Learn / Get Control of Your Anger—And Your Life

Get Control of Your Anger—And Your Life

Kayla Gill
 September 13th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Everyone feels angry sometimes. It’s a normal emotion, and it can even be healthy. But anger can also become a problem. Chronic or extreme rage can damage your relationships. And it can interfere with your ability to enjoy the best parts of your life.

If it feels like rage is controlling you, instead of the other way around, you can go to rehab for chronic anger. In treatment, you’ll learn how to manage your emotions in a sustainable way.

Anger vs Aggression: What’s the Difference?

Anger is an emotion. Aggression is a behavior.1 Aggression often occurs because of anger, but the two aren’t synonymous. You can feel angry without acting aggressively.

In general, anger only becomes an issue when it leads to aggression. Well-managed anger isn’t a problem.2 On the contrary, it’s a normal feeling. And like all feelings, it exists for a good reason. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes anger as “a natural, adaptive response to threats.”

Treating chronic anger doesn’t mean you’ll never get upset again. Instead, the goal is to feel your anger safely, without causing external harm. For many people, this means being assertive without getting aggressive. You can and should ask for what you need, and set appropriate boundaries. But it’s best to avoid hurting anyone else in the process.

There’s a fine line between these 2 types of behavior. And in order to find a healthy balance, it’s important to understand where your own feelings are coming from.

Trait vs. State Anger

There are 2 different types of anger, known as trait anger and state anger.1 A person experiencing state anger sometimes feels frustrated by external factors, like getting cut off in traffic. But in general, they likely have a calm and balanced disposition. Almost everyone experiences state anger from time to time.

Trait anger, on the other hand, is more constant. People with trait anger might feel angry all the time. Or, they may be triggered very easily. These triggers can lead to both internal anger and outward aggression. Trait anger makes it hard to control how you react to difficult situations.3

You might be tempted to blame someone for your anger. But if you blame someone else, it might compound the problem by making you even angrier. And self-blame can quickly turn into shame. Instead of getting stuck in either of these loops, you can think of anger as an issue that deserves care.

Anger Disorders

If it’s extreme enough, anger can be diagnosed as a mental health condition. Many of these diagnoses begin in childhood. And if they’re not treated, they can continue later in life. But with the right support, you can learn to manage your emotions, no matter how extreme they may feel.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

ODD first appears in early childhood,4 and affects certain children and teens. People with ODD have a hard time controlling their feelings and actions. They may seem constantly irritated, argue with instructions, or feel angry with other people. To treat children with ODD, experts recommend both individual and family therapy. This condition often improves with age. But sometimes, it can develop into conduct disorder (CD).

Conduct Disorder (CD)

​​In most children and teens, occasional rebellious behavior is normal. For people with conduct disorder,5 it’s a problematic pattern. People with CD consistently display aggressive behavior toward both people and animals. You may even set intentions to hurt someone, destroy property, or break rules. This condition is often described as a more serious version of ODD. If you think you might have CD, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)

People with intermittent explosive disorder (IED)6 experience severe anger attacks. During these episodes, you may be unable to control your aggressive impulses. You might even become verbally or physically violent. If you have this diagnosis, you may risk assaulting other people and damaging property.

Even if you have IED, you may not feel angry most of the time.7 These outbursts are intense, but not constant. This can be confusing, for both the person with IED and for loved ones. It might be hard to work around triggers, and difficult to follow through on plans. Treatment can help you make sense of your own feelings, and manage them in a healthy way.

Learn How to Manage Your Anger

Poorly controlled anger can undermine your mental health.1 It also hurts the people around you, and can damage your relationships as a result. Anger may also interfere with your work life, if you express rage at your boss or colleagues. Data even suggests that anger can lead to addiction.8 And experts agree that “​severe anger is generally associated with lower quality of life.”

You can focus on anger management in residential rehab. In these programs, patients learn how to stay calm even when they feel overwhelmed. During this process, certain therapies are especially effective.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MCBT)

When used alone, both mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can reduce anger.1 And these therapies work even better together.

In classic CBT, you’ll learn how to respond to your own negative beliefs. Often, your therapist will teach practical skills to modify unhealthy thought patterns. And in mindfulness practices, you learn how to accept your feelings as they are, instead of acting on them or trying to change them.

MCBT combines these 2 techniques. This treatment can help people reduce impulsive behavior. Research suggests that it’s the most effective treatment for anger issues.

Mindfulness can also have a powerful impact on brain chemistry.1 Studies show that mindfulness techniques reduce activity in the amygdala. This is the part of the brain which processes feelings like fear, anxiety, and anger. In layman’s terms: this treatment can actually help you feel less angry. And that emotional stability will likely decrease your aggressive impulses.

