“Anger issues” are often not what they seem. Anger can be a valid and adaptive response to frustrating situations, but it becomes self-destructive if it’s not processed or if it manifests before processing. If you’re constantly thinking “why am I so angry?” then it might be time to reflect on those feelings and get to the root of the problem.

In this guide, we discuss where anger comes from, how to understand your own anger, and what to do to feel better.

Understanding anger

Understanding where your anger comes from can really help, since negative emotions signal that a change is in order. By analyzing the sources of your own anger, you start on the road to managing it better in daily life.

Why am I so angry?

Negative emotions signal that a change is necessary. In whatever way we can, we have to to change our lived experience to decrease the sadness, frustration, loneliness, or anger that we feel.

The approach/avoidance conflict:

Most of these negative emotions, like depression, trigger an avoidance response, meaning an increased motivation to escape obstacles or situations. Anger, on the other hand, triggers an approach response, meaning an increased motivation to overcome obstacles or change situations. 

The function of anger:

Because of anger’s motivational capacity, anger is often a useful emotion that results in:

  • increased effort toward reaching goals
  • increased investment of time and money
  • increased drive to change other people’s behavior

As such, anger serves to catalyze individual and societal change. Without anger, we would be more passive people, missing a key driving force toward growth and improvement (as we are seeing lately in 2020).   

When is anger a problem? When anger becomes dysfunctional.

When we are unable to use our anger to make changes in our life or the world, it internalizes and begins to tear us down from the inside out. Anger, which starts as a driving force for external change, becomes a lingering internal emotion that only frustrates, drains, and hurts you. 

Here are some of the signs of more serious anger issues that can happen when anger remains unprocessed: 

  • you feel frustrated, lost, and stuck
  • you feel your anger is out of control
  • your anger damages your relationships
  • your anger leads you to do or say things you regret

In these cases, your anger is escaping through unproductive outlets that will do nothing to change the root cause of your frustration. Un-used anger’s combination of self-destructive consequences and lack of positive change can further increase feelings of anger, creating a destructive loop.

To break the cycle and get back to the root of your feelings, anger must be reflected on and processed. 

Processing anger

One way to deal with anger issues involves three steps: wait, reflect, and plan. This plan allows you to detach from your anger, analyze it carefully, and create a more adaptive outlet for its expression. 

1. Wait

Waiting may be the hardest part of processing anger. Anger is a secondary emotion — this means that when feelings such as pain, fear, rejection, frustration, and sadness are intensified, they give rise to anger. As such, to process anger, we must first give ourselves the space and patience to let those deeper feelings resurface. Take deep breaths, count to ten, listen to music, paint, take a walk, shower, etc. — whatever you need to do to give yourself the mental space to let anger work its way down. 

2. Reflect

Once you get a little closer to the deeper feelings below your anger, work with them. Try journaling, talking to a loved one, or chatting in a peer support group. Verbalizing or writing down our feelings helps us streamline all our jumbled thoughts, making sense of our feelings and translating them to something we can more easily understand. 

3. Plan 

Lastly, once you have a better idea of what you’re feeling and why, you make a plan. Here we are circling back to anger’s adaptive function. Your anger is trying to motivate you to do something — but sometimes you just won’t know what to do. Understanding the root of our feelings can give us a better place to work from when we try to move forward. 

Examples of anger processing

  • Anger → I’m feeling lonely because nobody listens to me I’m going to talk to my loved ones about communication, forge deeper relationships with my friends, or search for outside support from a peer group or therapist.
  • Anger → I’m feeling disappointed because I am not reaching one of my goals I’m going to invest more effort into learning a skill, reach out for a tutor or trainer, or plan new goals that are a better fit for me. 
  • Anger → I’m feeling afraid because I don’t want to get hurt I’m going to find or solidify a support group, research ways to protect myself, or open myself up to new emotions and feelings. 

If you feel like you have a quick temper, are always angry, or experience anger issues, you might just have some deeper and scarier feelings that you can’t quite access and process yet. Try using this three-step plan to get at the root of your anger and reprogram it to a more adaptive outlet. Remember to give yourself patience and time — processing anger isn’t easy or simple.

Lastly, do not compound your anger by getting frustrated for feeling the way you do. Anger is normal and understandable. We all feel it, and if you’re taking the extra step to be better at managing it, then you’re on the right track. 

One more thing: This article deals with normal feelings of anger in everyday life. Anger at systemic injustice is a different story. It shouldn’t be on you to manage these feelings. The pressure is on the entire system to change. We will stop being angry about the intergenerational abuse of Black Americans when there is fundamental positive change toward equality and fair treatment.