What Is Anger and How It Alters Our Behavior?

Updated April 20, 2021 by Iulian Ionescu | Read Time min.
anger emotion

Among the five basic emotions, anger holds a special place. The others are fear, disgust, sadness, and happiness. But anger is the one emotion that fuels conflict. Although the other emotions can also elicit a reaction that is adverse to another human being, their ability to do so pales in the face of anger. It is anger that sometimes fuels our energy, but the way we use that power is what separates people who can manage their anger from the rest. Studies have shown that one in three people will admit they know somebody who has anger issues. What does that mean exactly?

What Is Anger?

Psychology defines anger as “[…] an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”

The operative word here is “feel.” In other words, anger is triggered by an internal mechanism by which you interpret the world around you and react. This interpretation comes from within, fueled by your deepest values and beliefs. That is why anger, much like all emotions, doesn’t affect everyone the same way and with the same intensity.

But the idea here is that anger is a reaction to a situation or a person who is doing or saying something. There should be a clear separation between anger as the emotion you feel and the response you put out once your anger escalates.

Even though the emotion exists on a scale and people sense it differently, the reactions are even more polarized than the feeling itself. Some people seem never to get angry, while others appear mad all the time. On the other hand, some seem never to react even though they look mad, while others seem to react even though their anger is not apparent.

The spectrum is vast, and understanding where you stand on it is a key to managing your anger. That begs the question: do you need to manage your anger?

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”Mark Twain

angry fist punch

Is Anger Useful?

It’s easy to say, well, since anger is one of the five primal emotions, it must have been designed by nature and, therefore, it must be useful. Well, yes, that’s a good argument, but I think we can do better than that.

Just like when you feel fear from an imminent attack, you instinctively look for cover, and when you see something disgusting, you look away and feel sick to your stomach, anger has its share of benefits.

Anger acts as a catalyst and most often will get you moving or otherwise propel you to act. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.

For example, if you weren’t feeling anger toward social injustice, you’d probably never vote. If you weren’t feeling anger toward people damaging nature, you wouldn’t do your share of protecting the environment. When you know another child is bullying your kid, anger pushes you to discuss it with their teachers or the other kid’s parents.

When you feel angry, you are more likely to move and act. That is where the difference between the way people react comes into play. We often associate anger with violent reactions. When you see people at a violent demonstration protesting a governmental measure, you call them angry. But when you are mad, and you go to the voting booth to change that government, you might be using a lesser version of that word.

That’s because we often think of anger as the reaction to the anger, and we equate the latter to the former. I believe we do this because the responses coming out of anger are so obvious and, most of the time, scary that it’s normal to make that characterization.

However, anger and its reactions come in many flavors and levels, and you should not confuse one for the other.

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”Marcus Aurelius

anger face volcano

Levels of Anger

The Atlas of Emotions splits anger into seven levels of escalation, as shown in the chart below.

anger emotion

  1. Annoyance—very mild anger caused by a nuisance or inconvenience. Think of a mosquito running around your face for a while. How you describe it: annoyed, displeased, ruffled.
  2. Frustration—this is usually the response to a series of failures to overcome an obstacle. For example, when you try to solve a complicated puzzle. How you describe it: irritated, frustrated.
  3. Exasperation—this is an elevated type of anger caused by the repetition of a nuisance or inconvenience. That could be, for example, being stuck in traffic for an hour. How you describe it: agitated, perturbed, irate, exasperated.
  4. Argumentativeness—when you pass the level of exasperation, you are now at a point where you might begin to argue. How you describe it: indignant, mad, pissed off.
  5. Bitterness—this is usually a type of anger generated by a feeling of being mistreated or seeing others treated unfairly. How you describe it: bitter, indignant.
  6. Vengefulness is an elevated type of anger that makes people want to retaliate after being hurt or seeing others injured. How you describe it: outraged, infuriated, enraged.
  7. Fury or Rage—uncontrolled and usually violent anger. How you describe it: fuming, boiling, raging, explosive.

Depending on the situation, you might jump from no anger directly to an elevated level of anger, or you could slowly go through each stage as it escalates. Some people can recognize the signals of anger as they begin to feel annoyed, frustrated, or exasperated and can stop the elevation of anger. Others can’t do that, and they leap straight to the top.

