06/08/2011 - Articles

Why do I get so Angry?

By: Verne Kallejian, PhD

Why do I get so Angry?

Our inability to manage anger is beginning to exceed acceptable limits. This article reviews some of the sources of irrational anger and makes suggestions about how to control outbursts.

A little background

Although anger is a natural emotion, many experts have begun to wonder whether society isn't now boiling over with rage. The social expression of anger has increased many-fold in the last few years. In the US alone, airplane rage incidents have increased from 1000 to 5000 in the last three years. Road rage has left over 12,000 people injured in the last five years. Workplace violence - virtually unheard of until the 1970s - now costs business about $36 billion every year. Certain sports events are so dangerous that they must be cancelled. Last month an ice-hockey referee was beaten to death at a school sports event. The abuse of millions of women, children and seniors is also on the rise. All of these events indicate that something serious is happening.

What is happening in society?

What is happening? We would think that when times are better people would feel better. Actually, it is the reverse. When times are better there is greater dissatisfaction. The greatest agitation seems to develop around civil rights in communities where minorities have made the greatest gains. Civil unrest due to poverty is in those areas where people have more income than they ever had before. Once people get a vision of what things could be like, they become very angry and enraged about how things actually are. This process causes nightmares for politicians who believe that if they make small improvements in social welfare, the recipients will be pleased and grateful.

What is happening to individuals?

Some people can never get angry. Aggressive and angry people can easily take advantage of such people because they just back away. They don't fight back. This is self-imposed victimization. Thus they make themselves helpless and become anxious, afraid, and depressed. Other people are always angry and irritated and cause everyone around them to become fearful. Most of this behavior is learned early in life. If one comes from a home that is generally tumultuous being angry becomes a way of life. Sometimes children learn that the only way to get what they want is to start a fight or be very angry and the parents will give in and respond to keep them quiet.

There is some evidence that temperament is established very early in life. Newborn babies arrive with very different responses to fright. Even a small delay in feeding routine is enough to cause some youngsters to become frantic. For most of us, learning about anger starts in childhood.

There is a kind of anger that is both normal and rational. If someone is trying to burn your house or hurt your family, the suitable response is to be angry, aggressive and take some appropriate action. Rational anger is the result of someone doing, or threatening to do, something hurtful to you.
Irrational anger, on the other hand, is when you find yourself being very angry when no one is doing anything to you. You get mad at a spouse, a friend, public officials, your priest or pastor or any even strangers who somehow do not meet your expectations.

How Anger and Anxiety go together

At first glance it hard to accept that anger is caused by some kind of threat or fear. Sometimes the threat is so obscure that it hard to recognize. If your children don't behave properly, why is this a threat? It could be that your self-image includes some notion that you can control your children. When you can't, your self-image of having control, being effective, etc. is endangered. Not many people take the time to wonder about these obscure sources of anger. But, with a little help, most people can figure it out and then wonder why they have to be in control all the time when everyone knows this is impossible. Even in our prisons its impossible to control people who don't want to be controlled. When it is tried we have terrible upheavals, like the prison riots at Attica.

The steps from being passive to being angry

The opposite of passive is not aggressive. The opposite of passive is active. Active people say what is on their mind and say it clearly. You usually know where you stand with active people.
Aggressive people move toward some objective in the presence of opposition. Unless people are a little aggressive they never discharge their responsibilities or get anything done in life. Once in a while the situation demands that you push a little in order to convince others that your position deserves attention. Angry people just jump to angry outbursts at the slightest provocation and skip being aggressive or even active.

Often angry people who want to overcome their problem wonder if they could just "have a tantrum" for a couple of hours, and then they would be fine. Unfortunately, this doesn't work. Sometimes people ask about being hypnotized or given some drug that will allow them to be angry in isolation. This doesn't work either. The reason these approaches to anger don't work is that the chronic sources of anger build up more rapidly than they can ever be discharged.

