Anger: The Good and The Bad

by: Dr. Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych. 

We are hard-wired to express emotions, including anger. Anger is a complex emotion that can be either adaptive or maladaptive. Anger can be a healthy primary emotion that is expressed to protect us in moments in which we might be violated, threatened by someone, unfairly treated, criticized, or frustrated. It is a natural part of the fight or flight response when we perceive danger in our world. Anger motivates us to protect ourselves by taking some type of action to stop or confront a threat. Anger can then fuel us to express and assert ourselves. In this way, anger can be an important signal, something good for us, as it tells us it’s time to take action to take care of our selves in our environments.

Anger can also be a secondary emotion. A secondary emotion covers up some other underlying feeling or emotion you may be experiencing in a situation. Other emotions such as hurt, sadness, grief at loss, loneliness or fear can be at the root of your anger. For example, sometimes we are angry when we are tired or in pain. In these cases, our anger protects us from the more vulnerable feelings or emotions. We may express anger because we are unaware of or unable to figure out our underlying feeling or emotion. Some of us might feel emotionally unsafe expressing vulnerable feelings or emotions in the presence of others. Anger, in this case, can serve to push people away from us when we are feeling vulnerable. In close relationships, expressing vulnerable feelings allows your relationship partner to feel closer to you, whereas defensive anger can create emotional distance between partners.

Anger, when uncontrollable, chronic, or prolonged can be very unhealthy, or a bad thing, for us and other people in our life. Uncontrollable anger or rage results in displays of intense emotion that can very destructive; it is often accompanied by verbal abuse and sometimes it can be accompanied by physical abuse. It is experienced as hurtful, frightening, intimidating and humiliating, and controlling. Often, deeper psychological or physiological issues underlie such irrational and unpredictable expressions. Finally, chronic, or prolonged anger, whether toward others or a situation, can have negative health consequences when stress hormones and cortisol are released. Over time, chronic anger can put your physical health in jeopardy by creating health problems (i.e., high blood pressure, headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, etc.). Chronic, unresolved anger can also contribute to the development of psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

At CFIR we can help you become aware of your anger, distinguish whether it is adaptive and primary, and help you overcome chronic negative anger states that have a negative impact on you and your relationships with others at home or at work. Our Anger & Emotion Regulation Treatment Service offers individuals an opportunity to learn how to manage difficulties with the experience and expression of anger in their relationships.

A comprehensive psychological assessment is conducted to understand the nature of your difficulties with anger. Understanding the historical, internal, and external factors that may contribute to your anger is important in setting out an appropriate treatment plan. We employ scientifically-validated interventions in our approach to the treatment of anger problems. We integrate cognitive-behavioural, emotion-focused, and psychodynamic-interpersonal interventions to support you to manage your uncontrollable and/or chronic anger response.

Read more about our Anger & Emotion Regulation Treatment Service.