THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE ANGRY.
Anger gets a bad rap. It is often associated with aggression, violence or destructive behaviour and perceived as a negative emotion that needs to be swallowed or avoided altogether. This is likely because anger (the emotion) and aggression (the behaviour) are often confused.
Yet it is a normal (yes, even healthy) part of the human experience to feel angry sometimes.
Research tells us that anger can actually be constructive. It alerts us when our boundaries are being crossed, our needs are being ignored or control over our own life is being occupied by others. It can motivate us to act on these very valid concerns and make necessary changes in our lives. It can protect us from (real or perceived) danger and help us to mitigate emotions (such as despair) that are too overwhelming to process (in the short term).
Anger only becomes a problem when it is extreme, prolonged, avoided or expressed in an unhealthy way. (Anger is a good place to visit, but not a great place to live.)
Anger management issues relate to how anger is processed, stored and repressed or expressed aggressively, but not the fact that it is felt, per se.
Unfortunately, not everyone has learned how to accept, sit with, express and move on from their anger in a healthy way. Some people have learned to express it aggressively; while other people have learned to passively ‘swallow’ it; instead of assertively communicating their feelings and needs.
For some people (but by no means all), both approaches can lead to problems at work, damaged relationships, poor mental health, substance abuse and potentially family violence or abuse.
Anger can be caused by both internal and external factors including situations (e.g. a traffic jam), events (e.g. an argument), other people (e.g. co-workers) or triggers (e.g. from unhealed trauma) and our perceptions of these things. It can also cause changes to a person’s behaviour (e.g. raised voice) and within their body (e.g. production of endorphins such as adrenaline).
Endorphins can produce a ‘high’ in the brain, which soothes strong feelings of anger and makes us feel better. In some instances, this high can become regularly repeated as a ‘go to’ for addressing anger. When the high ‘wears off’, in the absence of other ways to regulate anger, the person may seek other substances such as drugs and/or alcohol to ‘soothe’ their anger. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol usually have the opposite effect on the brain and anger can actually be intensified. This can create a greater need for the person to ‘soothe’ and thus increase the frequency/intensity of their substance abuse. This vicious cycle of dependence can create changes in the brain, which can ultimately lead to mental health issues, one of which is depression.
Depression is widely considered to be ‘anger turned inwards’. That is, anger that has not been managed or expressed in a healthy way and has instead been internalised, but not realised or healed.
It is important to note that many people who are angry and/or depressed do not act aggressively. However, when a person does (particularly towards their loved ones), they often experience accompanying feelings of regret, guilt and shame. They may not fully understand the underlying cause/s of their behaviour. This internal struggle can increase negative self-talk, decrease self-esteem, exacerbate anger and intensify depression. This can trigger even more aggressive behaviour, in the absence of effective support and strategies, as the person seeks a temporary ‘release’ from their feelings, in yet another vicious cycle.
Anger management issues and cycles are complex. When the underlying cause/s are not dealt with effectively, there can be serious consequences for the person and those around them.
If you’re struggling, it is important to seek help – both for your own wellbeing and for the sake of your loved ones.
You needn’t feel ashamed and you’re not alone. Recognising there is a problem and seeking help is a brave and admirable first step. You CAN develop the skills and tools to live a better life and be the best version of yourself, with some help.
In an emergency, call 000. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or 1800 RESPECT any time for free.
Artius Health’s team of qualified, caring and experienced Psychologists offer ongoing support for individuals and their families to implement effective, solution-based anger management strategies with compassion, empathy and non-judgement.
Pension Card and Health Care Card holders are bulk-billed and some NDIS plans may cover the cost of treatment.
We accept NDIS, DVA, WorkCover, Private Insurance & PHN referrals; although you do not have to have a referral to access this service.