A bad temper can cause social and interpersonal relationship difficulties—such as difficulty managing negative feelings and moods. As there isn't a consistent or limited definition of what a bad temper looks like, the term can mean different things to different people. A bad temper can mean anything from severe anger disorders, (like intermittent explosive disorder) to minor concerns—like moodiness or occasional irritability.
If a bad temper becomes severe, it can also hinder your mental and physical health and the well-being of the people around you. There are many causes of a bad temper, and the sources of moodiness, anger or rage can vary considerably from person to person.
Understanding the range of appearances that a temper can assume, as well as the different treatment options, can lead to a more empathetic and understanding society that practices self-acceptance and compassion. Below, we’ve summarized what you should know about temper and emotional management, as well as treatment options that can help you or those you love to reach a higher quality of life.
Anger Vs. Aggression: What Is The Difference?
Many may consider the term "bad temper" as one that is poorly defined—but for many, the term “bad temper” is generally associated with a low mood that can carry ongoing feelings of frustration. With this in mind, it can be important to distinguish between anger and aggression. Anger and aggression, while similar, are not generally the same experience.
Anger can be defined as an emotional state that can vary from mild irritation to intense fury and rage. Anger can produce physiological changes in the body. For example: Heart rate and blood pressure might increase, and so can fight-or-flight-related hormones—like adrenaline and noradrenaline. Anger can be a natural process; as humans are generally thought to have evolved angry emotions to respond aggressively to threats in nature. In modern society, though, those protective instincts can quickly become harmful if left unaddressed.
Feelings of anger may be followed by acts of aggression. While aggression may be motivated by angry feelings, it is generally a bit different—defined by many as an “outburst” or ongoing intentional behaviors that can occur whether anger is present or not. For example: A person who is being aggressive might be actively attempting to harm another person or thing. Although feelings of anger can precede aggression, experts estimate that only about 10 percent of instances of anger will lead to violence. Anger is an emotion, while aggression is an action.
What Does A Bad Temper Look Like?
Understanding what a bad temper “looks like” can help us be more self-aware about our own emotions, and the possible impact they can have on others. We do want to note: Bad tempers generally exist along a spectrum of severity. At one end sits symptoms of moodiness and irritability, which can be representative of the less-severe evidence of a bad temper. On the other end of the spectrum, there may be severe signs of an anger-related disorder— such as aggressive rage and violence.
The term "irritable mood" can also be misunderstood. Irritability is not generally thought to be the same as a “bad temper,” so much as it is generally associated with a state of consistent agitation, annoyance or impatience in many. Irritability is also generally associated with a lowered threshold for provocation when exposed to unpleasant stimuli.
Irritability is generally considered to be at the low end of the bad temper spectrum. While irritability can be a precursor for aggression, there isn’t necessarily a guarantee that an irritable person will become aggressive.
The level of concern can increase, however, when you consider the opposite end of the bad temper spectrum.
Possible Consequences Of A Bad Temper
Persistent anger or irritability can cause strain on a person's health, family and social relationships. Managing friendships and interactions with coworkers can be more difficult for individuals who experience excessive irritability and anger. Over time, friends and family members may become more likely to distance themselves, which may reduce the opportunity for positive interactions.
Ongoing outbursts that can be associated with a bad temper may interfere with healthy communication and conflict resolution. Social disruption from an anger outburst can significantly increase stress levels, and isolation caused by anger and irritability can exacerbate mental health concerns. However, online therapy and supportive strategies can limit the impact of outbursts and can help the person living with a bad temper to reach a higher quality of life.
We do want to note: The degree of impact caused by a bad temper generally depends on its severity. Many people might experience anger and irritability from time to time. However, a person may be experiencing a concerning level of anger or irritability if they:
- Have friends and family distance themselves during moments of anger or an outburst
- Often interact poorly with coworkers
- Feel angry most (or all) of the time
- Frequently nurse grudges or think about revenge
- Have been violent or have thought about becoming violent when you feel angry
While the consequences of a bad temper can be severe, anger and irritability can often be controlled before the consequences become severe.
