• Anger is an important emotion that usually has negative connotations

  • Peter Fallon discusses ways to identify the problems caused by anger, and how to help resolve feelings of anger

  • If you are experiencing difficulties with anger, you can find a therapist here

Anger isn’t a mental illness...but as anyone experiencing difficulties with the ‘the red mist’ will tell you, it can feel like it is.  

‘Dave’ is a man in his mid-thirties who began by informing me that his anger issues go back to his mid-childhood. As he matured and advanced in his career however, their impact upon his life seemed to reduce. Something was now changing for Dave, however, and he wanted help to understand why. The techniques Dave had developed for managing his anger were becoming much less effective. His relationship with his wife was making them both unhappy, and his children seemed to be increasingly anxious when they were around him. He was feeling isolated at work and seeing less of his friends. He also recognised that he was often feeling stressed and perhaps a little low. He told me: "I feel worried, but I’ve nothing really to worry about. It’s like something is missing but I don’t know what it is or where to look". Words like guilt, shame, embarrassment, fear, feeling alone and "I don’t like myself very much sometimes" began to appear. There was much to explore with Dave, but he had made it clear at our first session that the experience causing him most distress were his feelings and episodes of anger. For myself as a therapist, there are two focuses when supporting somebody in this situation. Helping them develop a ‘first aid kit’ such that they can manage the distress in the short term and, just as importantly, assisting them in understanding and contextualising those thoughts and feelings so that they become less destructive and upsetting in the future.

A person’s experience of anger is unique to them.

Anger isn't just how you act towards others and how they respond. It’s also about how it makes you feel inside, both at the time and afterwards. A person’s experience of anger is unique to them, and so there is no simple model to explain how your anger ‘works’. Recognise though, that anger is a normal human emotion and you're not always angry. Know that you can become more the person you want to be. The person you are now is pretty good, and you probably just need a little bit of help to make the changes that are needed. How long will it take? That really is a ‘piece of string’ question, and one that can only be answered by you and your therapist when the work is underway. What we can be probably be sure of however, is that if you don’t choose to embark upon such a journey, the difficulties are unlikely to remedy themselves. Having spent over twenty years providing support to people experiencing psychological distress, I can say with some certainty that the NHS is unlikely to provide help with anger. As was said at the outset, anger might feel like a mental illness, but statutory services do not usually consider it to be one. If you are experiencing difficulties with anger, I would suggest you have four choices: do nothing and hope it works itself out, get yourself a ‘self help’ book and actively engage in the programme it proposes (there are many available on Amazon), access one the charitable sector organisations specialising in anger (if you are lucky enough to have one in your area), or find a therapist with whom you can embark on a face-to -face exploration of your difficulties. What you do with and about your anger is ultimately your choice and your responsibility. If you are worried about your anger and its impact on yourself and those around you, choosing to do nothing isn’t really an option.  

Further reading

Anger management: how can therapy help?

What is your anger telling you about yourself?

Can you become addicted to anger?

Harnessing anger as a tool for change