Feelings of anger arise due to how we interpret and react to certain situations. Everyone has their own triggers for what makes them angry, but some common ones include situations in which we feel:
- threatened or attacked
- frustrated or powerless
- like we're being invalidated or treated unfairly
- like people are not respecting our feelings or possessions
People can interpret situations differently, so a situation that makes you feel very angry may not make someone else feel angry at all (for example, other reactions could include annoyance, hurt or amusement). But just because we can interpret things differently, it doesn't mean that you're interpreting things 'wrong' if you get angry.
How you interpret and react to a situation can depend on lots of factors in your life, including:
Whether your anger is about something that happened in the past or something that's going on right now, thinking about how and why we interpret and react to situations can help us learn how to cope with our emotions better. It can also help us find productive strategies to handle our anger.
(See our page on managing outbursts for more information.)
Your childhood and upbringing
How we learn to cope with angry feelings is often influenced by our upbringing. Many people are given messages about anger as children that may make it harder to manage it as an adult. For example:
- You may have grown up thinking that it's always okay to act out your anger aggressively or violently, and so you didn't learn how to understand and manage your angry feelings. This could mean you have angry outbursts whenever you don’t like the way someone is behaving, or whenever you are in a situation you don’t like.
- You may have been brought up to believe that you shouldn’t complain, and may have been punished for expressing anger as a child. This could mean that you tend to suppress your anger and it becomes a long-term problem, where you react inappropriately to new situations you’re not comfortable with. If you don't feel you can release your anger in a healthy way, you might also turn this inwards on yourself.
- You may have witnessed your parents' or other adults' anger when it was out of control, and learned to think of anger as something that is destructive and terrifying. This could mean that you now feel afraid of your own anger and don't feel safe expressing your feelings when something makes you angry. Those feelings might then surface at another unconnected time, which may feel hard to explain.
If you've experienced particular situations in the past that made you feel angry, such as abuse, trauma or bullying (either as a child or more recently as an adult), and you weren't able to safely express your anger at the time, you might still be coping with those angry feelings now.
This might mean that you now find certain situations particularly challenging, and more likely to make you angry.
Sometimes your present feeling of anger may not only be about the current situation but may also be related to a past experience, which can mean that the anger you are feeling in the present is at a level that reflects your past situation.
Becoming aware of this can help us to find ways of responding to situations in the present in a safer and less distressed way.
If you're dealing with a lot of other problems in your life right now, you might find yourself feeling angry more easily than usual, or getting angry at unrelated things.
If there's a particular situation that's making you feel angry, but you don't feel able to express your anger directly or resolve it, then you might find you express that anger at other times.
Anger can also be a part of grief. If you've lost someone important to you, it can be hugely difficult to cope with all the conflicting things you might be feeling. Cruse Bereavement Care can offer support and information in this situation.
(For more information on organisations that can help with your anger see our page on useful contacts.)
Breathing techniques have helped me to control my anger. I know that if I take a moment to concentrate on my breathing and not my anger, I'll have something else to focus on.
This information was published in July 2018. We will revise it in 2021.