Chronic sources of anger

The most chronic source of anger is to have expectations of people that are unreasonable. Even over time, when other people consistently behave in a way that is contrary to our expectations we still get mad rather that re-evaluate our expectation. This gap between expectations and reality widens with time and the person becomes even angrier. Another chronic source of anger is when a person has expectations of the world around them. Sometimes a person feels that he/she knows the right way for everyone to behave. When people don't meet these expectations there is usually an angry outburst. It is no wonder that there are a lot of people out there who are chronically angry waiting for the slightest provocation to sound off. When two such people get together there is usually a confrontation of some sort. Some of these incidents result in injury or fatalities.

What to do about it?

If there is someone around who knows enough and cares enough, you can ask for their help. If not, you can take a deep breath and have a little talk with yourself. You can say, "Children act angrily and do hurtful things. Adults should be able to talk about being angry." If you haven't learned how to do this then it isn't too late to learn. You can also wonder to yourself why you give away so much power to other people.

Why do I give away so much of my responsibility?

In this culture the standard approach to anger is, "He/she made me mad." In fact, no one can make you mad unless you allow it - it's a learned skill. The inclination is to always make the other person, or event, responsible for your anger. It is as though "I am helpless. I just respond to whatever happens in whatever way is automatic for me." In fact, the other person is the way he/she is. You or I have a choice as to how we respond to that person. This is true even when the other person is doing something to you that you don't like.

It is easy to see that when you allow someone to make you angry when that person isn't doing anything to you, you are transferring a lot of power over your well-being and mental health to another person. With irrational anger, good mental health habits require that you examine the situation carefully. You can talk to yourself about the reality of irrational anger. It may hurt or injure another person. It doesn't help you at all. Being irrationally angry solves nothing. You are just indulging yourself with a childish temper tantrum. Temper tantrums not only diminish your well-being but the effects can last a long time. Sometimes angry people do not recover emotionally for several hours or even many days after having an outburst. What is at issue is "Why did I allow this insignificant event to destroy my well-being?"

Sometimes you have to rethink a situation that is created either from internal thoughts or external events. For example, you may see a customer in a restaurant being very obnoxious to a waiter. You find yourself getting very angry with the customer. Actually, you don't know the circumstances, but you get angry anyhow. Most people would say, "I feel sorry for the poor waiter who is getting verbally beaten up." That's a socially acceptable explanation and generally people would agree with you, without knowing anything about the situation. But, then you can wonder why you get anger. With a little thought you might begin to see that your anger at the customer may have a different explanation. The customer may be getting away with something you would never allow yourself to do. Even if a waiter dumped a bowl of soup in your lap, you might apologize to him for getting in the way. Some people can't stand to see someone else doing something that they would never do themselves without getting punished.

This process of getting angry when someone gets away with something you can't let yourself do is so common that is should have a name. In a social context it is the basis of prejudice. The racist says, "I can't stand being around those people. They are so lazy." It is highly likely that the racist hasn't taken a day off in many months or years. He grew up knowing that wasting time was a terrible thing to do. So, he doesn't do it. And, he can't stand anyone who does. Conservative women and men, who allow themselves little sexual freedom, can't stand those people who are sexually promiscuous. There is technical term for this process. It is called projection. It is used here to describe the process by which we read into the other person some part of ourselves we can't stand, and then berate, injure or degrade that person for being that way.

Someone who uses this defense mechanism to cope with internal stress can easily become arrogant, pompous, and self-righteous.

Everyone knows you can't always control how you feel. But, everyone knows you can control your behavior. And, everyone can make an effort to be responsible for his/her actions towards other people. Sometimes displays of anger are tied to a macho image. Reputations are built on being able to demonstrate savage behavior. In our society, this notion is supported by television, movies, and novels. The hero, in one way or another, is seen as a victim of circumstances over which he has no control. When he brings up his fists, or pulls a gun, it is as though he had no choice and was not personally responsible for his actions. The motives of revenge or pay-back against real or imagined evil are glorified.

This is a social problem that is constantly being addressed, with, unfortunately, little effect. The exploitation in the media of rage and savage behavior gives permission to thousands of viewers and readers to express their own rage and ignore personal accountability.

The most helpful thing anyone can do is to start learning to talk about angry feelings - either with themselves or someone else. You have to ask yourself "Do I want to be responsible for how I behave?" If the answer is yes, then you can learn to train your intellect to quickly spot those times when your thinking is irrational, and when you are surrendering personal responsibility. You can practice this skill on our discussion boards with impunity.