What Makes People Angry?

Because your attitude toward everything, including yourself, others, and the world, stems from your values and beliefs, you feel your emotions through the prism of those ideas. Your levels of self-confidence, knowledge, and strengths and weaknesses also play an essential part in the way you react when faced with different situations.

Let’s look at the four types of anger that people can experience.

Four Types of Anger

Regardless of the level of anger, there is a way to break it down by its reasonableness. That means that irrespective of how you feel, the question becomes, should you feel that way?

Justifiable Anger
The anger that results from observing social injustices in the world can be qualified as justifiable anger. We can define it that way when it results in actions designed to correct those injustices—for instance, going out to a protest, voting to change a candidate, or standing up to a person who’s being bullied. All those situations are justifiable. However, we must keep in mind that continuous anger, even justifiable, can have long-term damaging effects, so you must withstand the temptation to justify all your anger.
Annoyance Anger
This is the most common type of anger among most of us, and it derives from the kinds of annoyance, frustration, and exasperation of day-to-day life. Much like in the examples above, these are things that happen all the time, and we can’t prevent them. It’s up to us to channel that anger positively. For example, if you keep hitting your toe on a piece of furniture, moving it to a better location would be a better reaction than kicking it and cursing every time you pass by. In other words, you can’t truly avoid this type of anger, but it’s one of the easier ones to control and channel constructively.
Aggressive Anger
Aggressive anger is prevalent when an individual attempts to assert his or her domination over another person or situation. That could escalate to intimidation, manipulation, physical harm, verbal abuse, or all the above. Several times in our lives, we’ve all probably done a version of this, especially when confronting people who we considered weaker at that moment. Even something trivial such as screaming at your child when they spilled their glass on the table qualifies as aggressive anger.
Temper Tantrum
This type of anger implies a disproportional outburst of anger relative to the situation. That usually results when one or more needs not being met, even though meeting those needs would be extremely difficult or irrational. Of course, this is typical behavior in children who are not mature enough to understand complex situations and have a natural selfish view about their needs. A lot of time, this type of anger is intertwined with or followed by aggressive anger.
“Don’t hold to anger, hurt, or pain. They steal your energy and keep you from love.”Leo Buscaglia

fists fight punch clash

How Is Anger Expressed?

I’m sure you’ve felt angry at one point or another in your life. Even more often, you’ve probably encountered angry people, either mad at you or someone else. What did you do at that moment? The expression of anger is just as diverse as those things that cause anger. Let’s look at some common ways in which people respond to anger.


When we dispute, we open an argument because something made us angry. It means you are standing up for something, and it could be rational, in which case it’s assertiveness, or it could be irrational, in which case it’s a blind argument. Disputes are not harmful as they tend to open our eyes to new possibilities, but anger might get in the way. If you approach a disagreement with the sole desire to impose your ideas versus having a win-win mindset, the dispute is just a blind expression of anger.


Passive-aggressiveness is a way of expressing anger that is deemed safe, and the person who expresses it can always invoke plausible deniability or remove themselves from the situation. This kind of expression is either done through sarcasm, body language, or poor execution to make a point.


Words have power; we all know that. Sometimes words can be used to hurt people, and the result might be even more damaging than physical abuse in some cases. Often, the spoken words can no longer be taken back, and the after-effects of the interaction linger way past the argument.


This is the first and most common reaction that comes to anyone’s mind when asked about how anger manifests. I doubt there is anyone alive who hasn’t yelled or been yelled at least one time in life. Even when we do it, it tends to scare the crap out of us most of the time. That’s because it seems like a complete loss of control. When a chat switches to screaming or yelling, the conversation breaks down, and the message is lost.


A quarrel is a form of anger expression that involves all or a combination of the ones above. It’s usually a heated argument in which the angry person might yell, insult, accuse, or threaten.


Sulking is another way that people deal with anger. Usually, this means carrying the anger on the inside and letting it fester. It’s typical for people to conduct arguments in their heads and keep boiling with that anger over time. Many times, people who simmer and brook also use passive-aggressiveness to let some of that anger escape.


