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  • Padraic Gibson, D.Psych

States of Anger and Their Impact on Humans

Anger is an essential emotion. However, we need to learn how to manage it.

"Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame." —Benjamin Franklin

In recent years, there has been increased attention on anger-related issues, and some argue that anger-related problems are on the rise. Anger-related challenges we see at the clinic may be more prevalent in today's society due to several reasons.

1. Stress and Pressure: Modern lifestyles often come with increased stress, pressure, and demands, which can contribute to heightened levels of frustration and anger. People may face challenges in managing work-life balance, financial pressures, and societal expectations, leading to a greater likelihood of experiencing anger-related difficulties.

2. Technology and Social Media: The rise of technology and social media has changed the way we communicate and interact. Online platforms can provide a breeding ground for expressing and encountering anger, as anonymity and distance can make it easier to vent frustrations and engage in hostile exchanges. This can lead to increased exposure to anger-inducing content and a higher likelihood of conflict.

3. Political and Social Divisions: In times of political and social polarization, anger can become more prominent in public discourse. Debates surrounding sensitive topics, ideological differences, and social injustices can evoke strong emotions and fuel anger on both individual and collective levels. This can contribute to a more visible expression of anger within society.

4. Mental Health Considerations: Anger can be associated with various mental health conditions, including intermittent explosive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and some personality disorders. The increased recognition and awareness of mental health issues in recent years may contribute to a greater understanding and identification of anger-related challenges.

It is important to note that while anger-related difficulties may be more visible or discussed in contemporary society, it does not necessarily mean that anger itself is becoming more common. It could be that societal changes have facilitated the expression and recognition of anger-related issues. In conclusion, various societal, cultural, and individual factors can contribute to the perception that anger-related challenges are on the rise. While anger is a normal human emotion, it is essential to promote healthy ways of expressing and managing anger to ensure constructive outcomes and positive interpersonal relationships.

A Block to Living

Anger becomes a problem when it becomes a way of engaging in life and you can’t see through it. No one worries about a child who has a brief spurt of anger in one situation, but this behaviour becomes problematic when it turns into an attitude, a way of being in the world, just as with some forms of depression, just as with the main character in Ludovico Ariosto’s poem “The Furious Orlando”. Orlando was a famous Christian paladin, who falls in love with Angelica, the princess of Catai. Orlando must go through good and bad adventures, facing one obstacle after another to follow his beloved Angelica, who instead falls in love with the squire Medon. After all the sacrifices made, this discovery made Orlando lose his head, becoming infuriated with the entire world. So, if anger is a core natural sensation, what pushes it overboard so it becomes a dominant reaction to life and a way of being?

The Pressure Cooker Effect

Anger builds up just like pressure in a pressure cooker. It builds and builds until it reaches its saturation point. Finding no more room, it often explodes, violently. It is the same failed attempted solution of repressing it or putting it to sleep. This natural feeling can also turn into anger's evil twin, i.e. rage. Rage overwhelms the person, bringing them to lose control. The person will end up imploding or exploding. In both cases, anger overwhelms the person. Thus, the same attempt to contain it leads to an explosive effect. A Different Understanding

A constructivist therapeutic approach to anger emphasizes the individual's active role in constructing and interpreting their anger experiences. It recognizes the influence of cognitive processes, subjective interpretations, and social-cultural factors in shaping anger responses. By exploring and challenging their cognitive frameworks and beliefs, individuals can develop a more constructive and adaptive relationship with anger. In the realm of human emotions, anger stands out as a fiery force that can ignite both positive change and destructive consequences. From road rage to heated arguments, anger has a significant influence on our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We experience anger when we feel that our needs, wants, efforts or plans, are hindered or blocked by internal (self) or/and external factors (others or the world). Even the most reflexive of individuals can and will eventually feel angry when faced with frustrations and disappointment. Yet anger tends to be regarded as a socially unaccepted feeling. From a young age, we are educated and expected to withhold and neutralize it to avoid its devastating consequences. As Aristotle reminds us in ‘Ethics’, "a man who does not get angry at the right time is a fool."

