally superior stance of justified fury, it may alienate potential allies by invalidating their difference of opinion. Commit to exploring the light and shade in different situations, as circumstances are rarely as simple as they seem on the surface. It’s healthy to gently challenge your own deeply held assumptions by opening up to other people’s perspectives. You can disagree and still gain valuable insight into possible solutions and perspectives to life’s challenges, without belittling others’ experience or damaging your own reputation by being condescending.
Overwhelmed anger is an uncontrolled type of anger. It usually occurs when we feel that a situation or circumstances are beyond our control, resulting in feelings of hopelessness and frustration. This type of anger is common when we’ve taken on too much responsibility, or unexpected life events have overthrown our usual capacity to cope with stress. Anger here is an emotion trying to alert us that we don’t feel like there’s enough in the tank to handle the stressors stacking up in front of us, even if we’re not finding the right words to put to it yet. It’s critical to reach out for help if you’re experiencing overwhelmed anger. Work on expressing to others-family, friends, and professional colleagues- that you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some support. Try asking for what you need that could support you- whether it helps with babysitting, taking a family member to their medical appointments, getting a couple of hours off to go get professional support, a quiet night in without a to-do list or an extension on a work project. By alleviating potential sources of stress, you’ll regain a sense of emotional and behavioral control again.
Passive-aggressive anger is an avoidant type of anger expression. If this is your usual mode of anger expression, you likely try to evade all forms of confrontation and may deny or repress any feelings of frustration or fury you’re experiencing. Passive-aggressive anger may be expressed verbally, as sarcasm, pointed silence or veiled mockery, or physically in behavior such as chronic procrastination at work. Sometimes people who express anger passively aren’t even aware that their actions are perceived as aggressive – this can have dire personal and professional outcomes. Learn assertive communication techniques, and explore your fear of confrontation using ‘What if?’ scenarios. By developing your ability to articulate your frustrations and confidently face a range of fears, you’re more likely to get your needs met in both personal and professional relationships.
Retaliatory anger is usually an instinctual response to being confronted or attacked by someone else. It’s one of the most common types of anger and is motivated by revenge for a perceived wrong. Vengeful anger can also be deliberate and purposeful. It often aims to intimidate other people by asserting control over a situation or outcome, yet may only serve to escalate tensions. Whether your urge for retaliatory anger is impulsive or intentional, it’s important to pause and think before you act upon it. Will your angry retaliation improve the situation, or only worsen relations? Retaliation is a choice, and cyclical anger seldom dies off in a tit for tat scenario. By choosing to diffuse the immediate conflict you can avoid the unwanted long-term consequences of revenge.