Anger Management Through Video Games

Experts continue to seek out new ways to treat chronic anger. Some have even started to teach anger management through a video game.9

RAGE Control (Regulate and Gain Emotional Control) is a game that monitors the player’s heart rate as they play. If your heart rate increases above a certain level, the game changes slightly to accommodate this. The goal is to teach teens how to stay calm even in the face of frustration.

Patients alternate between gameplay and talk therapy. This gives them the “opportunity to talk about their actions and feelings in the context of the game rather than having to revisit uncomfortable, demeaning topics such as past bad behavior,” says social worker Peter Ducharme. “Practicing the game lets them experience mastering the skills presented in therapy. This in turn allows them to open up about their difficulties.”

Although the game is still undergoing testing, it seems promising. In one study, children reported feeling less angry after playing the game. Another found that RAGE Control improved teens’ anger management skills.10 This research may help experts treat both anger and other mental health issues in the future.

Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Anger often appears as a symptom of other disorders.11 It’s strongly associated with a number of mental health conditions, like borderline personality disorder (BPD) and bipolar disorder. Anger is also common in people with major depressive disorder (MDD).9 Some MDD patients experience aggressive outbursts that appear related to their other diagnosis. In many people, anger resolves when they get effective treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Anger and Addiction

Anger is strongly associated with drug and alcohol addiction. Both “state and trait anger are risk factors for substance use and abuse.”1 If you have a history of anger issues, you may be more vulnerable to developing an addiction in the future.

On the other hand, addiction can also lead to uncontrolled anger. Alcohol, in particular, impairs impulse control. This makes it hard to resist your aggressive urges. And without proper support, this can quickly become a vicious cycle. If you’re caught up in that pattern, it might be time to get treatment.

Stop Letting Anger Control You

You can’t completely rid yourself of anger—and it would be unhealthy to try. This emotion serves a valuable purpose. It can protect you from danger, and help you recognize your boundaries. But when it’s left unchecked, anger can also cause great harm.

In recovery, you can learn when and how it’s appropriate to express your anger. Ultimately, treatment can teach you to react in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone—including yourself.

In a rehab program that specializes in anger management, you can work with experts in mental health, addiction, and relationship dynamics. Visit our directory to learn more about this type of treatment and get in touch with centers directly.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Richard, Y., Tazi, N., Frydecka, D., Hamid, M. S., & Moustafa, A. A. (2022). A systematic review of neural, cognitive, and clinical studies of anger and aggression. Current Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-022-03143-6 [] [] [] [] [] []
  2. How to control anger before it controls you. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control []
  3. Carroll, J. (2020). Trait anger. In M. D. Gellman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine (pp. 2254–2255). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-39903-0_854 []
  4. Aggarwal, A., & Marwaha, R. (2022). Oppositional defiant disorder. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557443/ []
  5. Mohan, L., Yilanli, M., & Ray, S. (2022). Conduct disorder. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470238/ []
  6. Scott, K. M., de Vries, Y. A., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Al-Hamzawi, A., Alonso, J., Bromet, E. J., Bunting, B., Caldas-de-Almeida, J. M., Cía, A., Florescu, S., Gureje, O., Hu, C.-Y., Karam, E. G., Karam, A., Kawakami, N., Kessler, R. C., Lee, S., McGrath, J., Oladeji, B., … de Jonge, P. (2020). Intermittent explosive disorder subtypes in the general population: Association with comorbidity, impairment and suicidality. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 29, e138. https://doi.org/10.1017/S2045796020000517 []
  7. Radwan, K., & Coccaro, E. F. (2020). Comorbidity of disruptive behavior disorders and intermittent explosive disorder. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 14, 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13034-020-00330-w []
  8. Baharvand, P., & Malekshahi, F. (2019). Relationship between anger and drug addiction potential as factors affecting the health of medical students. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 8, 157. https://doi.org/10.4103/jehp.jehp_145_19 []
  9. Anger management. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://hms.harvard.edu/magazine/science-emotion/anger-management [] []
  10. Ducharme, P., Kahn, J., Vaudreuil, C., Gusman, M., Waber, D., Ross, A., Rotenberg, A., Rober, A., Kimball, K., Peechatka, A. L., & Gonzalez-Heydrich, J. (2021). A “proof of concept” randomized controlled trial of a video game requiring emotional regulation to augment anger control training. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.591906 []
  11. Fernandez, E., & Johnson, S. L. (2016). Anger in psychological disorders: Prevalence, presentation, etiology and prognostic implications. Clinical Psychology Review, 46, 124–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2016.04.012 []

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