• Adam Rothwell

Understanding anger

Anger is one of the emotions that we tend to avoid discussing, partly because it can be scary to approach, but also because it is deemed as socially inappropriate to display, which closes down discussion before it can even be raised. However, anger is a valid emotion and one that we will all feel at some point - it is how it is displayed that can create issues shutting down conversation.

Anger itself can be beneficial to feel - it can show us that something is wrong, we feel angry when someone has done something to us we did not like. And it can be catalyst for change, for instance people who protest and affect change in the world because they are angry about the state of the world they find them self in. So it gives people passion, and shows us that something is wrong. So why is it deemed to be inappropriate so often? I think that it is because people feel endangered by someone who is angry, perhaps because of the threat of change, but also in some circumstances because of the potential implications. Of course, some people are physically violent when they are angry, but it is important to maintain a distinction between the two things.

Perhaps you are reading this blog and wondering if you need support with your anger. How would you know? Try asking yourself the below questions, if you answer yes to the majority of questions, therapy may be helpful in dealing with your anger:

  • Is your anger long lasting, and/or frequent?

  • Does you anger affect your relationships, work or studies?

  • Do you find yourself losing your temper at things that would usually be classed a minor day to day?

  • Do you ever damage property or hurt yourself whilst angry?

  • Do you feel that your self-esteem is low, or has dropped recently?

Ways to cope with anger

Anger becomes an issue when it takes over someone's life. If it is affecting relationships, work and day to day functioning, it is something that has become a concern and needs addressing. The first thing to do is try to understand the triggers for the anger - certain scenarios may set off anger responses and it is important to note these down to gain an understanding of the situation. It also creates awareness of things like physical signals that something is wrong for instance, raised heartbeat, clenched fists or sweating.

Breathing techniques - breathing consciously can calm someone physically through deep exhalation, which triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. By learning to breathe slowly and mindfully, you can start to do the breathing techniques when the feelings of anger start to creep up. Some examples to research are 4x4 breathing, and the 4-7-8 technique.

Distraction techniques - finding things that help to distract someone from the situation in hand can be useful. Things like taking a walk, running, drawing or listening to music are popular ones, but it has to be something that the individual chooses, and that is realistic and achievable. It may be worth having different ideas based on the scenario, for instance something that works at home may not be as productive at work.

Gain understanding of why anger occurs

Counselling can help someone with their anger by considering where the anger comes from. Firstly, anger is an emotion that can often be created to cover other emotions such as hurt, disappointment or a feeling of insecurity because anger can appear as confident and strong. Therapy can help to unveil these deeper emotions in order to allow healing.

Secondly, it provides the opportunity to think objectively about scenarios and understand what was happening below the surface. An example of this is considering the cycle of anger, in which our negative thoughts about a situation affect our feelings and in turn how we react to a situation. Gaining an understanding about this means that we can re-evaluate our beliefs about our self, others and the world and therefore change how we react to situations.


Adam Rothwell is a registered Person-Centred counsellor, working in private practice, seeing clients online and by phone in the UK.

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