Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that we all express. Sometimes, anger can be a positive emotion, driving us to right wrongs or fix injustices. But sometimes a person’s anger can become uncontrollable and harmful—and it can even lead to violent behavior.
Expressing your anger in negative ways
Just as everyone feels angry from time to time, everyone also expresses their anger in different ways. Some ways are more constructive than others, and chances are, you’ve learned the ways you respond when angry and frustrated from your environment—like the people in your life or the situation you grew up in.
Violent behavior, toward oneself and others, can result from anger. It is one way that people express anger and try to control the situations that they find themselves in—but violence is never a positive or constructive way to deal with your emotions.
Certain factors might put you at a greater risk of acting out violently. For example, you might be violent because the people you hang out with use violence or other types of aggression. You might think violence is more acceptable because you’ve seen it on television, in the movies or in video games. You might also act violently because someone—like a bully or even a family member—is being violent toward you. If you grew up in a violent household, you might think that it’s OK to deal with your feelings in a physically aggressive way. Research shows that children who grow up with disruptive home situations might have a harder time controlling anger and are more likely to act out violently. This is often called a “cycle of violence.”
Recognizing the potential for violence
There are certain warning signs that people might have a hard time controlling their violent behavior. Here are a few examples:
- Regular loss of temper;
- Frequent physical fighting;
- Drug or alcohol abuse;
- Vandalism or property destruction;
- Harming other living things, like animals;
- Making frequent threats toward others.
Tips for breaking the cycle of violence
The good news is that any learned behavior—such as violence—can also be unlearned. The key is to first take control of situations that make you angry and manage your reaction to frustration. Here are some tips to get started:
Use your anger as a signal. The next time you feel angry, stop and count to 10. Then think about the situation you’re in and why it’s making you feel this way. Tell yourself “I can calm down.”
Think about the things that trigger your anger. By identifying common factors in the situations that seem to trigger your anger, you might be able to predict and prepare for future anger-producing circumstances.
Take a ‘time out.’ If you feel that you might lose control, get yourself out of the situation that is provoking you. Take a break from the situation to reevaluate what’s happening and think about your next steps and whether any actions could be potentially harmful. Again, tell yourself “I can calm down” or something like “I’m not going to let this get to me.”
Use this time out to think about what really is going on. For example, if you’re feeling angry because your teacher or boss yelled at you, your anger might be stemming from a deeper feeling of inadequacy or disappointment in yourself.
Talk to the person who is making you angry. When feeling more in control of your emotions, explain your side of things and assert your opinions in a positive way. For example, use “I statements” like I feel this way because…” Be prepared however to keep your cool if the other person doesn’t respond the way you think he or she should.
Respect others’ opinions and reactions. It is important to remember that you can only control your reactions to situations and you can’t control the other person’s. Remember, it’s OK to disagree.
Don’t let it all hang out! While it’s important to express yourself, it isn’t always best to “let it all out.” In fact, fully acting on your angry feelings without taking others into consideration could actually have negative and harmful consequences.
Avoid using drugs and alcohol. Sometimes it’s easy to turn to substances like drugs and alcohol to help you forget or suppress angry feelings, but the relief you get from drugs and alcohol is only temporary, and the side effects of abuse can make a situation worse.
Talk to someone. Friends and family can be great sources of support if you’re feeling angry and frustrated—as long are you’re talking with them in positive ways and not taking your anger out on them. If your anger is becoming increasingly disruptive and harmful, and you find yourself unable to manage your violent behavior, you might also want to consider talking to a mental health professional for extra support.
For more info
Violence can manifest itself in many different situations. If you’re in a position where you’re dealing with violence, it might be helpful to check out some of these fact sheets as well:
If you’re having trouble controlling your anger or channeling your frustrations into positive actions, you might want to also check out the Relaxation and Coping with a stressful event fact sheets for more tips on how to effectively manage your anger.
The following sources provided information for this fact sheet:
U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Anger Management Workbook (This is a manual for group therapy. Certain sections hold relevant material that may be of interest to individuals who would like to learn more about anger management.)