Northside Group
Part of Ramsay Health Care


Understanding Anger

Apr 24, 2018

Anger is an important emotion, and one that we all experience in our daily lives. When learning how to manage anger appropriately, it is useful to first understand how the emotion works, why we feel it and the way it functions.

Consider the following scenario:


Jake is waiting for his date Sophie to turn-up to the movies. Jake has arrived very early. He is feeling quite anxious about going into the theatre. Five minutes to go before the movie starts and Sophie is still not there. He paces up and down the footpath and is looking out for her car amongst the traffic. His heart is racing, he is breathing fast and his teeth and fists are tightly clenched. Jake phones his mobile to tell her the date is off (along with a few choice obscenities). Jake is very angry. He thinks, “You can’t count on anyone else! Others let you down! People are inconsiderate! I’m better off alone. Sophie knows how important being on time is to me. She must have done this to annoy me!"


Anger is an emotional reaction that, demonstrated by the above example, involves a number of different elements working together: 


Phsyical Symptoms:


Increased heart and breathing rate, muscle tension.



  • You can’t count on anyone.
  • Others let you down.
  • I am better off alone.
  • She must have done this to annoy me



  • Pacing
  • Watching traffic
  • Verbal aggression
  • Clenching fists and teeth


  • Frustration
  • Hostility
  • Anxiety
  • Irritation
  • Impatience


Emotion vs. Behaviours


Anger is an important emotion.  As we will explore shortly, it serves a number of very useful purposes that ultimately ensure our survival.  For many however, the way in which we express this emotion leads to a number of problems.  Aggression is a form of anger expression (set of behaviours), which often has a negative impact on our relationships and other important aspects of our lives.  Similarly, assertion and passivity/submissiveness are responses to anger, which involve certain distinct behaviours.


The functions of anger:




Positive Functions:


Anger is an energizer. It gives us vigour, mobilizes the body’s resources for self-defence and provides stamina when a task gets difficult. It enables us to deal with conflict by supplying fuel for the fight.


Anger can be a helpful way to express tension and communicate our negative feelings to others. The constructive expression of anger is an important way to resolve conflict. 


An aggressive reaction reduces stress by discharging tension.


Anger gets attention and can result in others changing their behaviour or giving you what you want.


Anger, like other emotions, gives us important information about people and situations. It serves as a cue to tell us that there is something unjust, frustrating, threatening or annoying going on. It can be a signal that tells us it is time to cope with stress. 


Negative Functions


Anger can disrupt our thoughts and actions. When angry, it is harder to think clearly and evaluate options. We act more on impulse without considering the consequences of our behaviour. 


Sometimes we use anger as a defence at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we express anger to prevent ourselves from being hurt or embarrassed or to protect our pride. Often it is more comfortable to feel anger than to experience anxiety. That is, anger is often used to mask our experience of other important emotions.


Physical and or verbal aggression as a way of discharging anger can lead to damage to ourselves, others and property. Often anger is directed to those we are closest to. 


Chronic anger has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, depressed immune system, headaches, muscular tension, chronic fatigue, asthma attacks, diabetes, IBS and oesophagitis.