Controlling Irrational Anger
By: Jon Jaehnig
Updated January 31, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn
Do you ever feel angry and don't know why? Or maybe you get angry over things that don't seem to matter that much afterward. Maybe you just feel angry at the world.
Everyone has bad days or times when one thing seems to spoil the whole day. However, if you regularly feel this way or if it significantly impacts your life because of dramatic events like angry outbursts, you may be dealing with irrational anger.
While normal anger is a natural emotion - and it can be healthy if you know how to deal with it correctly - irrational anger is different. It can be harmful to yourself and those around you, and it doesn't get you anywhere the way that is dealing with regular anger can.
So, where does irrational anger come from and what are some ways of controlling it?
Causes Of Irrational Anger
As mentioned above, sometimes we experience irrational anger because we are really angry about one thing and haven't taken the time to deal with it. Maybe you feel unheard and unappreciated at work, so you yell at another person in traffic that afternoon. Chances are, they aren't causing problems for you- you are merely misappropriating your emotions. Relationship problems can also cause these feelings.
Skipping breakfast, or just having a poor diet, can also affect your mood. Your brain is a part of your body, and it needs nutrients just like the rest of you. This is especially evident with people who have a high metabolism and often crash emotionally.
Other chemicals besides nutrients control your mood as well. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters and hormones, control physiological functions but also affect the way that you feel. Many mood disorders are at least partially caused by imbalances in these chemicals. Too much or too little of them can cause all kinds of problems, including mood swings and even mood disorders. Changes in the levels of these hormones happen naturally throughout life, but imbalances can be caused by things like poor diet, some illnesses, drug use, and other causes.
Of course, not all of your moods are caused by chemicals. Sometimes irrational anger comes from within ourselves and is directed outward. In this way, things that we feel can seem to be coming from other people.
Freud And Irrational Anger
Much of what we now know about irrational anger and other emotions, comes from Sigmund Freud. Freud was a psychologist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and was very interested in an idea that he called the "subconscious." The subconscious, according to Freud, is a part of our minds that we usually can't directly access, but it affects how we think and feel. In this way, while we can't easily understand the subconscious directly, we can understand it in how it manifests through our relationships with others. One such manifestation is irrational anger.
Transference takes place when we associate someone in a particular role with someone else. It may be a sort of shortcut that your brain makes to simplify forming new relationships. For example, if you have a poor relationship with your father you might have poor relationships with your boss or a male educator because you have transferred your feelings towards your father onto other male authority figures. If you strongly dislike - or like - someone and can't figure out why it could be that you are engaging in transference.
Projection is similar to transference only instead of attaching one person's attributes onto someone else you attach your attributes onto someone else. In the case of anger, you might see other people exhibiting behavior that upsets you, but in reality, they aren't exhibiting that behavior - you are. There's an old saying that sums it up pretty well: "If the first person that you meet today is a jerk, chances are they're a jerk. If everyone you meet in a day is a jerk, chances are you're a jerk."
Now that we've talked about some of the common causes of irrational anger, how do you prevent these feelings?
Preventing Irrational Anger From Biological Causes
As was mentioned above, some of the most common causes of irrational anger are dietary or biological. Some of these causes of irrational anger can be prevented by maintaining a balanced diet, exercise and sleep. If you want to improve or change your diet, consider talking to your healthcare provider for advice or resources.
Of course, some of the biological causes of irrational anger can't be fixed with a diet. These include some hormonal or neurochemical imbalances. These can't always be prevented by diet or by anything else. However, keeping a close relationship with your healthcare provider can help you to understand when these changes naturally occur and what to do about them.
To round off biological causes of irrational anger, some of the hormonal and neurochemical imbalances that can affect mood are caused by drug use. That primarily means street drugs, but heavy alcohol use can cause problems as well. If you have a drug problem, talk to your healthcare provider for help quitting.
Preventing Irrational Anger From Psychological Causes
Of course, not all sources of irrational anger are simply chemical. In many ways, psychological causes of irrational anger are harder to prevent because they can be harder to notice. If you have a poor diet, you probably know about it but if you are projecting your emotions onto others or transferring relationship issues onto people who aren't to blame you probably don't know it. That doesn't mean that it's impossible to prevent these issues.
One way to prevent these issues is to practice mindfulness - one of how you can get to know your subconscious through your "monkey mind." Your monkey mind is made up of the constant stream of thoughts going on between your ears that you might just tune out most of the time. Getting more in touch with this part of your mind can help you to know when you're irrationally angry so that you can try to calm yourself down or find out what you're angry about. If you feel angry, ask yourself if you know why. If you know why try to figure out the reason so that you can address it healthily and productively. If you don't know why, try to calm yourself down by taking a few deep breaths, doing something you enjoy, and taking some time off if you can.
If you are aware of your irrational anger but can't get out of a situation to address it, calmly and politely tell the other people around you that yes, you are having a bad day. You don't have to tell them what has you in a bad mood as it may be personal or you may not even know what has you upset. Tell them that the thing that is bothering you is not their fault and that you'll try not to be harsh with them. Chances are they will understand as everyone has off days from time to time.
Another way to prevent irrational anger from getting out of control is to listen to the people around you. Since some of the causes of irrational anger is in your subconscious, it's possible that other people will notice them before you do. Most of us have a way of shrugging off comments like "You really woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning," or "What did he ever do to you?" but if we listen to these comments they can give us insights into our behavior that we might not otherwise notice.
What To Do When Irrational Anger Gets The Better Of You
What happens if you don't notice your irrational anger in time and it starts to affect those around you? That depends on the extent to which it affects them.
For minor issues like being impatient or snapping at someone, try some of the tools above. Apologize to them. Tell them that it isn't their fault, that you're working through something and they just got caught up in it. Tell them that you'll try not to let it happen again.
What happens if it's not a minor issue, like if you say something really bad or even yell at someone? Say you're sorry. Don't explain what happened right away, as another person might be scared or might want to retaliate. Just apologize and remove yourself from the situation. Spend some time trying to establish what the true source of your anger was. Anger is like an iceberg and most of the time the target of outbursts isn't really the cause. There are many sources that are just below the surface that are the root cause. Understanding what they are can help you to target and minimize your real triggers.
Getting The Best Of Irrational Anger
If you experience irrational anger from time to time, don't let that scare you as long as you know how to handle it. However, if you experience emotional anger regularly or if it feels like you're always angry, you could have a deeper problem. If you think that you may be a danger to yourself or others, you really should reach out for emotional help. Your healthcare provider may be able to refer you to a therapist in your area.
You can also reach out to BetterHelp. In addition to posting educational blogs like this one, BetterHelp increases the affordability and availability of professional psychological help by putting users in touch with licensed professional therapists over the internet. For more information, visit https://betterhelp.com/online-therapy/ .