How Anger Management Works

Individuals who have a hard time controlling their tempers can benefit from a type of talk therapy known as anger management. In anger management, patients acquire new coping mechanisms that allow them to process anger in a healthy way.

Everyone experiences anger from time to time. It can be a natural and productive part of a healthy psyche, helping individuals avoid hurtful people, cope with triggering traumas, and source solutions to life’s problems. When anger becomes excessive and uncontrolled, however, it can wreak havoc on the individual’s life and the lives of those around them. Unhealthy anger can also be comorbid with other mental health problems.

Learning the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Anger

Every individual expresses anger in their own way, be it yelling, weeping, or even running from a situation. Anger is a powerful emotion, and even in healthy manifestations, it can raise pulses and body temperatures. Experiencing the emotion of anger, even so that your pulse rises, does not mean that you have disordered anger.

In its unhealthy manifestations, anger is toxic and ongoing, causing individuals to act out violently and destructively. Additionally, Individuals with disordered anger can be a danger to those around them or even to property. They may also self-destructively go after positive elements in their lives. A mental health professional can guide someone with this condition through anger management to healing.

How Common Is Disordered Anger?

There is limited research on the frequency of unhealthy anger in the U.S. There is some research around one disorder related to anger issues, Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Though limited, this research suggests that around seven percent of the population experiences this disorder.

One issue is that other mental health issues can cause individuals to act in a self-destructive or harmful way. Adolescents, as an example, experience higher rates of misplaced anger than adults or small children. While the discussion and research around triggers and cause are ongoing, anyone experiencing disordered anger should understand they are not alone and that professionals are here to help.

Patient Experience in Anger Management

The experience of disordered anger can leave individuals feeling as if there is no hope for them. Through the help of a professional, these individuals can learn techniques to rebuild structure and hope in their lives. Mental health professionals leverage proven techniques in anger management to give patients the coping skills they need to work through disordered anger.

A first step is understanding that disordered anger is a symptom of an underlying condition. By addressing the emotional issues that serve as the foundation of disordered anger, patients can develop new, more positive behavior patterns with the help of their therapist.

Disordered Anger – The Signs

The most common way people characterize those with unhealthy anger is to describe frequent and violent outbursts. While this is often the case, it is important to realize that disordered anger can present in less obvious ways as well.

Anger can present in passive ways, too, making it more difficult to identify. Passive aggression such as sarcasm can be one of these more subtle versions of disordered anger.

Anger disorder symptoms can include:

  • Instigating fights or arguments
  • Taking perceived insults or slights very seriously and fixating on them
  • Tamping down negative emotions, then exploding
  • Engaging in destruction of property
  • Close friends and family feel the need to be extra careful around a person
  • Driving recklessly
  • Making threats against others
  • Feeling angry more often than calm

While chaotic from the outside, disordered anger can follow a pattern when observed by those closest to the patient. A mental health professional may work with a patient and his loved ones to determine what triggers the anger and then develop tools for coping with those triggers.

In certain situations, disordered anger can turn friends and loved ones of a patient into victims. While the patient does deserve help for this disorder, anyone experiencing violence should get help and support in their own right. Anyone who is the victim of disordered anger should seek out support and therapy of their own in order to heal.

Anger and Depression

The common stereotype of depression is one where the individual is overcome by sadness and inaction. Anger, however, often presents as well when a patient is depressed. Depressed patients often have a loud and almost tyrannical inner critic, causing them to act out in anger at times. When an individual has anger issues before they develop a depressive disorder, the depression can only enhance the rage, creating a cycle of disordered anger and depression. Therapy and medication are often successful interventions for those experiencing depression and disordered anger in tandem.

Techniques for Managing Anger

The profound intensity of disordered anger can leave patients without hope, thinking there is no way to manage the waves of anger. Therapy can, however, help a patient develop the skills they need to manage anger over time. Through careful and systematic work, patients can transform their lives.

Techniques that can aid in managing anger include:

  • Exercising regularly. Getting exercise is one of the best ways for releasing the physical tension of experiencing anger. Options such as running, weight training, or practicing martial arts can work well. Schedule exercise regularly, and stick with that schedule.
  • Pause and think before you speak. Pace your reactions to outside stimuli by taking a moment to think before speaking. You may even need to remove yourself physically from the space before responding.
  • Calmly narrate emotions. When you have had a moment to regulate, take the time to narrate how you are feeling or felt. Use “I” sentences to avoid deflecting blame onto the other people with you.
  • Practice forgiveness. Forgiving is hard even for those without disordered anger. It is a key tool for those practicing anger management, however. Holding on to resentments only hurts you and perpetuates the cycle of anger.

In mild cases of disordered anger, these techniques can be effective and helpful. Those with more intense cases need the intervention of a mental health professional.

Therapy for Anger Management

Therapy for anger management depends on the patient’s needs, and it can take on several forms. Typically, anger management therapy will involve some combination of individual and/or group therapy, as well as medication. In some cases, inpatient treatment may be necessary.

Group Therapy

Group therapy involves one and sometimes two counselors guiding a group with anger management issues. Story sharing and listening are at the heart of this therapy. The counselor may also provide the group with some techniques for coping with anger.

Individual Therapy

In individual therapy sessions, the patient has a one-on-one session with the mental health professional. They explore patterns and negative behaviors, then develop tools for coping with these negative traits.

Inpatient Treatment

In some scenarios, a patient may require inpatient treatment with round-the-clock support in the short or long term. Inpatient treatment includes therapy and often medication.


Medication can be an effective intervention for those with anger issues. Your mental health professional will work with you to find the best solution for your needs. Medication may be necessary in the short term or for ongoing maintenance of a condition.