Identifying Anger Disorders And Overcoming Them
Updated February 04, 2020
Reviewer Prudence Hatchett, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
Everyone experiences anger from time to time. In some situations, it is a natural response. However, what about those times when anger feels extreme or uncontrollable? Have you ever felt angry but been unable to pinpoint the source of your anger? Is it difficult for you to direct your thoughts from anger to more relaxing ones? If so, you may be experiencing symptoms of a type of anger disorder.
In an anger study conducted at Harvard, 10% of people under the age of 25 reported having explosive anger episodes at least three times in their lifetime. Anger disorders are common among American people. However, with appropriate intervention, approximately 75 percent of those affected improve.
Anger is a natural, instinctive response to threats. However, when it becomes difficult to control, causing you to say or do things that are hurtful or harmful to yourself or others, this is a sign of a possible anger disorder. There are several things that may trigger an anger response. A few examples include:
- Family problems
- Poor communication skills
- Financial strain
Additionally, some underlying conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, or alcoholism, may contribute to anger issues. While anger itself is not considered a disorder, when an individual becomes unable to control the symptoms of anger or if those symptoms result in dangerous behavior, it may be considered an anger disorder. Many things can trigger anger. For example, some contributing factors include stress, family problems, and financial issues. Other underlying disorders, such as depression or substance abuse, may contribute to feelings of anger, as well. The following are some of the possible causes of anger issues.
Anger can be a symptom of depression. Depression is characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness and loss of interest lasting at least two weeks. Individuals who are depressed may experience anger that is suppressed. People who are depressed may also show symptoms of anger that are manifested as:
- Thoughts of harming others or oneself
- Suicidal ideations
Many people drink on rare occasions or socially; however, excessive use of alcohol, which interferes with a person's personal or professional life, is considered alcoholism. Alcohol is often associated with increased aggression, anger, and violence. In fact, the Association for Psychological Science published a research article that reported alcohol as a contributing factor in about half of all violent crimes committed in the United States.
Anger is one of the stages of grief. Grief may occur when any life-altering experience happens in a person's life. It can be the result of the death of a loved one; the loss of a relationship, job, or home; or declining health. The anger may be directed at the person who died, anyone else involved in the event, or inanimate objects. Other symptoms of grief include:
There are different types of anger disorders. Identifying what type of anger you are experiencing and learning ways to address the issues can lead to improved physical and mental health. Below we'll discuss the most common types of anger disorders.
Oppositional Defiance Disorder
Oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) is a behavioral disorder that affects 1 to 16 percent of school-age children. Common symptoms of ODD include anger, hot temper, and irritability. Children with ODD are often easily annoyed by others, and they also tend to be argumentative.
Anger is a normal human emotion. However, misplaced or uncontrolled anger can quickly become problematic. In fact, while short-term anger can be effective, long-term or uncontrolled anger can cause significant problems, both personally and professionally. Uncontrolled anger may manifest differently from one person to another. Some may quietly think about and focus on what makes them angry, while others may become easily angered and exhibit aggressive or violent behavior.
Intermittent explosive disorder
A person with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) (also known as "volatile" anger) experiences repeated episodes of aggressive, impulsive, or violent behavior. Their angry response may seem out of proportion to the situation. For example, if an individual with IED spills a glass of milk, he may pick the glass up and throw it, rather than simply clean up the spill. IED episodes usually last less than 30 minutes, and they may occur suddenly or without any warning. People with the disorder may feel irritable and angry most of the time. Some common behaviors associated with Intermittent Explosive Disorder include:
- Temper tantrums
- Physical violence
- Throwing things
- Racing thoughts
- Bursts of energy
Hardened (or Petrified) Anger
It can be very frustrating when we feel someone has committed a wrong against us or owes us an apology but the person doesn't admit it. For some, it is difficult to move forward. Holding on to unresolved feelings can lead to feelings of hatred or bitterness. This may result in being "stuck" or hardened in the anger.
Individuals who find it difficult to overcome anger or fit the "habitual" anger profile may be experiencing chronic anger. Chronic anger may lead to health concerns, such as cardiovascular disease or hypertension.
It's not uncommon to feel angry when someone has wronged you, but vengeful anger occurs when the ability to let go of, or address, the situation becomes overwhelmed by an obsession to have revenge on the person who has committed the wrong (perceived or real). Vengeful anger can cause both physical and emotional symptoms, including obsessive thoughts, high stress levels, and increased risk for cardiac problems.
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Does Bipolar Disorder Cause Anger?
While anger is not a typical symptom of bipolar disorder, people with the disorder may become angry as a response to the shifts in mood that they experience. Mixed mood episodes are characteristic of bipolar disorder, and irritability is a common symptom related to high or mixed mood episodes. If a person with bipolar disorder does not know how, or refuses, to cope with irritability, it could lead to outbursts of anger.
How Anger is Manifested
Anger is manifested in different ways. An individual's beliefs regarding anger and how they should conduct themselves may affect the way anger is expressed. Usually, anger is expressed in one of three ways: inward, outward, or passive.
