• Some of us are more prone to anger than others—but the reason behind our angry inclinations isn’t always clear.
  • If you’re struggling to understand why you tend to react with anger, understanding your genetics as well as behaviors you learned as a child might offer some insight.
  • First, while the role isn’t crystal clear, genetics can play a part in angry behavior—especially if you struggle with a mental illness that runs in your family.
  • If this is (or might be) the case, you should meet with a medical professional for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • On the other hand, your anger might be learned behavior. You may have modeled angry behavior after others as a child, or developed angry tendencies after being rewarded for this behavior as a child.
  • If you think your anger is rooted in learned behavior, know that it’s never too late to shake the old and learn new behaviors. Remember that practice makes perfect and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Do you struggle with expressing your feelings? Instead of calmly communicating how you feel, do you resort to lashing out in anger instead? Finally, is there no real rhyme or reason for why you react with anger? 

Anger is a natural reaction in many situations. It’s healthy to recognize the feeling, but it’s not always healthy to act on it, especially in ways that could be harmful to yourself and others. 

Let’s cut to the chase. The short answer is that anger can run in families, and genetics can indeed play a role—which might help to explain your angry inclinations. However, there’s another significant factor that can lead to kids adopting angry tendencies from their relatives: learned behavior. Let’s look into both cases below:

Is Anger Hereditary? 

Do you find yourself getting angry for no good reason? Are you wondering if you’re predisposed to become angry because of your genes? The truth is that this isn’t out of the question. While the role of genetics is still largely unclear, it’s possible that anger “runs in your blood” so to speak—especially if you struggle with a mental illness.

Many mental illnesses can run in families, such as bipolar disorder and major depression. And a common characteristic of each of these disorders is anger (or more accurately irritability when it comes to depression). If you’ve been uncharacteristically angry lately or think that a mental illness might be causing you to lash out in anger, there are a few steps you should take:

  1. Look into your family’s medical history. Are you familiar with your family’s medical history? Does bipolar disorder, depression, intermittent explosive disorder, or another mental illness that would explain these angry outbursts run in your family? Don’t be afraid to consult your family members and ask them—explain that you’re concerned about your own health and also offer them support.
  1. Meet with a medical or mental health professional. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or you simply can’t come up with another explanation for your angry inclinations, meet with a medical professional. They can assess your symptoms, offer diagnosis, and help you manage any harmful symptoms (like anger). If you don’t have a mental illness, they can still help you manage your angry outbursts, especially through anger management counseling.

Did I Learn Anger? Can I Fix It?

Learned behavior might also be to blame when it comes to angry tendencies. This kind of learning can happen in two different ways:

Modeling: With modeling, children observe a behavior and then repeat it. So, if they observe violence, they are more likely to engage in violence or angry behavior. This was demonstrated in the Bobo Doll Experiment, in which different groups of children were exposed to different models: one being an aggressive model. The researchers found that the children who belonged to this aggressive model were far more likely to engage in aggressive behavior than the kids who weren’t exposed to aggression.

Reinforcement: With reinforcement, an initial aggressive act is rewarded or reinforced, which emboldens the individual to continue acting aggressively. So, for example, if lashing out in anger led to your getting what you wanted when you were a child, you’re more likely to react with anger as an adult—you learned that doing so would reap a reward.

Is it all coming back to you now? Can you think back to a time when you learned (whether you realized it then or not) to react with anger? If so, there’s good news: you can always shake old habits and learn new behaviors. Here are a couple tips for correcting your angry inclinations:

  • Practice makes perfect. You’ve already taken the first step—that is, recognizing you have an anger problem. Now, in moving forward, you should remember that change takes time. It probably won’t be easy at first, but with practice, you can correct your angry predispositions.
  • It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t shy away from asking loved ones for their help. Tell them you’re trying to make a change and could benefit from their feedback. Ask them to let you know when you’re reacting inappropriately or could express your feelings more effectively. Also, if you think you could benefit from working with a professional, don’t be afraid to take advantage of mental health services. There are providers who specialize in anger management and could surely offer you some valuable assistance.