Anger

Anger is a perfectly natural human feeling. Like all feelings, it is how you respond to it that determines whether the feeling helps or hurts your recovery.

Denying Anger

If you deny or “stuff” your anger, you may have problems with assertiveness, experience internal stress, or miss out on the motivation that healthy anger can produce.

Assertiveness Many women still believe that expressing anger is not appropriate behavior. Harriet Goldhor Lerner (The Dance of Anger, 1985) points out that angry women can be called shrews, bitches, witches, or hags, whereas there is no such unflattering term to describe angry men. People who feel ashamed of their anger often have trouble being assertive anytime there is conflict in a relationship.

Stress If you deny anger, you will find it hard to deal with stress in your life. A classic pattern for cardiovascular risk is someone who experiences lots of anger but is unable to show it. You can learn the skill of communicating your anger in a way that will reduce stress and make you a more effective person.

Healthy anger The purpose of anger is to motivate. If you use this energy in a positive way, the anger will not be a negative thing. It can help you to be assertive without being aggressive, move you to take necessary action in relationships, and put energy into good causes.

Feeding Anger

The opposite extreme is to cultivate anger actively and to convert other feelings into a perception of anger, or even rage. This intensifies unnecessary conflict in relationships and focuses responsibility (or blame) on others. For some, excessive anger becomes an unconscious or semiconscious way to manipulate others.

Keeping the heat on Anger, like any other natural feeling, is fleeting. Watch the way a child will be angry one minute, then laughing the next. You may believe that once you have a feeling you should “stick with it.” Or you might have a resentful attitude that keeps reminding you that people are out to get you.

Converting other feelings If anger is acceptable but other feelings are not, you may be experiencing feelings like hurt or fear, but perceive them as anger instead. This is a typical “macho” characteristic that often leads to unnatural, destructive behavior.

Suppose you are a member of a gang. Your subculture frowns on any show of fear. You get into a conflict with another person and both of you feel afraid. Since this is not acceptable, you both interpret the fear as anger, and the danger of physical harm increases. This inability to identify feelings accurately probably helps kill several people in the United States every day, in gang warfare or in armed assault.


Poor decisions Anger clouds judgment. If anger is excessive or if it lasts far longer than its natural course, you may make poor choices. You may say or do things you will later regret.

Unfortunately, some people squelch their anger for fear that they will embarrass themselves or harm others. Eventually the anger builds until they can no longer contain it, and they lash out at someone or something. This strengthens the idea that anger is terrible, and it reinforces the cycle.

Manipulation Sometimes people learn that when they are angry, they get their way. They may encourage anger when they feel it or even fake it to get‘their own needs met at the expense of others. This is when anger becomes manipulation, and individuals may or may not be consciously aware that they are using anger in a manipulative way.

Temper People who claim they have a “terrible temper” certainly put everyone on notice that they must not be crossed. While they may honestly believe they are powerless over their temper (and might actually be rage addicts), it could also be a kind of manipulation or a defense to keep people from getting too close.

Exhausted control There are others whose control mechanisms are so exhausted that all they can do is respond with anger. Addicts who have been trying to control their addiction are not so different from children who are up way past their bedtime and become cranky and irritable because they are tired.

What Is Anger?

Feelings are biochemical processes that suggest courses of action to us. Anger is essentially a combination of hurt and fear, with neurotransmitters or hormones (like adrenaline) added to prepare us for possible fight or flight.

Hurt Any perceived hurt can trigger anger. This can be a memory of a painful event in the ancient or recent past, or current pain. If this anger helps you to get out of a painful situation, then it probably worked well.

If you want to get rid of the anger, try to identify the feeling of hurt that may be below the anger. For example, if you often get angry at your boss, see if you can remember some hurt you experienced from this person or another authority figure (like a parent) in the past. Remembering and allowing yourself to feel this hurt (perhaps by crying) may diffuse the anger and allow you to deal more effectively with your boss. Or it may convince you that there is too much pain here and you need to find another job.

Fear Fear is a physiological (biochemical) reaction that warns that pain or harm is imminent. It is an important survival mechanism that keeps us from exposing ourselves to unnecessary danger. If the danger is unavoidable, biochemical energy is added to make it anger. Some of our ancestors actually defended themselves and their children from saber-toothed tigers through the power of fear and adrenaline, and a stick.

Soldiers throughout history have “psyched themselves up” for a battle by turning their fears into anger, which gave them energy for the ensuing fight. But in modern warfare, where the ability to destroy the enemy may depend on making split-second technical decisions in the cockpit of a jet fighter, anger may actually be counterproductive. In many situations, allowing yourself to experience the fear, and then going on with your challenge, is the best way to deal with anger.

Adrenaline Intense hurt or fear can trigger the release of norepinephrine (adrenaline) and other neurotransmitters or hormones to mobilize the body for fight or flight. This is the source of the energy in anger.

Rage An excess of these biochemical agents becomes rage. In all but the most dangerous survival situations, rage produces damage rather than a productive response. Rage often results from hurt or fear that is denied (or “controlled”) until it becomes anger, and then further suppressed until it becomes rage.

As anger builds, the neurochemical imbalances within the body may add to the fright, producing more fear, more adrenaline, and more anger. Rage, then, is neurochemically like getting a microphone too close to the speaker -- the feedback proceeds rapidly to full volume.

Encountering rage Dealing with someone who is in a rage can be tricky and potentially dangerous. As with audio feedback, someone needs to turn down the volume or flip off the switch. If you can break off the confrontation, somehow interrupt what may be an “old tape” playing at full volume, or make it safer for the enraged person, you may be able to break the crisis.

Past Experience with Anger

Your family of origin is the best place to begin your search for your problems with anger. If anger was not permitted, you may have used lots of energy throughout your life to avoid becoming aware of it. This is what may be going on if you believe you seldom get angry but feel a knot in your stomach much of the time.

Denying anger Many adult women who are addicts grew up being “good little girls,” and everyone knows that good little girls don’t get angry. If this fits, your emotional recovery may include learning to express your anger honestly. This may be frightening at first, but you can learn that sharing your feelings does not have to hurt yourself or anyone else.


Anger, see also: Abuse, Acceptance, Attitudes, Crisis, Dual diagnosis, Emotional aspects, Emotions Anonymous, Energy levels, Excitement, Family of origin, Fear, Feelings, Grief, Intimacy, Panic attacks, Power, Premenstrual syndrome, Relaxation, Serenity, Stress & strain, Survival roles, Tranquilizers, Trust, Visualizations.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

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