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Why do we get angry?

Anger is a normal and very functional emotion; it tells us when we are potentially being mistreated in some way and therefore communicates that we may need to take action in order to protect ourselves and our integrity. Physiologically, it can feel similar to the fight-flight response that we get when we are anxious, giving us the energy and motivation to do something about the situation we are faced with.

Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion as it very frequently occurs when we feel another emotion that leaves us vulnerable. For example, guilt, shame and anxiety are often emotions that occur before we feel angry. When we are vulnerable, we may feel out of control and very unsafe and we can unconsciously shift to an emotional state that makes us feel more comfortable and able to cope. This is not an active choice and it can happen so quickly (and frequently) that you do not even have time to recognise and connect with the initial emotion that was triggered.

For this reason, ‘anger management’ techniques are not always helpful as they only deal with the surface level emotions and behaviours. In therapy, we would aim to explore anger as a coping mechanism for something more painful that may exist beneath it.