What is anger?
Anger is a natural response to feeling attacked, deceived, frustrated or treated unfairly. Everyone gets angry sometimes – it’s part of being human. It isn’t always a ‘bad’ emotion; in fact it can sometimes be useful. For example, feeling angry about something can:
- help us identify problems or things that are hurting us
- motivate us to create change
- help us defend ourselves in dangerous situations by giving us a burst of energy
When is anger a problem?
Anger only becomes a problem when it harms you or people around you. This can happen when:
- you regularly express your anger through unhelpful or destructive behaviour
- your anger is having a negative impact on your overall mental and physical health
If the way you behave when you feel angry is causing you problems in your life or relationships, it’s worth thinking about ways you can choose to manage anger, and learning about your options for treatment and support.
It feels like there’s a ball of fire in the middle of my chest that blurts its way straight out of my mouth and burns the people around me.
How you behave when you’re angry depends on how well you’re able to identify and cope with your feelings, and how you’ve learned to express them (see our page on causes of anger for more information). Not everyone expresses anger in the same way. For example, some unhelpful ways you may have learned to express anger include:
- Outward aggression and violence – such as shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hitting or throwing things and being physically violent or verbally abusive and threatening towards others.
- Inward aggression – such as telling yourself that you hate yourself, denying yourself your basic needs (like food, or things that might make you happy), cutting yourself off from the world and self-harming.
- Non-violent or passive aggression – such as ignoring people or refusing to speak to them, refusing to do tasks, or deliberately doing things poorly, late or at the last possible minute, and being sarcastic or sulky while not saying anything explicitly aggressive or angry.
If you find you express your anger through outward aggression and violence, this can be extremely frightening and damaging for people around you – especially children. And it can have serious consequences: it could lose you your job or get you into trouble with the law. In this case it’s very important to seek treatment and support.
But even if you’re never outwardly violent or aggressive towards others, and never even raise your voice, you might still recognise some of these angry behaviours and feel that they’re a problem for you.
Anger isn’t a mental health problem – it’s a normal part of life. However:
- Anger can contribute to mental health problems, and make existing problems worse. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of anger it can be very stressful and might negatively effect your self-esteem. This can lead to you experiencing problems such as depression, anxiety, eating problems or self-harm. It can also contribute to sleep problems, and problems with alcohol and substance misuse.
- Anger can also be a symptom of some mental health problems. For example, if you experience borderline personality disorder (BPD), other personality disorders, psychosis or paranoia (especially if this leads you to feel very threatened), you might often feel very angry, and find it very hard to cope with angry feelings.
[My anger] is always followed by a period of depression, self-loathing and disconnection from others around me. I hate myself and many times think about suicide.
Experiencing strong anger regularly or for prolonged periods can also affect your physical health, contributing to illnesses such as:
- colds and flu
- gastro-intestinal (digestive) problems
- high blood pressure
Unwanted violent thoughts
If you regularly find yourself having intrusive or upsetting violent thoughts that you don’t want and can’t control (such as thinking or worrying you might hurt, kill or sexually abuse others), this could actually be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – not anger.
It can be very frightening and worrying to experience thoughts like this, but it’s important to remember: just because you have these thoughts, it does not mean you will act on them. See our pages on OCD for more information.