“When a person’s speech is full of anger, it is because he or she suffers deeply.”Thich Nhat Hanh
I feel the anger swelling. It starts near my waist, slowly moves up my torso, past my shoulders, and enters my windpipe. It reaches my head, transforms into a boiling rage. Negative thoughts become spewing vitriol.
Once the words leave my mouth, I can’t take them back. My loved ones are hurt. They pull away. More frustration. More feelings of worthlessness. It’s like dry tinder for my depression. The flame turns into a bonfire.
Perhaps more than anything else, anger is the defining characteristic of my bipolar disorder. It’s what I most often struggle with, and it’s usually the focus of my mindfulness practice.
Here, with the help of professionals, I want to open up about my struggles with anger and potentially help you avoid the same. Let’s start with the basics.
Does Fear Cause Anger?
Richard Oelberger, psychologist and host of the Awakening the Hero Within podcast, explains that anger is a complicated emotional experience unique to each individual.
Still, no emotion is an island. They’re all interconnected. Thus, in many instances, fear acts as “a secondary covering emotion,” he says.
For example, if someone cuts you off while you’re driving, it can make you feel scared, threatened, hurt, or rejected and leave you feeling vulnerable and unprotected. “In this case,” Richard explains, you “may be angry that you are afraid because fear is dysregulating and terrifying.”
Additional examples of anger-inducing emotions include:
- Feeling confused about where you’re driving in an unknown city.
- Anxiety about an upcoming test you didn’t study for.
- Disgust about something you or someone else did, and subsequent shame.
- Guilt about not exercising and overeating this week;
- Disappointment about not landing that job;
- Regret about not asking that person out at work before they started dating someone else;
In my case, anger is triggered by annoyances, whether targeted at someone else or the situation in general;
Is all anger the same, though?
Are There Different Types of Anger?
Charles Horowitz, Ph.D., emphasizes that everyone experiences anger. “Some just express it differently,” he explains, including “passive-aggressively, powerfully, or by silently turning the anger toward themselves (i.e., de-pressing).”
Richard adds that anger can show up in different forms and have different manifestations, which “can be largely impacted by culture, family dynamics, and learned tendencies.”
Let’s take a look at each.
Passive Aggressive Anger
If you try to avoid confrontation when you’re angry and instead turn inward, this is referred to as passive-aggressive anger. In many instances, this type of anger results from not expressing your anger or hurt feelings. It’s a fear of conflict and a need to maintain control.
The problem is that anger isn’t resolved through passive-aggressiveness, so it remains simmering just under the surface.
Openly Aggressive Anger
Instead of turning inward, openly aggressive anger also stems from a need to be in control. It involves lashing out verbally or physically, which can lead to hurting those we love. According to the Your Life Counts organization, examples of openly aggressive anger include:
“Rage is another manifestation of anger,” Richard says, which can “push us to act impulsively and in an extreme manner of violence.” Often, we misdirect our rage toward perceived threats or suffering, whether related to “an individual, group, or larger societal structure.”
Of the four types of anger in this list, assertive is the only mindful option.
Related: How Does Mindfulness Work?
Here, you’re ready to deal with the situation. You remain patient, controlled, confident, and even-keeled while talking and listening. You think before you speak, and you maturely express how your emotions make you feel.
Instead of hurting relationships, assertive anger mends relationships and helps them grow, which is why if you’re angry, assertiveness is the ideal approach.
Suppressive anger involves consciously covering up a thought, feeling, or urge that may lead to anxiety and anger. In these cases, anger is “effectively being pushed down or away from awareness,” Richard says.
While this might avoid a confrontation, turning your anger inward can transition into depression and shame, creating a vicious cycle where you feel worthless and find it challenging to keep your head above water.
Let’s carry this thought over to the next section.
Is Anger Associated with Depression?
“The relationship between anger and depression is a correlation but not directly associated,” Richard emphasizes.
Still, “some theories propose that depression is a result of anger that is held onto but then turned inward through a cycle of blame, negative thinking, and self-critical judgment,” he explains.
This aligns with findings from a UK study completed in 2013, which found that anger turned inward [i.e., suppressive anger] may be common in those who are depressed. It may also worsen the severity of depression.
“Depressed individuals express irritability and frustration with their inability to feel positive or with obstacles they are facing, both internal or external,” Richard specifies, “which may result in frequent presentation and expression of anger.”
As with many other negative emotions related to depression, turning your anger inward will only work to prolong your depressive thoughts and feelings, leading you to feel even worse.
How Can You Overcome Your Anger?
“This is the most crucial question of all,” Richard emphasizes because before you can overcome your anger, you must process it. Through processing, we can identify “early wounds, hurt, emotional pain, and vulnerability,” he says.
Here are some real-world actions you can take to help process your anger.
Tsunma Tenzin Lhadron, Tibetan Buddhist nun, chaplain, and therapist, outlines, “Anger, as an energy, is a big teacher for all of us. Working with anger in our meditation practice, both on and off the cushion, shows us our strengths, weaknesses, shadow material, and reactivity.”
Related: What is Meditation & How Does it Work?
Then, based on how we understand and integrate our experiences, reactions, and appropriate responses, “anger, when it arises, shows us the work we have done, the work we have not yet done, and the work we have yet to do.”
Changing Behavioral Patterns
Anger is a behavioral pattern that, like any other, can be adjusted and changed for the better.
Instead of de-pressing your anger or numbing yourself with substances, “it helps to be able to talk freely to someone about your anger,” Charles explains. This can help you identify behavioral patterns that lead to anger and adjust accordingly, including consciously using assertive anger instead of one of the other three types.
“Anger cannot be overcome by positive thinking alone, detaching from it, or numbing ourselves from feeling,” Richard adds. “Learning to tap into our anger and sense what it is showing us in our bodies about our needs for safety and protection,” he says.
Other Methods for Reducing Anger
In addition to traditional therapy, Charles recommends a free approach called Nonviolent Communication (aka, NVC), which aims to help you constructively and peacefully resolve conflicts using the power of language instead of lashing out in unhealthy anger. He also recommends Rageaholics Anonymous, where you can convene with others struggling with anger and talk about your experiences.
The Bottom Line About Anger and You
I understand, firsthand, that anger can be a debilitating emotion. I also recognize the complexity of overcoming such a powerful mental state.
The good news is that by recognizing our anger and working to uncover its underlying causes, we can learn to live with it and reduce the damage it causes ourselves and others. It’s one of the most significant gifts we can give ourselves and the world.