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Anger is a typical human emotion/response that occurs when a threat is present, activating the fight or flight response to prepare the body for action. Anger happens when a person experiences unpleasant or frustrating situation, feels hurts, embarrassed or disappointed or memories of past upsetting moments are activated. Anger can be a sign that something is happening that we don't agree with or appreciate and wish to eliminate the source of the discomfort. Unfortunately, if anger is not managed properly it can have numerous disruptive effects.

While anger should be dealt with, there is no reason that the one should act out in a harmful manner. Maladaptive ways of expressing anger such as through violence, hurtful verbal remarks, pouting, passive aggressive behavior, repression or suppression fail to resolve the conflict and often perpetuate more future anger. A common misperception about anger is the belief that it is always better to let out anger, which is normal and outside of one's control. Without coping strategies for anger, we may act impulsively, fail to use good judgment or jump to harmful conclusions..

Anger results in an increased emphasis on self centered wants, often at the expense of others. Anger can also create misperceptions that you are acting in a justified manner and decreases your awareness of alternatives, inhibiting your ability to solve the problem. When angry, we also often have difficulty attending to other emotions, restricting the ability to resolve painful emotions. Anger can even lead to aggression, which can be very harmful to others or ourselves when we act on this feeling.

Our health can also be compromised by anger, which has been shown to increase blood pressure and heart rate, contribute to heart problems, increase the level of energy hormones, headaches, skin problems, and digestive problems.

How can I tell if anger is a problem?

  • Do you get angry frequently?
  • Do you feel out of control at times?
  • Is your anger proportional to the situation?
  • Have you done or said something that you later regret because you were angry?
  • Have you become violent when you are angry?
  • Does anger interfere with your relationships, job or school?

The do's and don'ts of dealing with anger

(From Harritet Goldhor Lerner, The Dance of Anger (1985), Harper & Row Publishers, New York, pp 199-202. )

  • Don't act when most angry.
  • Don't use "below the belt" tactics.  Be clear about how your feel but don't put others down.
  • Don't make vague requests.  Let others know specifically what you are feeling, want or need.  Nobody can read your mind.
  • Don't get stuck in intellectual arguments that are dead ends.  Don't try to convince others that you are right, instead acknowledge that you see things differently.
  • Don't tell another person what she or he "should think or feel.
  • Don't expect change to come from quick explosive confrontations
  • Do take some time to think about the problem and decide on your position
  • Do remember that each person is responsible for her/his own behavior.
  • Do try to appreciate the fact that other people are different.  Different perspectives do not necessarily mean one person if right, it just means it is different.
  • Do remember that each person is responsible for her/his own behavior.
  • Do speak in "I" language.  Say "I am angry..", or "I feel..."  Own your feelings.

Anger can also give us the energy to deal with the circumstances. To learn about various ways of making anger work for you check out the following web sites or books.  Learning about time-outs, relaxation techniques and other constructive ways of releasing anger can improve all aspects of your life from relationships to your health.

Links to additional information

  • Tips for Diffusing Anger (Tran & Taylor)
  • Tips for Resolving Conflict (Tran & Taylor, 2000)
  • Coping with Anger
  • Overcome Anger and Aggression

Recommended Reading

Potter-Effron, R. & Potter-Effron, P. (1995). Letting go of anger. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.                

This site was developed by David Salisbury