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Anger vs. Chronic Anger, and How to Manage Both

Understand and control your anger before it controls you.

Key points

  • Anger is a natural and useful emotion.
  • Anger is different than aggression or violence.
  • Anger should always be identified and expressed, rather than suppressed.
  • Chronic anger is different than normal or adaptive anger and requires exploration of unmet needs.
Source: g-stockstudio/iStock
Source: g-stockstudio/iStock

Anger is an emotional state that can escalate in intensity from mild discomfort, frustration, or irritation to intense fury or rage. It is a universal, natural, completely normal, and healthy human emotion that every single person has experienced.

Anger is one of the most common human emotions, as well as among the most powerful. Hence, it’s better to understand and control your anger before it controls you.

Understanding Different Kinds of Anger

Anger can be a daily experience, depending on someone's family, interpersonal life, and workplace disagreements and frustrations, to name a few. As an adaptive emotion, anger can be very healthy; it is part of our motivational system and serves some important survival and adaptive functions, such as self-protection.

For example, we feel angry when we perceive a threat, unfair or unjust treatment, or a violation of our rights or dignity (e.g., when someone disrespects or betrays us, we can use assertive anger). Anger can also motivate us to problem-solve, overcome obstacles, achieve our goals, and change.

Having said all this, when it's out of control, anger can become problematic and destructive, and may lead to multiple physiological, psychological, and behavioral problems. This is when it becomes maladaptive or non-constructive anger, which can be associated with aggression or violence.

While anger is an emotion, aggression or violence are behaviors (actions) that some people engage in when they feel angry. These behaviors can be verbal or physical, hostile, reactive or proactive, impulsive or premeditated, direct or indirect, and active or passive.

Such behaviors are more likely to happen when people fail to identify and express their feelings of anger. Unexpressed or repressed anger can also trigger physical pain and psychosomatic symptoms, including headaches, digestive issues, lethargy, emotional numbness, depression or dysthymia, sadness, lack of motivation, and procrastination.

Bottling up emotions, such as anger, can make people more aggressive, and making efforts to suppress anger can cause what's known as stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity. Inwardly turned anger may lead to hypertension or depression. Therefore, it's usually best for anger to neither be ignored nor suppressed.

Managing Acute Anger and Chronic Anger

In the first instance of anger, a strategy to manage or regulate it typically entails a two-step process:

  1. Identify it—i.e. practice emotional self-awareness
  2. Name it, which entails putting your emotions into words (naming your feelings) or "affect labeling"; this constitutes applied emotional intelligence

Cognitive restructuring, relaxation, and coping skills training can also be useful to manage or overcome situational and general anger. Managing chronic anger, however, requires more than this.

Chronic anger is when a pattern of anger persists over time, as opposed to feeling angry temporarily due to a specific trigger or situation. Chronic anger is pervasive and reflects an overall ongoing attitude of hostility, irritation, or resentment towards oneself and/or others. Intermittent explosive disorder consists of recurrent behavioral outbursts that represent a failure to control aggressive impulses.

While chronic anger can be associated with chronic pain, and various mental health disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, or a personality disorder), it is often the result of unhealed childhood wounds (e.g., emotional or physical neglect/abuse), or currently unmet emotional needs.

5 Fundamental Human Needs

An extensive body of research (Young et al., 2003), indicates that we all have the following five sets of universal emotional needs:

  1. Secure attachment and connection to others. This includes the need to experience a sense of belonging, stability, nurturance, affection, safety, empathy, and acceptance. Deficiency in this domain can produce a sense of disconnection and rejection.
  2. Sense of identity. That is, allowing for the emergence of our individual tendencies and natural inclinations. This includes the need to feel competent and independent, having the ability to make our own decisions, and performing adequately in life. Deficiency in this domain can cause impaired autonomy and performance.
  3. Capacity for self-directedness. This includes having freedom to express our personal opinions, preferences, and needs. Deficiency in this domain can cause impaired limits.
  4. Ability to identify boundaries and to tolerate necessary discomfort. This includes the need to have self-control, self-regulation, reciprocity, frustration tolerance, mutual respect, and adherence to reasonable rules and limits. Deficiency in this domain can cause other-directednessa mode of conformity that seeks approval and acceptance from others, as opposed to inner-directedness, which is acting independently and according to a personal moral code.
  5. Flexibility and optimism. That is, the need to be spontaneous, to balance work and play, to imagine (the possibility of positive outcomes), and to be forgiven when making mistakes. Deficiency in this domain can cause over-vigilance and inhibition.

Not having the above needs adequately met (in the past) or failing to reasonably meet them (in the present), is very likely to make you feel anxious, depressed, or chronically angry.

If you feel chronically angry, dissatisfied, unhappy, tend to blame others or circumstances, and lash out at others or isolate yourself, it is very likely that—without you being aware—some of the above-listed emotional needs aren’t being met for you. The best way to check this is by contacting a qualified mental health professional, such as a licensed psychologist.

To find help near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory,


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Greenberg, L. S., Rice, L. N., & Elliott, R. K. (1996). Facilitating emotional change: The moment-by-moment process. Guilford Press.

Salovey, P. (2001). Applied emotional intelligence: Regulating emotions to become healthy, wealthy, and wise. In J. Ciarrochi, J. P. Forgas, & J. D. Mayer (Eds.), Emotional intelligence in everyday life: A scientific inquiry (pp. 168–184). Psychology Press.

Schlegelmich, A., & Fresco, D. (2005). Review of Emotion-focused therapy: Coaching clients to work through their feelings [Review of the book Emotion-Focused therapy: Coaching clients to work through their feelings, by L. S. Greenberg]. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 18(3), 225–226.

Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling as implicit emotion regulation. Emotion Review, 10(2), 116–124.

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