What is anger?

Table of Contents

Anger is an emotion that can range from feeling annoyed right up to experiencing rage. Like all emotions, the feeling of anger is temporary and will die down quickly once you remove yourself from whatever is resulting in your experience of anger.

For many people, the statement that the emotion is temporary and will pass can surprise you, especially if you struggle with anger. Suppose you experience anger that is interfering with your quality of life. In that case, you must understand the various components of anger to experience and express anger healthily.

image shows online class with Dr Ryan explaining what is anger

Components of anger

Anger comprises the following three components.

  • Physical – what happens in your body when you experience the emotion
  • Cognitive (thoughts) – what thought processes run through your mind during the feeling, and
  • Behavioural – what you do and what you feel you want to do when you experience the emotion.
Video taken from my online course for anger

Physical component of anger

The physical component of anger and all emotions is usually the first sign you have that a feeling is occurring. I find it helpful to think of the physical symptoms of emotions as being energising or de-energising. Anger is energising; things speed up in your body instead of feeling sad, which causes more of a dampening effect physically.

If you are trying to understand your own experience and feel that you have no control over it, discovering the changes in your own body as the emotions bubble up gives you a chance to change it. You can’t be angry if you can calm down your body.

The feelings that you experience in your body alerts you that your body is preparing for action. It is expecting to have to take a stand or defend itself. Anger is part of your stress response, or you might have heard this being referred to as the fight-or-flight response.

When you experience any emotion, you usually feel compelled to do something – you experience an urge. When you feel the physical sensations relating to anger in your body, as your body is prepared for action, you might feel compelled to move towards the thing, thought, or person who is making you angry.

Urge to move toward your anger.

Suppose you are at home alone and thinking about something that is making you feel angry. In that case, you might move toward anger by engaging more in your thought processes, going over different scenarios, while all the time, your anger increases.

If you are angry at a person, you might feel the urge to move closer to them and raise your voice.

Move away

The emotion of anger can also make you feel the urge to move away from whatever is making you angry. This can help you understand if people often accuse you of walking out or getting offside if discussions are getting heated.

Common urges experienced during anger include:

  • shouting
  • taking faster and over the top of someone
  • seek revenge
  • urges of aggression
  • prove the other person wrong
  • drive or walk faster

Cognitive component

The cognitive component is essential to understand as your thoughts cannot only talk up your anger but also calm it down.

It is helpful to note that all the components of any emotion match what you feel. For example, if you feel sad, you probably won’t be having uplifting or motivating thoughts. There are typical thinking styles associated with emotions, and one to watch out for if you are feeling angry is rumination. Rumination means going over the same thought or scenario repeatedly in your head, which, unfortunately, with anger, helps to intensify the emotion.

Standard thought processes that accompany anger include,

  • I hate that person
  • The situation or person is wrong.
  • Blame- either yourself or others.
  • Being prevented from doing what you want.

Behavioural component

I find it easier to think of the behavioural component of anger as having an action. You are doing something. When you are angry, you are communicating. The problem may not be with the emotion of anger, but how you share what you are feeling.

Behavioural communication involves

  • how you speak, your tone, your choice of words,
  • how you are using your body, your body language

Now that I have summarised what anger is, most people who arrive on this page want to know how to stop being angry, and I shall discuss that now.

How do I stop feeling angry?

If you have decided or been told by others that you have a problem with anger, it can feel you have little control over lashing out at others. Anger, like all emotions, can be broken down and understood. Once you know what makes up your anger components, I can teach you to help you change..

If you would like my help, I offer an online self-help anger management course, and you can read more about that here.

Dr Elaine Ryan

Steps that you can use to help with anger right away.

Break the experience into the three different components of anger and do the opposite. For example, you are on a train and feeling angry at the person opposite you who is eating loudly and with their mouth open while talking on the phone, break the experience into the three components of anger.

Physical component.

What is happening in your body? Is your heart rate speeding up? What is happening with your muscles? If you are feeling more energised because of this new feeling of anger, do the opposite. Try to slow down your breathing and relax your muscles. Remember, at the start of this article; I said that anger is only temporary; whether it dissipates quickly or bubbles up depends on what you do when you first notice it.

Cognitive Component

What are you thinking right now as the person on the train annoys you? You might think;

  • I can’t believe how rude they are. Do they have no manners?
  • Do they think they are the only person sitting here?

Ask yourself if your thoughts are helping to calm your emotion or making you more angry. If they are growing your anger, try to change them, for example.

They might never have been taught to eat with their mouth closed. They might have a blocked nose that makes eating difficult. In this instance, you might not want to have these thoughts, and the pull to have angry thoughts will feel very justified, but try it.

And finally, looking at your behavioural component and change it if necessary.

Are you staring at the person? Are you tutting out loud? If so, change your behaviours to ones that do not belong with anger. Stop looking at the person, do something else instead.

If you achieve just one of these things, you interrupt one component of anger and are giving yourself the chance to choose what to do next.