The Bobo Doll Experiment

But what do we know about the psychological effects of anger? A famous experiment sheds light on this intriguing subject, revealing the complex nature of this intense emotion. Anger is an emotion to which we normally give a negative connotation, even though it is a natural human reaction and a basic sensation. In the 1960s, renowned psychologist Albert Bandura conducted a groundbreaking study known as the Bobo doll experiment. The experiment aimed to understand how exposure to aggressive behaviour can shape individuals' responses, particularly in the context of anger and aggression. The experiment involved children who observed adults interacting with a large inflatable doll called Bobo. In one scenario, the adults exhibited aggressive behaviours towards the doll, such as hitting, kicking, and verbal abuse. In another scenario, the adults played with the doll calmly and non-aggressively.

The findings of the Bobo doll experiment were remarkable. Children who observed aggressive behaviour towards the doll were more likely to imitate those behaviours. They exhibited increased physical aggression towards the doll, mirroring the actions they had witnessed. This study revealed the power of observational learning and highlighted the potential impact of anger in shaping human behaviour.

When Anger Starts to Offer Secondary Gains

Anger can become a habit that offers secondary gains. Children can learn the habit and learn how and when to get angry. Even so, adults continue to refrain from anger, often because they are afraid of it, thus it can also be used as a manipulative strategy by a child to get what they want. It can be used to bully and intimidate, thus holding secondary advantages or gains. For example, a child can throw a temper tantrum when things don’t go his way or when he wants something at all costs. To stop his impossible behaviour, his parents give in and go along with his request, maybe also giving him several treats to distract him. The child will perceive his temper tantrums to get what have wanted, so why not try it again? When secondary advantages outweigh the problematic aspect, we can say that the person’s behaviour holds a function, a need, or a purpose so it becomes a more pleasure-based issue.

Anger as a Motivator

While anger is often associated with negative outcomes, it also possesses the potential to drive positive change. Anger can serve as a motivator, propelling individuals to address injustices, assert boundaries, or fight for social causes. It can fuel determination, resilience, and the resolve to overcome obstacles. When channelled constructively, anger can be a catalyst for personal growth and societal transformation. The Path to Emotional Balance

Recognizing the psychological effects of anger is the first step towards developing healthier coping mechanisms and managing this potent emotion effectively. Some strategies for managing anger include:

  • Daily letter writing: A helpful way to dissipate anger is to write each day, ritualising the expression of anger. A seemingly simple but effective solution to be repeated until we have overcome it.

  • Self-awareness: Being attuned to one's emotions and triggers is vital in understanding and managing anger.

  • Cognitive reframing: Challenging negative thoughts and adopting more constructive perspectives can help defuse anger.

  • Communication skills: Learning effective communication techniques enables people to express anger assertively and constructively, fostering understanding and resolution.

Padraic Gibson, D.Psych - Website

References: Ernst von Glasersfeld. (1995). Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: Routledge.Gibson, P. (2020) Escaping The Anxiety Trap. Strategic Science Books; Harandi, T. F., Taghinasab, M. M., & Nayeri, T. D. (2019). The Prevalence of Anger in the General Population of Iran. Journal of Medicine and Life, 12(1), 31–36. doi: 10.25122/jml-2019-0025; Kassinove, H., & Sukhodolsky, D. G. (Eds.). (2018). Anger Disorders: Definitions, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Oxford University Press; Neimeyer, R. A. (2006). Constructivist psychotherapy: Distinctive features. Routledge; Neimeyer, R. A., & Sands, D. C. (2011). Meaning reconstruction in bereavement: From principles to practice. American Psychological Association; Neimeyer, R. A. (Ed.). (2019). Techniques of grief therapy: Creative practices for counselling the bereaved. Routledge; Novaco, R. W. (2016). Anger and Psychopathology. In International Handbook of Anger (pp. 379–395). Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-42444-4_20; Portelli, C., Papantuono, M., Gibson, P., (2016) Winning Without Fighting. Malta University Press; Karaman, M. A. (2020). The Relationship between Anger, Stress, and Emotional Intelligence: A Review Study. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 8(7), 16–21. doi 10.11114/jets.v8i7.4946; DiGiuseppe, R., & Tafrate, R. C. (Eds.). (2006). Understanding Anger Disorders. Oxford University Press.


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