Decoding Unhealthy Anger: Causes and Remedies

© 2024 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC

We all experience anger in our everyday lives—a natural and normal human emotion. However, when anger becomes unhealthy, persistent, or explosive, our well-being, relationships, and overall quality of life suffer. Understanding the causes of unhealthy angry behavior is the first step toward better managing this powerful emotion.

Let's begin with common causes of unhealthy anger:

  • The influence of past traumas on perception
  • The role of emotional dysregulation
  • The impact of rigid beliefs
  • Low levels of flexibility and tolerance
Understanding the causes of anger can help control it
Understanding the causes of anger can help control it

Past Traumas Create a Lens Through Which We Perceive - Creating Perception Filters

Child experiencing trauma through parents' anger expressions
Child experiencing trauma through parents' anger expressions

Past traumas often trigger unhealthy angry outbursts and 'acting out' behavior. They also frequently serve as a perception filter—a lens through which individuals interpret their current life situations. Traumatic past experiences can distort perception, causing us to view situations - not as they are but as they were - in their traumatic past.

Looking through this perception filter of past trauma is a way to understand those who experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Five Examples of Past Traumas That May Impact Our Lives

  1. Experiencing physical or emotional abuse in childhood
  2. Witnessing violence, threats, or intense verbal conflict in the family home
  3. Being a victim of bullying during school years
  4. Enduring a traumatic event such as a severe accident or natural disaster
  5. Suffering through a traumatic loss such as the death of a loved one, the exiting of a parent or sibling, or a significant disruption like a poorly handled divorce

As a result of traumas like these, individuals often misunderstand or misinterpret situations and the actions and intentions of others. Misunderstanding may trigger anger that is disproportionate to the circumstances or persons involved. This reaction affects the individual's emotional well-being and can worsen interpersonal interactions. An escalation in anger can make communication difficult, strain relationships, and potentially lead to conflict or even alienation.

Emotional Dysregulation's Role in Unhealthy Anger

Emotional dysregulation is a significant contributor to unhealthy anger. Many people are ill-equipped, lacking ample emotional regulation skills and techniques, which are crucial for managing anger healthily and effectively.

Dysregulated emotions lead to unhealthy expressions of anger because people are unable to manage and control their emotional responses in many situations.

What are Emotional Regulation Tools?

Emotional regulation tools are skills that one can learn. Like all skills, they need practice to become available when needed.

The four following tools—grounding, deep breathing, awareness, and pausing—are effective. These tools can help individuals manage their emotions and prevent frustration from escalating into unhealthy anger.

Man practicing deep breathing and self-awareness practices for emotional regulation
Man practicing deep breathing and self-awareness practices for emotional regulation

Four Powerful Emotional Regulation Tools:

  1. Grounding Exercises: Grounding exercises help individuals stay present and focused rather than overwhelmed by emotions. They typically focus on the physical sensations in the body or the environment around them, which can help divert attention away from distressing feelings.
  2. Deep Breathing Techniques: Deep breathing techniques provide a calming effect, which aids in reducing the intensity of anger. By focusing on the breath and deliberately slowing it down, individuals can help their bodies to relax and their minds to calm.
  3. Self-awareness Practices: Self-awareness practices involve recognizing and understanding one's emotional triggers. By becoming aware of what situations or actions trigger intense emotional responses, individuals can better prepare for or address these situations calmly and in a more controlled way.
  4. Pausing and Assessing: This involves taking a moment to assess one's feelings and reactions before responding. This pause can provide valuable time to calm down, consider the situation more objectively, and choose a more measured response.

By regularly utilizing these tools and integrating them into daily routines, individuals can gain better control over their emotions, thus preventing the escalation of anger to destructive levels. Using them allows you to expect improved interpersonal relationships and promote overall emotional well-being.

The Impact of Rigid Beliefs, Inflexibility and Intolerance

Experiencing the impact of inflexibility on relationships
Experiencing the impact of inflexibility on relationships

Rigid beliefs and low levels of flexibility and tolerance can also contribute to unhealthy expressions of anger. These rigid beliefs, which can be incredibly detrimental, often involve over-identification with one's sense of identity or self. This over-identification can make a person particularly vulnerable to feelings of defensiveness and anger.

Individuals often elicit defensiveness and anger in response to what they perceive as disrespect or a threat to their sense of self. Therefore, whether these perceptions are accurate or not, they can lead to intense reactions and unhealthy expressions of anger.

Genetic Behavior Predispositions

Although there is currently no explicitly identified gene directly linked to the emotion of anger, specific individuals may be genetically predisposed to have a shorter fuse or to be more on edge than others. Any inherent predisposition does not act alone, however.

Environmental factors, such as stressors in one's daily life, are more significant. A person's upbringing, experiences, and ways of processing strong emotions can play a more substantial role than genetics.

This combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors can contribute to a higher likelihood of unhealthy anger expressions, which may manifest in various forms, such as verbal outbursts, physical aggression, or internalized resentment.

Some people are more prone to anger genetically
Some people are more prone to anger genetically

The Role of Alcohol Dependency and Addiction on Angry Behavior

Alcohol and substance use can influence anger
Alcohol and substance use can influence anger

Alcohol dependency and addiction are serious health issues that can have a profound impact on an individual's ability to regulate emotions, most notably anger. These issues can significantly contribute to unhealthy and potentially harmful angry expressions. Alcohol diminishes certain brain functions, which process objective interpretation, appropriate interactions, and risk.

As a result, our perception becomes skewed, leading to a more limited and narrow viewpoint. This restricted perspective can, in turn, lead to a higher likelihood of anger. It intensifies reactions to situations that might ordinarily be perceived as non-threatening or insignificant, exacerbating the frequency and intensity of angry episodes.

Anger Arises from Habitually Believing "I Know Best"

One critical but often overlooked factor that can lead to frustration and anger is the unexamined belief that one's perspective or viewpoint is superior to others. When left unchallenged, this belief can result in intense annoyance or even rage when others do not share or agree with that viewpoint.

It is vital to recognize and critically examine this belief, as doing so can significantly reduce unhealthy anger expressions. By acknowledging that there are multiple and valid perspectives and that others have different but equally valid viewpoints, one can build tolerance and understanding, thus mitigating potential sources of anger and frustration.

Conclusion: Navigating Anger for a Healthier and Happier Life

Consistent, unhealthy expressions of anger lead to detrimental personal and interpersonal damage. Past traumas, emotional dysregulation, rigid beliefs, genetic predispositions, alcohol dependency and addiction, and the belief in a superior perspective are all factors that can contribute to unhealthy expressions of anger.

Recognizing these factors and developing coping strategies, such as emotional regulation tools, can significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of unhealthy anger events. Understanding and managing our anger improves our emotional well-being, enhances our relationships, and helps us navigate life with a healthier and more balanced emotional state.

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