Managing A Bad Temper: Supportive Strategies
A bad temper alone is not generally a clinical diagnosis. However, it can be caused or exacerbated by a myriad of mental health concerns. Mental health diagnoses that affect mood, like depressive disorders, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders, all can have the potential to increase irritability. Personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder, can also be a foundational factor of a bad temper.
Because of the close link between general mental health and a bad temper, it can be important to consider underlying causes when deciding how to proceed. A person who is constantly negative or unable to control their bad temper may need the help of a professional to address factors that may be motivating the anger and irritability. Managing a bad temper can require seeking assistance from a therapist or psychologist if the impact becomes severe.
Additionally, a bad temper can be made worse by environmental factors, such as a sudden stress increase at work or in the home. In times of duress, controlling negative emotions and impulsive reactions can be more difficult. Often, the first step when de-escalating a bad temper is to find a quiet place to be alone and reduce the anger over time. Maintaining a state of calm and preventing angry outbursts can also be helpful when it comes to managing a bad temper.
We’ve compiled a list of supportive strategies below, all of which can be used to help lower anger and irritability.
Simple relaxation strategies can be some of the most effective and recommended techniques for managing a sudden rise in anger or irritability. You might consider using focused breathing as a first step during this process. You can attempt to take controlled, slow deep breaths. While breathing slowly, you can then try to imagine a relaxing or pleasant experience in your mind.
Focusing on relaxing imagery in this way can offer a positive distraction from the issue that might have led to increased anger. Deep, slow breathing can enhance the positive effects, possibly signaling to the brain that your surroundings are safe—which can then initiate a release of neurochemicals that can promote calm feelings rather than irritability.
Cognitive restructuring can replace unhelpful, negative thoughts with more helpful ones that might be less likely to exacerbate a bad temper. For example: Instead of thinking "everyone is awful to me," a person can instead choose to think: "One person hasn't been nice to me today, but it's not the end of the world." The person can prevent runaway negative emotions by adding perspective to their thought process.
Here are some tips for cognitive restructuring:
- Consider avoiding words that are definite, like "never" and "always." You can instead leave room for new perspectives.
- Attempt to apply logic whenever possible. A bad temper can make a person think less rationally than they otherwise would, which is why introducing logic can help keep anger at bay.
- Consider changing demands into requests. Anger can make a person appear to be demanding and impolite. Phrasing desires as requests rather than demands can get a person what they need in a more efficient way, possibly without exacerbating an underlying bad temper.
Let Go Of Grudges
Bad tempers can be made worse by holding on to negative feelings or past conflicts. A person who is experiencing a bad temper may be prompted to rehash issues that make them upset, possibly in an attempt to seek understanding or validation. However, each time a person relives an angering event, their brain may feel that anger again. Holding onto grudges like this and reliving those negative moments can lead to a feedback loop where remembering the reason for the grudge can empower anger to survive much longer than is necessary.
How Can Online Therapy Help Those Who Live With A Bad Temper?
If you're worried that a bad temper is negatively affecting you or those around you, online therapy can help. A licensed therapist can help you make sense of your temper and find the underlying causes, all without needing to leave your home. Therapists can use empirically supported techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy virtually, possibly empowering you to change your thoughts and feelings about situations that exacerbate your temper.
Online therapy has been suggested to be just as effective as in-person therapeutic methods. In a study referenced by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, application of online therapy for those living with PTSD-related anger was shown to significantly reduce the symptomatic expression, bringing many participants to a baseline that in-person therapeutic methods would.
Frequently Asked Questions
For examples of questions that might be beneficial to explore in therapy, please see below.
What causes a person to have a bad temper?
Can someone with a bad temper change?
Why do I get angry so easily?
Do anger issues get worse with age?
How do I stop being angry over small things?
What happens if you stay angry too much?
Do anger issues ever go away?
How do I let go of unwanted anger?
How do you live with someone who has anger issues?
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