You can see from this brief article that anger is a complex subject. Also, it is easy to see that anger and fear are very closely associated. It is not possible to cover all of the associations in this brief introductory article.


Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostitility and Violence by Aaron Beck, M.D.

Created on: 08/23/2000
Reviewed on: 06/08/2011

Your rating: None Average: 4.2 (41 votes)
Anonymous wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

Yes this website help me a lot. I would get mad over anything.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 37 weeks ago

I anger quickly but all that I've read here seems familiar yet common sense. What now?

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

Wow...reading this really makes me feel like I am not the only one. I grew up with parents that were great but honestly they were a little impatient and were angered pretty easily, looking back now I can remember saying that I would never be that way...now look where i am. I am very confused about the anger and fear going together..I would really like to figure this out so I can get it out of my life. My husband has an aggressive personality like I do so sometimes I don't know who is to blame. I know I have a problem though and I want help. I have already gone to the doctor and I take anxiety meds but I don't think they help, i went to talk with someone but they are too expensive for me right now..where to now? ughghghghghg....maybe just talking or typing will help me get through this.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 41 weeks ago

A very interesting and thought provoking read, thanks to who ever wrote this article.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 46 weeks ago

Thankyou so much for this article it has helped me understand my feelings a lot and see that the whole problem lies within me and not other people. I recently had an outburst of rage when i was under the influence of alcohol, I believe we repress our anger a lot in society because it is not a socially acceptable emotion, so when we loose control e.g drink or something doesnt go our way we get outbursts of anger brought on by the littlest things. Thankyou again

Anonymous wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I use to get very angry at my husband because he is a controlling type. When I realized that control was the issue and not the man, It helped a lot. I still get angry when he calls my family and tries to answer questions for me, but I know now that it's the control I feel I am losing in my own life and not him that makes the problem. I needed to get contol of my own feelings about how he is acting. It was a long hard cllimb up a rocky, slippery mountain, but I"m gaining ground with faith and prayer. Every time I got angry and say mean things it makes me feel awful. I am still learning that words can never be taken back and my actions have consequenses. I wish that I had been taught as a child how to deal with anger, but I can still learn now. We are never too old to learn.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I had an "irrational" anger episode over the weekend that I feel awful about. This article was very enlightning for me. My source of anger is generally directed at my significant other when he doesn't perform up to "my" expectations. I know that this was the contributing factor in the demise of my last relationship. I definitely want to get this under control as I do really care about the person that I am currently in a relationship with.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

I understand how we can get angry and let it take over our logical thinking. I grew up with a dad who went into a rage of fury if anything was not the way he wanted it. I think that the way we control anger is learned. I hope you are able to gain control over anger and take back your life.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

over the last few years ive get so angry with people because i don't trust them work,home and friend, sometimes i think i try too hard to help people but for what?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Why do I get so angry? well It's becauseI don't receive what I want

Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

This article helped me some by giving me more information than I already had however I still see a disturbing trend. Our society seems to have a TERRIBLE fear of self responsibility whether it's in controlling our emotions (of which anger is the most powerful INHM), the use of drugs and alcohol and parenting our children after we have either conscientiously or unconscientiously decide to being them into this world. It seems everyone want to “just take a pill”. How about having a little character.

June Chen, MD wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, have demonstrated some efficacy in controlling anger. Trileptal, an anti-seizure medication, has also been shown in clinical studies to help people feel calmer. Don't discount the role of exercise, a healthy diet, or behavioral therapy in controlling anger. Also remember that medications affect people differently, so a medication that works for someone else may not work for you. If you are interested in medications for controlling anger, talk to your doctor.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

I don't think the appropriate attitude to dealing with anger is to pop a pill.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

Well this isn't something i don't already know about myself. but good job, pretty accurate compared to other douche bag sites that try to explain this. isn't there any medicine that could curb or help constant anger? and no i'ts not anti-depressants..

Anonymous wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

Wow, I certanly appreciate this article. Thanks so much for making it accessible to people. I learn so much just from this and I would definetely will put it in practice. It will also help me to deal better with angry people.