Anger is an emotion that children learn to feel within a few months of being born. The emotion itself is a healthy and natural expression of certain experiences. Anger becomes a problem when it becomes out of control and when it hurts people emotionally or even physically.
People mistakenly believe that anger can be managed by trying harder to control yourself. However, anger management problems are usually a sign that there is a larger issue at hand. Identifying the underlying cause of anger management problems and treating it appropriately is the best chance at properly managing the problem.
Here are some common causes for developing anger management issues:
1. Witnessing poor anger management. The old adage “Do as I say and not as I do” does not translate easily to real life. Children learn how to behave and regulate their emotions by watching their parents. If a child grows up with one or both parents with anger management problems, he/she will grow up believing that losing their temper is an acceptable and normal reaction to anger.
2. Experiencing abuse. Witnessing or experiencing any kind of abuse as a child or an adult is a risk factor for developing anger management issues. For some, anger feels like the safest emotion to experience, believing that if they are angry they can be safe from further abuse. For others, depending on the extent of the abuse, changes in brain chemistry can result in difficulty regulating anger and other emotions. Anger outbursts are commonly present amongst people who experience post traumatic stress disorder.
3. Mismanaged stress. Stress due to a job, an unhappy relationship or even the death of a loved one lowers our threshold for feeling overwhelmed. When stress surpasses the lowered thresholds, anger is a natural response. If the stress becomes chronic or is not managed properly, anger issues become more frequent and may turn into a habit for dealing with feelings of overwhelm.
4. Being taught that expressing emotions is unacceptable. Some families have low tolerance for expressing certain emotions in front of anyone. This teaches children that they should not feel or show these emotions, which is equivalent to teaching a child that blinking in public is not acceptable. Emotions are a necessary and natural part of life, regardless of gender, and suppressing these emotions does now allow the child to learn healthy emotion management techniques. This creates a pressure cooker environment and once in a while it blows.
5. Low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem tend to misinterpret events as being threatening to themselves, their goals or their needs. Since anger is a natural emotional response to threat, many people with low self-esteem will react to this misinterpreted threat with anger. For example, a reasonable complaint by a spouse may feel like a character assassination and result in an anger outburst.
6. Low frustration tolerance. Everyone has experienced lowered frustration tolerance at some points in their lives. For some, this tolerance level is not temporary and they generally cannot tolerate moderate levels of frustration. The reaction to feeling extra frustrated is to lash out.
7. Hiding other emotions. Sometimes other emotions are too hurtful or overwhelming to express and thus they become overshadowed by expressions of anger. When a person feels safe to be vulnerable, most of the time underneath the anger are emotions such as: hurt, sadness, loneliness or grief.
8. Lack of Sleep. Not sleeping enough can result in feeling edgy and easily irritable. Chronic insomnia, sleep apnea or other sleep disorders can be linked to recurrent bouts of anger.
9. Medications. Anger or emotional lability can be side effects of certain medications. In addition, being over-medicated or taking the wrong medication for physical ailments can result in episodes of excessive anger.
While these are the most common causes of anger problems, each individual’s experience is unique. The best way to manage anger issues is to attend anger management classes or to see a counselor specializing in anger management. Identifying the causes of your anger issues will serve as the best chance to learn how to control your anger better and live a healthier life.