Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Anger: Can Getting Mad Be OK?
© 2022 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, Masters in Psychotherapy, Licensed Professional Counselor
You can express anger in healthy ways by firmly communicating your boundaries. It may be helpful to be mad about how things have been, but anger becomes unhealthy when mixed with aggression, put-downs, or threatening behavior.
Healthy Expression of Anger is Measured & Appropriate to the Situation
It’s OK to feel anger when expressed in healthy ways. Communicating boundaries and voicing your feelings are perfectly acceptable. However, anger is like a boiling pot. Once you take your eyes off it, and it boils over, it can cause hurt and damage to those around you.
- Keep control of your anger by letting those around you know you’re upset. Doing so is healthier and easier to manage than keeping it under a lid, building pressure, only to boil over.
- An indicator of healthy anger versus unhealthy is how you and the other person feel about the situation after communicating your feelings. If you and the other person feel good, relieved, and OK, you likely expressed it healthily; getting it off your chest has improved the situation.
- If you feel guilty, upset, or even angrier, then perhaps the avenue you chose to take was not the best one for you or the other person.
Indicators of healthier anger expressions:
- You stated what was important to you in a way that did not disparage, blame, threaten or scare another person
- Both you and the other person felt heard, acknowledged, and respected
- The discussion led to a resolution that was acceptable to both of you
Unhealthy expressions of anger:
- Raised voices and yelling
- Name-calling and other forms of calculated aggression
- Threatening words or gestures, which can also be aggressive and manipulative
- Scary physical behavior, including throwing things or mishandling property or people
Identifying the root of your anger is vital to arriving at a healthy and productive solution. Recurring angry words or behavior often stems from unaddressed emotional baggage.
If, for example, someone in your life continues to make a joke about a situation that you find personally hurtful and has not taken ‘stop’ as an answer, you may have found yourself getting angry.
Perhaps that person has said something, knowing it will get a rise out of you, (the predetermined nature of this fits the definition of aggression), and succeeded in upsetting you.
- Where do you draw the line?
- When does your anger become unhealthy?
In short, recurring anger - and not being able to manage it is when it becomes unhealthy - might begin to cause additional problems in your life. If you often become angry over minor slights, perhaps it is best to consider working with a therapist who could help you deal with frustration more effectively. Another alternative is to take my “Transform Anger” anger management course.
Not all anger is unhealthy, though. The rational expression of your emotions can help relieve stress and anxiety, which can also help your physical body, including lowering your blood pressure.
Showing Some Anger Helps You Express Strong Boundaries
Some anger in your communications lets others know that you are serious about your convictions.
- Be firm in setting boundaries
- Show measured anger if the situation calls for it
- Remember that it is not easy to read emotions over text messaging.
Saying, “I am upset,” is often better than hinting, as the receiver of the message needs to know that you are resolved in your convictions and boundaries. Without communicating your emotional state, the recipient may not fully understand the level of your resolve regarding your limits of acceptable behavior.
When communicating in person or over the phone, your emotions naturally come through your voice tone and body language. If the feeling is anger, make sure it is tempered by what is appropriate to the situation and the person with whom you communicate.
Be reasonable with the level of anger that is coming through your voice. Use this to your advantage when setting boundaries, reinforcing what is and isn’t OK to do or say to you.
Coming to a compromise is perfectly acceptable if it does not push past your healthy boundaries. It also may be best not to compromise too quickly. Other’s actions that have resulted in your unhappiness or discomfort are not OK; not everything needs to be resolved or compromised.
Some Anger Demonstrates Your Resolve to Defend Your Boundaries
Emotions will back you up when you’re saying enough is enough. However, self-awareness is crucial in making sure you express those emotions healthily and safely.
It’s acceptable to compromise if both parties are willing and happy with the outcome, but it is not something that a spouse or family member should assume. Your boundaries are important and need to be respected, and sometimes compromise will not help.
Defending your boundaries means standing up for yourself:
- People may be taken aback by your resolve.
- Letting an appropriate level of angry emotions show as you make your point can help
- Boundaries are lines that we draw. A clearly stated boundary line - including some anger expressed as you say it - shows you are serious and that the other person’s behavior or actions are unacceptable to you.
What Level & Frequency of Anger is Unhealthy for Your Physical, Emotional, & Mental Health?
High levels of anger or frequent expression of anger can be unhealthy for your mind and body. Anger is typically contributed to by many factors, most commonly:
- Past trauma
- Emotional dysregulation
- Low levels of flexibility and tolerance
- Ridged beliefs
- Genetic behavior predispositions
- Alcohol dependency and addiction
These factors can lend themselves to other problems, including physical health issues. For example, low levels of tolerance can lead to high blood pressure, making stress and anxiety even more pronounced. Higher levels of anxiety relate to lower levels of tolerance. It is a vicious circle and a pattern that is hard to break.
Feeling anger much of the time is unhealthy for your physical, emotional, and mental health and can contribute to additional difficulties in other aspects of your life.
Having an identity of ‘the angry person’ in your group of friends or your family can create more issues than it solves. Whereas healthily expressing anger can enhance your relationships.
