Understanding and Controlling Anger

Service member talking to another service member.

Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion. We all experience it at times, whether it's triggered by something minor like getting cut off in traffic or a serious traumatic event. The most important thing to understand about anger is that there's a difference between feeling anger and expressing anger. You can't always control when you're going to feel angry, but you can control how you handle it.

Common ways of expressing anger

The healthiest way to express anger is by being assertive, not aggressive. Let people know how you feel or what you need without coming off as hostile. People who have a problem with anger usually don't know how to express it in appropriate and constructive ways. Here are some common but unhealthy ways of expressing anger that you should try to avoid:

  • You hold it in. If you're always biting your tongue and walking away while secretly boiling with rage inside, that could trigger physical problems like depression and high blood pressure. Keeping your anger bottled up doesn't solve whatever made you mad.
  • You let it all out. Expressing yourself is good, but full-fledged tirades are not. Angry outbursts can be upsetting for whoever is the focus of your rage, and can make a bad impression. And, unleashing a fit of rage can make you feel angrier instead of calmer.
  • You're defensive. Expressing your anger indirectly — like doing or saying something to get back at someone while denying you're mad — may seem more civilized, but it's really not. This kind of passive-aggressive behavior doesn't mask your anger and can make you come across as bitter or sarcastic.

When anger is a problem

We all get angry sometimes, so that might make it tough to figure out if your anger is "normal." Anger is out of control when it simmers nearly all the time and frequently boils over in explosive rage, creating the possibility for serious risk to yourself or others. It is important to know the warning signs to help you decide if anger is becoming a problem for you:

  • You often feel angry. If you're under high levels of stress, you might feel angry a lot. This could hurt your health and your relationships, and could make you more likely to express your anger in a destructive way.
  • You're much angrier than the situation warrants. If someone pushing ahead of you at the deli counter or your partner leaving a dish in the sink puts you into a rage, you might have an anger problem. Intense anger can affect you in more ways than you realize, both physically and emotionally.
  • Your anger lasts longer than it should. If you hold your anger in, without an outlet for your thoughts or feelings, it might be harder to resolve a problem or let go of your anger. Internalizing your anger could make it hard to enjoy the good things in your life.
  • Your anger is hurting your relationships at home or work. There's no clearer sign that you might have an anger problem than family members or friends often telling you "Calm down" or "You're overreacting." Pay attention to how your anger is affecting others, and whether your outbursts are causing your family or co-workers to feel upset or withdraw.

Finding healthy ways to express anger

If you have a problem with anger, you can learn how to express it in constructive ways and get it under control. When you do, you’ll find that you’re better at solving problems, and your interactions with those around you are more positive and satisfying. Here are some healthy approaches to managing anger:

  • Learn and practice anger management techniques. Anger management techniques are like any other skill — the more you practice, the better you will get. You can learn these skills through the Veterans Affairs Anger and Irritability Management Skills Course. You can also reach out to your installation Family Advocacy Program or Military and Family Support Center for local resources for learning techniques.
  • Take an anger management class. Anger management classes help you learn more about anger, recognize the signs you're getting angry, and learn ways to calm yourself and handle your anger constructively. Your Family Advocacy Program or Military and Family Support Center can help you find classes near you.
  • Work with a counselor. If you're worried your anger is out of control, consider getting professional help. A counselor can help you learn how to express yourself in healthier ways and dig into the root of the problem.

Remember, eliminating anger from your life is not a realistic goal. Managing it is. Learning better ways of expressing your feelings will help you get closer to your family and friends, earn respect from others and solve problems instead of reacting to them.


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