- Inward Anger is anger that an individual directs to himself/herself. It involves negative self-talk and often blaming oneself for events (real or perceived). In an effort to gain control, some individuals may deprive themselves of things that would otherwise make them happy, as a form of "punishment" for perceived bad behavior. Other examples of inward anger manifestation include isolation and self-harm.
- Outward Anger involves behavior that may seem like an obvious sign of anger. These behaviors often include shouting, cursing, breaking things, or becoming physically or verbally abusive to others.
- Passive Anger is exhibited by an individual using indirect or subtle ways to express dissatisfaction. A person who is showing passive anger may be sarcastic, make rude remarks, sulk, or give someone the silent treatment.
The Body's Response to Anger
Internal and external factors can influence the body's response to different stimuli. Anger can cause both physical and emotional responses in individuals.
- Physical Symptoms. The brain, heart, and muscular system of the body are all affected by anger. A person who is angry may feel tingling sensations or muscle tension. Also, there is a chance of increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
- Emotional Symptoms. Anger is one emotion that can cause other emotional symptoms. Before, during, or after an episode of anger, an individual may experience frustration, irritability, stress, or guilt.
Long-Term Effects of Anger
In the heat of the moment, it is often difficult to consider that there could be long-term effects of anger. However, there are risks. If anger is uncontrolled, increased heart rate and blood pressure could lead to heart disease or stroke. Additionally, the impact on personal and social relationships can be detrimental.
Anger issues can be managed. In fact, there are several options for learning to identify and manage the symptoms of anger disorder. Recognizing the symptoms and knowing when to seek help are important.
Identifying Symptoms of Anger Disorder
You might need some help learning to control your anger if you recognize any of these signs:
- Your friends or family members have said they think you have an anger problem or have distanced themselves from you as a result of your behavior.
- You have discord with coworkers.
- There are business establishments where you're no longer welcome.
- You feel angry a lot of the time.
- You're nursing a grudge or thinking about getting revenge constantly.
- You have been or think about being aggressive or violent when angry.
Managing Symptoms of Anger
Keeping anger symptoms in check can feel challenging. If you begin to feel anger, there are some anger management tips that may be helpful.
- Take a time-out: Take a few short breaks during the day. A few moments of quiet time may help you prepare for what's ahead, without getting irritated or angry.
- Think before you speak: In the heat of the moment, it's easy to say something you may regret later. Simply taking a few moments to collect your thoughts may diffuse the tension. In fact, it will also give the other person a chance to do the same.
- Practice relaxation skills: Relaxation skills, such as deep-breathing exercises, repeating a calming phrase- such as "I'm okay" or "Take it easy-", or remembering a happy moment may be helpful. Taking the time to journal or listen to your favorite music may also help you to relax and sort through your feelings.
- Once you are calm, express your anger: It's okay to express your frustration. You can be assertive without being confrontational.
- Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce the stress that often causes anger. If you begin feeling stress or anger that is escalating, try taking a brisk walk or run. Exercise releases endorphins, which create a feeling of euphoria.
What If the Above Tips Don't Work?
While learning anger management measures may be helpful, there may be times when additional intervention is necessary. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to handle outbursts of anger alone or if you are experiencing anger more frequently, talking with a professional could be helpful.
There are several options for the treatment of anger disorders. Research your options and remember, honesty with yourself is the first step to anger management. Some treatment options include:
- Group therapy. This is a great way to talk about feelings of anger and to learn ways of communication that do not involve aggression. This type of therapy usually involves a counselor and a small group of people who are experiencing the same type of issues. In most cases, the counselor will bring up a topic for discussion and give everyone in the group an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Group therapy provides a way of addressing anger and learning how to react to others in an environment that is safe.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). It is focused on helping individuals to become aware of thoughts and feelings and learning to respond to them in an appropriate way. CBT is done in structured settings with a mental health counselor.
Any time there is a need for change, being committed to that change is crucial for success. Anger disorders are no different. If you have issues controlling anger, it's time to make a commitment for change. Seeking professional help could be the key to improving your mood and learning effective coping mechanisms. If you prefer to start with a small group, such as in group therapy, be sure you talk to your doctor and ask for his/her recommendation on the best place to go. You want to make sure that meetings are moderated by someone who knows how to handle and diffuse tense situations.
For some, seeking individual counseling may feel like a better fit. If you feel that you need to talk to someone privately, seeking in-person counseling is an option. Additionally, for those who want to talk to someone but feel that time and/or money may limit options, there is help.
Online counseling services, such as those offered by BetterHelp, match clients with mental health professionals who are trained to handle diverse issues, including anger management. No need to worry about sitting in traffic or taking time out of your day to drive to an appointment - you can access BetterHelp from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Steve is amazing and does a good job at making this seem like less of a counseling session and more of a conversation between friends. He helped me talk through my anger issues and road rage and gave me lots of problem solving tools. I highly recommend him!"
"Regina helped me pinpoint where my anger issue stemmed from in the very first session, and has been helping me become more self aware of my warning triggers. Very insightful and helpful!"
Anger can feel like a debilitating emotion. While it is a normal reaction, there are times when it can feel overwhelming. If you are experiencing anger issues, you are not alone. A truly fulfilling life in which anger doesn't hold you back is possible - with the right tools. Take the first step today.