Suppressing implies an attempt to prevent a reaction to anger and even deny that anger is present. When you suppress anger, you do not get rid of anger. Instead, this action can be more harmful than not in many situations. There’s a difference between not reacting to anger in a certain way and not acknowledging that anger is present.

Physical force

This is the second most common reaction we generally associate with anger. It involves harming someone physically, restraining them, or even killing them.


Undermining usually takes time and preparation. It’s a slow process by which one individual is trying to weaken another’s position to gain ground or be dominant.

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

angry pointing accusing

Controlling Your Anger

So, to summarize:

  1. We cannot run away from anger
  2. Getting angry and reacting to anger are two different things

It’s okay to get angry; it’s not okay to react angrily. Therefore, this article’s final point deals with some common ways to train ourselves not to respond angrily and, instead, to deal with anger constructively. It’s a subset of ways to use when dealing with uncomfortable emotions, in general.

7 Methods to Cope with And Manage Your Anger


Think twice before you say anything

When tension is high, your feeling brain presses the acceleration faster than your thinking brain can analyze. Practice taking a breath, and before you speak, say what you want to say in your mind. You can even count to ten as you say it. Once you’ve said it in your head, imagine what the other person might feel. This takes a lot of practice and self-control.



When anger takes over, it’s often challenging to keep a calm demeanor, even if you try point 1). Sometimes you need more than that. This might include removing yourself from the situation so you can cool off. If the situation is a discussion, express first that you need a bit of time to clear your head. During that time, breathe deeply, walk, get some fresh air. Once you feel the blinding rage subside, you can return to the conversation.


Don’t leave the anger unexpressed

Even if you return to the situation and it’s now calm, you need to find a way to express how you felt. Because the problem got resolved doesn’t cancel the fact that you got overwhelmed by anger. Express that clearly and calmly. Provide the reasons for your frustration and do your best to express this without jumping back into anger.


Don’t point fingers

Most of the time, when we are angry, we want revenge against the source of that anger. Brene Brown says that when we feel mad, we vomit our rage on the other person in the form of blame. Instead, when you feel angry, focus on yourself. What that means is that your feelings are central and not the action that made you angry. Instead of saying, “you left the lights on again in the whole house,” say, “I’m disappointed you left the lights on again.” By using “I” statements, you are communicating your feelings and not purely accusing.


Practice forgiveness

There will always be moments of anger; it’s inevitable. Arguments will happen, disputes will arise. Sooner or later, you either must resolve them or remove yourself from the situation or relationship permanently. However, if you fix the situation, make sure you can carry on without holding a grudge. Festering anger in the form of a grudge will eat at you over time. It will brew like a slow cooker, and at the tiniest catalyst, it will burst.



After every episode of anger, take a few minutes to reflect. Ask yourself, what caused the outrage? What did you feel in those moments, and how did it manifest in your body? Then, what did you do? What form of expression did your anger take? By studying your reactions and triggers, you will become more in control of your anger.


Seek help

Sometimes, anger might be too much of a mountain to conquer all by yourself. If you go through the steps above and find yourself unable to still control your anger and constructively resolve situations, you should consider seeking professional help.

peace serenity zen

Anger Management Conclusion

As much as some of us don’t like to acknowledge, yours truly dully included, everyone gets angry sometimes. Because we live in a society that expects us to behave a certain way, most of us do all we can to suppress that anger and pretend it’s not there.

I hope that I was able to demonstrate in this article that that’s the wrong approach. Anger is a common emotion and one that has its uses. By learning and practicing expressing it constructively and from a calm state of mind, you will slowly learn how to take control of your anger.

People who learn how to manage their anger will have better relationships and be better suited to perform in society. They will be less stressed, and their overall health will improve.

So, don’t let anger control you. Always remember that you are the one at the steering wheel—you are in control. Always.

Other Resources

Now, before you go, I have…

3 Questions For You

  1. What is your experience with anger?
  2. Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed by anger and unable to control it?
  3. What are some of the methods you use to deal with your anger?

Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!



anxiety, behavior, emotions

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