Understanding Anger: Explosive, Passive, Chronic
She was the kind of person everyone walked on eggshells around.
A ticking time bomb. And even though she was often laughing and smiling, somehow, most anyone knew within minutes of meeting her that she might lash out if they pushed the wrong buttons.
But what is anger, really?
You know what it feels like.
When you’re running late and the person in front of you is driving 10 below the speed limit.
When your computer starts to malfunction in the middle of a busy workday and you suddenly feel the urge to throw it across the room.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines anger as a motivational state that is associated with aggression. Just like other emotions, anger causes biological responses such as rapid heart rate, higher adrenaline, and raised hormone levels.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anger can be triggered by both external and internal events—meaning that a person, a circumstance, a personal problem, or a past event could anger you. For persons who struggle with controlling anger, even trivial things can trigger overwhelming anger that is difficult to control.
To put it simply, anger is a powerful emotion—and either we learn to control it, or we let it control us.
But Not All Anger is Created Equal.
An important thing to note about anger is that it doesn’t always feel like anger. In one of its most toxic and powerful forms, anger goes almost completely undetected. It’s buried deep inside where it turns into something that looks almost nothing like anger—this is known as passive anger. Because passive anger can be much harder to recognize, it is important to know its symptoms.
5 ways to detect passive anger:
1. Fear and Anxiety
Research shows that repressed anger turns to anxiety. When an individual is deeply hurt, and when the resulting anger is never properly dealt with, one may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to guard against the same form of hurt from happening again. In this process, one will have to become hyper vigilant—always looking for possible threats in his/her environment. This creates fertile ground for an anxiety disorder to develop.
Repressed anger will eventually drive an individual away from healthy community. This is because anger leads to the mistrust of others. A person who is living with repressed anger will most likely feel uncomfortable in environments he/she cannot control. As a result, these individuals tend to exhibit erratic social behavior—for example, engaging community and then abruptly withdrawing at random.
Repressed anger also leads to hopelessness—or to a “sky is falling” mentality. Anticipating hurt, pain, and loss will effectively keep an individual from truly living. He/she may lack the motivation or emotional energy to pursue the things he desires most. Overtime, this type of behavior can cause an individual to view him/herself as fatally flawed or useless to the world. If left unaddressed, passive anger can eventually turn into a debilitating depression.
4. Health Problems
According to the Conservative Center for Disease Control (CDC), 85% of all diseases can be linked to our emotional state. There is certainly no lack of data to show that negative emotions—and especially anger—can wreak havoc on one’s entire nervous system. The long-term physical effects of passive anger are headaches, digestive imbalances, insomnia, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and stroke.
5. Relationship Trouble
Repressed anger can cause an individual to long for intimacy but greatly fear it at the same time. Many who experience abuse or neglect in childhood find themselves unable to trust close friends or romantic partners in adulthood. If the hurt and resulting anger experienced were never properly addressed, friends and romantic partners can become stand-ins for the hurtful agent later in life. Until the repressed anger is acknowledged, unhealthy relationship patterns are likely to be present.
Ever found yourself blaring your car horn a little too long at someone who cut you off in traffic? It’s okay. We’ve all been there.
These kinds of moments are a small taste of volatile anger—which is, perhaps, the most universally recognized form of anger. It is an abrupt and explosive form that often comes as a surprise—not only to those around you, but even to yourself.
Though volatile anger is most commonly found in males with substance abuse problems, most people experience at least some amount of it throughout their lives. In some individuals, however, an excessive form of volatile anger leads to dangerous behavior, including verbal outbursts, physical violence, property damage, and emotional abuse.
If volatile anger is persistent, it could be a symptom of one of the following anger-related mental health disorders:
Anger-Related Mental Disorders
1. Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Those experiencing recurring outbursts of volatile anger may have what is known as Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), a condition affecting an estimated 16 million Americans. IED is a mental disorder marked by episodes of explosive, unwarranted anger.
According to the NIMH, in order to be diagnosed with IED, an individual must have had three episodes of impulsive aggressiveness that were out of proportion to any associated psychosocial stressor. Individuals with this disorder may also suffer from anxiety, depression, or alcohol and drug abuse.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from what could be IED, it is strongly encouraged they seek professional help from a licensed counselor.
2. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
According to the NIMH, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a mental disorder most commonly found in children. It is characterized by extreme irritability, anger, and frequent, intense temper outbursts.
Symptoms of DMDD include an irritable or angry mood nearly every day, severe physical or verbal outbursts, at least three times per week, and debilitating and disruptive short-tempered moods. However, in order for a child to be diagnosed with this disorder, symptoms must be present for at least 12 months.
3. Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental illness marked by severely unstable moods and behavior. Individuals with BPD have difficulty regulating emotions, display impulsive and reckless behavior, and have extremely unstable relationships with others.
The NIMH reported that individuals with this disorder commonly have co-occurring disorders, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, practice self-harm, and may even exhibit suicidal ideology and behaviors.
According to NIMH, Symptoms of BPD include:
- Extreme emotional reactions to the threat of abandonment, whether real or perceived
- A pattern of dysfunctional relationships with others, ranging from extreme closeness to extreme dislike or anger
- Unstable self-image and low self-esteem
- Impulsive and dangerous behaviors
- Frequent suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Deep, recurrent feelings of emptiness
- Explosive and inappropriate anger outbursts
- Dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself or losing touch with reality.
