There can be many contributory factors that cause or provoke anger in people, such as:
Abuse (Verbal, Physical or Sexual) as a Child or Teenager
Anger can be a paralyzing and debilitating condition but for a child it represents a terrifying and degrading experience, especially when a parent, takes their anger out on them. Physical and verbal abuse of a child will almost certainly leave lasting damage, so it’s crucial that as a parent, you do whatever necessary to keep your anger in check.
For example, studies have shown that adults who have abusive relationships and use anger in a destructive manner are much more likely to have been subject to excessive punishment as a child or grew up with violent or extreme anger-prone parents. Research also shows that this type of misuse of anger toward a romantic partner is difficult to change and that more needs to be done to develop prevention programs to identify major risk factors for partner violence before adult relationships begin.
You have a wonderful opportunity to undo the wrongs that were done to you as a child if you had an angry and abusive parent or parents. Anger management can be very curative and demonstrates to you where your troubles lie and inspires you to fix them. Perhaps your past is filled with unresolved hurt and anger. If so, take the necessary steps to heal yourself of the problems before they end up damaging your child.
Numerous studies have demonstrated how anger-prone parents negatively impact their offspring. For example, mothers who frequently express anger are more likely to have children with discipline issues. Identify problems from your past and look honestly at current situations that are angering you. Maybe you aren’t fulfilled at work; perhaps your spouse and you are having relationship troubles; maybe you have other personal issues or unfulfilled goals that are bothering you. If all your child ever sees is your angry face and hears an angry voice, that’s what they’ll most likely grow into as well.
It’s important to pick your battles when parenting. Accidents and nuisances don’t warrant the energy and agony it takes to get angry. But misbehavior such as a child hurting others or damaging property demands a firm, quick and appropriate response from you. You will probably have to remind yourself continually that the small stuff isn’t worth getting worked up over and that you’re the one in control of your anger; don’t let your anger control you. Put yourself in time out, take a deep breath, walk away, do whatever you have to in order to get a grip of yourself before addressing the situation if you feel your anger coming on strong.
Abuse (Verbal, Physical or Sexual) as an Adult
When an adult is being verbally, physically or perhaps sexually abused, they will experience a range of emotions. People deal with these disturbing experiences differently on a spectrum from anger repression to anger explosion. The result however will always be a negative one involving some degree of emotional and/or physical harm to the victim and possibly the perpetrator. In particular, the outcome – both to themselves and others around – for those who act on rage is often a tragic one.
Some people behave as though they are anger addicts; they become a slave to anger reacting in the same old way time after time. It’s all too easy to become addicted for we are all creatures of habit. Habits provide a sense of certainty, security and stability in our lives. When they are disrupted, our sense of well-being easily becomes threatened. However, when we depend upon a habit for our sense of well-being, it is easy for it to develop into an addiction.
When we are addicted to anything (anger, substances or relationships), many troubling aspects of life are blocked out. Our outlook narrows. Addiction numbs us to painful feelings we may not wish to deal with and serves as a defense against anxiety. It prevents us from seeing and dealing with the issues which need to be attended to and is often a defense against feeling helpless or inadequate.
Although anger-prone individuals may gain a false and temporary sense of empowerment during their outbursts, as with any addiction, a downward spiral ensues meaning the person requires increasing amounts of it just to feel okay about themselves. Not only does the dosage increase, but so does the negative impact upon their lives and everyone around them. Addiction provides a false sense of security. At first it makes the individual feel safe and secure. The reality, however, is that an addiction blinds an individual from seeing what needs to be done to build a life of true value and stability.
When we are angry we often have a temporary feeling of strength, energy, power, authority or control. Much like with alcohol, the surge of anger which takes over, blocks out fears, inhibitions and doubts. There is a temporary sense of freedom and empowerment that we normally lack. Anger also blocks out logical thought processes, producing a sense that we are absolutely right. Some individuals who have trouble making decisions can make them easily in this state of mind, even if they turn out to be poor decisions. Decisions made in this frame of mind often focus only upon a limited aspect or perspective of the complete situation. These kinds of decisions rarely produce fruitful outcomes.
Anger provides a sense of justification. As the ‘red mist’ descends the unacceptable becomes increasing acceptable. Anger erodes an individuals self control meaning that one becomes increasingly likely to physically and verbally lash out. Negative thoughts and feelings that are best left unsaid can suddenly be blurted out. Of course, after the surge of anger passes, it may be impossible to take these words or actions back. Even if we apologize, the after-effects remain.
Some people use their anger as a way of getting attention. If a person craves attention, it doesn’t always matter whether that attention is positive or negative, as long as someone notices them.
Anger can also be used as a tactic to avoid taking responsibility. If a person doesn’t want to do something, anger can be used as the solution to get out of it.
Through conditioning, some people feel they just have to respond in an angry way. For example, “If I don’t respond angrily they might think I’m weak. They will take advantage of the situation – and of me”.
Sometimes people feel small and insignificant inside. Anger works to stoke, pump up or provide the courage to do something that, in the cold light of day, an individual wouldn’t normally do.
Some people become mad or angry when they are frustrated. Frustration can arise for a multitude of reasons e.g. your partner has overspent and it has turned your budget haywire, you find out that your partner has spoken about something private to their friend, something doesn’t work out the way you planned or you failed to succeed after giving your all. Instead of processing and dealing with it in a reasoned manner or working out the energy physically, anger builds to the point where it spins off into a whole list of negative consequences.
Anger management adults have often grown up in dysfunctional and abusive families i.e. non-hereditary (nurture), however hereditary/genetic factors (nature) do also appear to determine an individual’s predisposition towards anger and aggression e.g. Moffitt 2005, Denson et al. 2014 etc.
Some people use anger to intimidate others and subsequently get what they want. In this way, the angry person is able to control the behavior of others.
Irritation provokes anger. Daily incidents such as constant reminders or regular interruptions can cause a person to become irritated. This irritation continues to grow and the result can be a sudden fit of rage. During this, the individual may seriously harm themselves or others around them.
Feelings of anger leading to negative consequences can arise when we are blamed for things or treated unfairly. Even when blame is warranted, anger-prone individuals may feel they they have been wronged. Seeking retribution against those who have challenged them may be seen as rectifying an injustice.
Medically Related Factors
Other possible contributory factors include people with certain medical conditions, particularly of a neurological origin e.g. dementia, seizures, brain tumors, imbalance in brain chemicals such as serotonin, structural abnormalities in the brain. Substance abuse, possibly ADHD, post traumatic stress disorder, paranoid or personality disorders, schizophrenia, bi-polar, mood disorders and ongoing medication can all be additional risk factors. In addition, gender can be a factor e.g. adolescent and adult males make up some 80% of people diagnosed with severe anger issues (in particular intermittent explosive rages), whereas women commonly associate their anger with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
As stress can be such an important contributor to anger, this aspect will be covered separately in the article Anger and Adults-Stress.