Being highly stressed can lead to increased anger more frequently. Managing aspects of your life that have brought on too much stress may be a good strategy for reducing overall levels of rage.
How Can Too Much Anger Lead to Worse Physical Health?
Your emotional well-being and physical health are tied very closely together, and neglecting one will lead to issues and consequences with the other. Too much anger in your life can lead to adverse physical effects, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Stress on the heart
- Increased likelihood of suffering a stroke
- Physical damage to the heart
- Compromised immune function
Anger can have a significant influence on cardiovascular health and put a strain on the nervous system at the same time. The consequences of prolonged physical damage due to negative emotions, including high levels of anger, can lead to permanent problems with your physical health that aren’t as readily reversible.
You can avoid those consequences by expressing negative emotions, including anger, in more balance, healthier ways. For example:
- Work on the factors in your relationships directly, solving the problems rather than harboring resentment that has resulted in angry outbursts.
- Don’t let resentment build up. Address your concerns with your mate, kids, or parents at lower levels.
- Address dissatisfaction in more neutral ways, minimizing anger, criticism, and blame.
- Look for constructive rather than destructive ways that won’t increase stress and anger in the long term, causing harm to yourself or those around you, whether physical, emotional or both.
Chronic Anger + Alcohol Dependency Damages Your Mental & Emotional Health
As a therapist, I have observed a strong link between heavier drinking and anger, often resulting in relationship ruptures.
People who dull themselves to life’s pressures by excessive drinking rely on alcohol as a pressure valve release. Outbursts of anger also release the tension of facing relationship difficulties and resolving them, but only temporarily. Because anger prevents the issues from being resolved, more unhappiness and anger typically follow.
Frequent and sustained anger eventually damage your mental and emotional health by relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms, including drinking to intoxication.
Angry people who drink may feel that it mellows them, at least for the first few drinks. But not facing relationship problems, coupled with angry outbursts, leads to lower happiness and well-being. And unhappiness itself negatively impacts one’s mental and emotional health.
Additionally, a study in 2000 found a strong link between heavy alcohol consumption in teenagers and a significant increase in anger traits.
Not only can frequent anger increase reliance on substances for temporary relief, but it has also been linked to depression, which can make other mental health problems, such as anxiety, worse. Alcohol is a known depressant, too, meaning it goes hand in hand with, in the end, making things worse for your mental well-being.
The habits of expressing anger, escaping through chemical dependency, or relying on other unhealthy coping mechanisms might feel like it helps you manage problems in the short run but will lend themselves to more significant and long-lasting future issues.
Anger and substance abuse often exacerbate alienation from a romantic partner, children, family, and friends and the loss of trust from those around you.
Anger can also shorten your life. Regular substance abuse causes physical damage to your vital organs, but so does stress. Putting stress on your heart can cause permanent damage, which leads to cardiovascular diseases and strokes. Each of those will shorten your life, making it a physically damaging problem that is unfortunately irreversible once it reaches a particular stage.
Note: If you or a loved one is struggling with the adverse effects of anger, please check out my “Transform Anger” anger management course.
How Aggression, Put-downs, or Threatening Behavior Damage Your Most Important Relationships
It is no secret that in the long run, your emotional well-being will affect not only you but those around you. Your family, friends, and even work colleagues will feel the consequences of angry, negative emotional expressions, especially when they occur with severity, frequency, or both.
Fear and mistrust will grow, creating obstacles between you and those important to you. Being unable to manage your emotions will cause strain on your relationships, and those around you suffer due to expressions of anger. Fallout includes:
- Increased distrust in relationships
- Additional stress in your professional and personal life
- Loss of a sense of individual control
- Emotional scarring and trauma to those around you
Unfortunately, emotional trauma is not as easy to see or help as physical trauma may be. It is complicated to fix once your anger has brought emotional scarring to those who are close to you. Although apologies can go a long way, mates and children struggle to trust it’ll not happen again, especially if angry behavior has happened before.
For example, in a marriage, it is easy to get swept up in your partner’s emotions. However, suppose your partner is unable to manage those emotions appropriately. In that case, it can cause long-term trauma to you, making it difficult for you to trust others or to manage your feelings. In this way, you may experience many vicious circles, which have large waves of consequences. You are not just affected by negative behavior – those closest to you will also feel the burn.
Clarity on Healthy vs. Unhealthy Expression of Anger Enhances Your Relationships Communication
Becoming aware of your healthy vs. unhealthy use of anger, having appropriate boundaries, and practicing self-awareness will generate far more beneficial relationships in the future as your communication and understanding grow.
Communication is vital in every professional and personal relationship, and being aware of your limits or boundaries means communicating when someone has overstepped an appropriate boundary. Saying, “This makes me uncomfortable,” is better than letting the negativity stew, only for it to explode later, creating long-lasting or even irreparable relationships and health damage.
Being vocal about your emotions in a healthy manner will generate happier, healthier, and far more trusting relationships in your life. Those around you will appreciate your honesty, and you may feel more respected by honest, candid communication that doesn’t use anger in an unhealthy way.
Note: If you or a loved one is struggling with the adverse effects of anger, please check out my “Transform Anger” anger management course.
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