Although BPD can be difficult to diagnose, treatment has shown to be effective at reducing the debilitating effects of this disorder. Individuals displaying symptoms of BPD tend to see best results when treated through a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Do you know someone (or are you someone) who seems irritated from the moment they wake up until the time they go to bed? He or she may be suffering from chronic anger.
Individuals with chronic anger are said to have a persistent and generalized resentment toward life, others, and self, and they may appear to be in perpetual search of outlets for their anger. These individuals may also suffer from a victim mentality—believing that their circumstances are beyond their control, and often that others are intentionally working against them.
In other words, for those with chronic anger, it’s always something. And until these individuals seek help to change the negative thought patterns driving their chronic anger, they are likely to experience complications at work, in relationships, and in their overall health.
Due to the prolonged nature of this form of anger, individuals are at a higher risk of developing associated health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases. Chronic anger also linked with mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
But we’re not here to give anger a bad rap.
Have you ever felt your adrenaline start pumping when you saw someone being wronged? Have you stood up for someone else even at the risk of facing painful or negative consequences for your actions?
Not all anger is a bad thing. In fact, healthy anger is actually needed. We are wired with the ability to get angry for a reason. Healthy anger is constructive rather than destructive. It motivates us to overcome fear, fight for what is right, and bring about positive change in the world—even if that means simply standing up for ourselves or others at times. The key is to make sure we are learning to manage our anger in a healthy way.
So how do we redirect our anger from destructive to constructive?
Here a few helpful things to try:
Deal with your past.
Many people are hesitant to deal with past wounds, especially those that happened in childhood, because they fear dwelling in the past or developing a victim mentality. But dealing with the past is not dwelling in the past. In fact, it’s only by addressing the difficult things you’ve experienced that you can truly move past them. Find a trustworthy mentor or seek a counselor who can help you work through and heal from the things that are fueling ongoing anger.
Developing a sense of connection with trusted individuals is crucial to maintaining mental health. Invest in a community of people who you can be open and honest with. Simply expressing the fears and frustrations you’re experiencing to persons you trust will help you gain perspective, gain insights, and learn new ways to gain control over your emotions.
Do you find yourself reliving events and wishing you would have said or done something different? Do you find yourself getting angry all over again about something that doesn’t really matter? These kinds of thought patterns create a breeding ground for anger problems to develop. Not only do these negative thought patterns lead to anger outbursts, they also can cause debilitating anxiety and depression over time.
Take a breather (or two).
Though it may take practice, you can learn to process a situation fully before responding to someone in anger. As you give yourself time to cool off, you may find the circumstance does not warrant the anger-infused response you initially imagined giving. By giving ourselves time to process, we may see that our present circumstances are not nearly as threatening (or require the level of anger) as they seemed in the moment.
Get your beauty rest.
A very effective way to become irritable is to skip out on sleep. Even just cutting corners—an hour here and an hour there—can tremendously affect the chemical balance that allows us to keep a healthy perspective, temper our emotional responses, and maintain self-control. It’s worth coming home early from a night out or waiting until the weekend to catch up on your favorite show. Make sleep a priority and you’ll quickly gain more control over your emotions—anger and others.
Eat all the greens.
For some, a simple change in diet can alleviate a remarkable amount of stress due to chemical imbalances in the body. If you’ve been regularly snacking on highly processed foods or grabbing fast food dinners on the run, this could be a contributor to your bad moods. Consider speaking with a licensed nutritionist about the symptoms you’re experiencing, and work to develop a healthy food plan that will help you maintain a better bio-chemical balance.
Take it out on the weights.
Exercise is a very effective way to release pent up anger and aggression. Not only does it help you maintain a healthy chemical balance (hello endorphins!) it also boosts self-confidence and alleviates stress. If weightlifting isn’t your thing, try a yoga class or walk around your neighborhood (try for 10,000 steps a day, which is 5 miles and puts you firmly into the “active” category). No matter what type of exercise you choose, if you commit to sweating it out for at least 30 minutes day, you may quickly find you have a more positive outlook on life.
Hit the Library.
One of the most effective ways to gain control of your life is simply learning how to manage anger. This article is a good start for sure, but continue to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of toxic anger and study the stories of others who have learned to overcome it. When it comes to mental health, understanding the thought-patters and emotions involved is half the battle. If you can’t make it to a library, there are countless resources available online (ahem, Thriveworks.com). Pour yourself some coffee and dig in.
Gaining control of your thoughts is never easy at first. It takes time and effort, and practicing mindfulness is a great way to do it. Pray, meditate, do yoga, go for a walk and take in the beauty around you, or simply find a quiet place to reflect on the “automatic thoughts” about yourself and others you’ve been having that you haven’t even noticed. After that, try to get out of your own head for a while—let your thoughts wash over you without making any judgments about them. By learning to be present in the moment, you’ll gain more control over your thoughts and emotions.
The good news is, if you’re struggling with anger—passive, explosive, or chronic, you are not alone. Millions of Americans are working right alongside you to get their anger under control. They can succeed, and you can too.
If you’re experiencing reoccurring anger problems and you’re not quite sure what’s driving them, talk to someone today who can help you begin to make sense of it all, and who can help you regain control of your thoughts, emotions, and life.