Most people feel angry from time to time. Many may also find themselves on the receiving end of those who lash out in anger. How we handle anger (be it our own or someone else’s) can make the difference between calmness versus agitation, proactive versus reactive, and equanimity versus suffering.
There are many ways to de-escalate, reduce, or dissolve anger. In this article, we will focus on four categories of anger and their impact on our lives, with references from my books How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People.
(It is important to note that the four types of anger identified below are largely psychologically based. Chronic, persistent anger may also be the result of a brain injury, chemical imbalance, substance abuse, PTSD, etc.)
1. Justifiable Anger
Justifiable anger is having a sense of moral outrage at the injustices of the world—whether it’s the destruction of the environment, oppression of human rights, cruelty towards animals, violence in the community, or an abusive relationship at home. Justifiable anger may have benefits in the short term, as its intensity can be channeled into passion and action for change. However, any type of anger over time is inherently unhealthy, as it robs us of our peace of mind and causes suffering within. Feeling angry on a regular basis for any reason only hurts oneself in the long run.
“Don’t wait for things to change around you. Don’t believe that shouting for one thousand years will bring you relief. You have to practice liberating yourself. Then you will be equipped with the power of compassion and understanding, the only kind of power that can help transform an environment full of injustice and discrimination.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
2. Annoyance Anger
For most people, this is the most common type of anger. Annoyance anger can arise from the many frustrations of daily life: a driver cuts you off on the road, your partner said something insensitive, the kids aren’t listening, your boss is a real jerk, etc. The list can go on and on. When we focus on the negative and personalize/internalize other people’s words and actions, it’s easy to experience annoyance anger on a regular basis. Worse yet, by becoming upset and getting triggered, we unwittingly allow other people’s problems to become our own.
“Don't take anything personally… What others say and do is a projection of their own reality.” —Miguel Angel Ruiz
“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. Aggressive Anger
Aggressive anger is often used in situations where one individual attempts to exercise dominance, intimidation, manipulation, or control over another. When expressed repeatedly in relationships, aggressive anger becomes bullying, oppression, psychological violence, and emotional abuse.
This type of anger may seem powerful on the outside, but often betrays an individual’s insecurity on the inside. When we look mindfully at someone’s repeated, aggressive anger, we may recognize a deep sense of fear and inadequacy within—someone who tries to mask his or her weaknesses and flaws by attempting to control others.
“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” —Paramhansa Yogananda
Chronic aggressive anger inevitably results in destructive outcomes, including painful conflicts, ruined relationships, and damaged reputations. Over time, the price one pays for aggressive anger can be exceedingly high (a Zen teacher I know observes this as a karmic consequence). Unless the hostile perpetrator awakens and changes their ways, aggressive anger may ultimately result in the aggressor’s own demise.
“…anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of harming another; you end up getting burned.” —Paraphrase of saying by Buddhaghosa
4. Temper Tantrums
Temper tantrums (sometimes intertwined with aggressive anger) can be characterized as disproportional outbursts of anger when an individual’s selfish wants and needs are not fulfilled, no matter how unreasonable and inappropriate. Temper tantrums are often directed toward those whose words and actions do not deserve such emotional fury.
This type of anger often originates in childhood (due to multiple factors) and is typically part of a young person’s developmental and maturation process. The “terrible twos” phase of childhood is a classic example. However, some individuals never outgrow their tantrums and continue to unleash them in adult life when they don’t get their way (i.e., narcissistic rage). People with chronic temper tantrums often have difficulty forming healthy and successful relationships, a struggle that persists until one seeks professional help for one’s anger issues.
“When anger rises, think of the consequences.” — Confucius
“Normal people have problems. The smart ones get help.” —Daniel Amen
Can anger and other types of negative emotions be de-escalated, diminished, or dissolved? It's definitely possible. Healthy self-awareness, the desire to learn and grow, and a willingness to improve communication and emotional intelligence are some of the keys to success. See references below.
© 2014, 2019 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.
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Ni, Preston. How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions. PNCC. (2014)
Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People — 2nd Edition. PNCC. (2006)
Ni, Preston. Are You Highly Sensitive? How to Gain Immunity, Peace, and Self-Mastery!. PNCC. (2017)
Amen, Daniel. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Three River Press. (1999)
Ruiz, Miguel Angel. The Four Agreements. Amber-Allen. (2018)
Thich Nhat Hanh. Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. Riverhead Books (2002)
Thich, Nhat Hanh. The Path of Emancipation. Berkeley: Parallax Press. (2000)
Santrock, J. Life-Span Development, 11th ed. McGraw Hill. (2008)