September 24 , 2005
Pissed off Persian
I am writing you to talk about something that is really
beginning to hurt my life. I am very anger. All the time. And it seems
to be getting worse. The smallest things upset me and set me off-
dealing with my boss, waiting in line at the movies, watching the news.
I feel enraged all the time and I don’t know what to do. I am not
violent, I haven’t done anything stupid like hit anyone, but I
just feel so hostile all the time and I verbally explode at the
Can this be helped or am I just stuck being angry?
Pissed Off Persian
Thanks so much for your honest letter.
We have all felt anger, whether mild irritation or full
rage. Anger is a normal and healthy human emotion. Depending on life
circumstances and environmental factors, expressing anger in an
appropriate fashion is also a normal part of life. However, when anger
gets out of control or turns destructive, it can lead to serious
problems: at work, in relationships, and in the overall quality of your
life. It sounds like you have reached this point. It is incredibly
difficult to admit to an anger problem—I hope you realize what a
brave step you have taken in reaching out for help.
Anger can be caused by external or internal events. You
could be angry at a specific person (such as your boss) or event
(waiting in line at the grocery store), or your anger could be caused
by worrying or brooding about your personal problems. The triggers
don’t have to be immediate—simply thinking about the
memories of past events can also bring on the feelings of anger.
The instinctive way to express anger is to respond with
aggression. What you are feeling is your body’s natural and
adaptive response to perceived threats. We all instinctively know to
defend ourselves when we feel attacked or threatened. A certain amount
of anger can be seen as necessary to survival. As you have learned,
however, we cannot lash out at every person or situation that seems
unfair or upsetting. Society (and the legal system) have placed limits
on what is acceptable, and unacceptable, expressions of anger.
You ask a seemingly simple question that has many
implications: how can we deal with angry feelings? Here are two
concepts that may help you:
- Express: Expressing your feelings in an assertive-not
aggressive!—manner is a healthy way to process your anger. To do
this, you must first know exactly what your needs are and you must
communicate in a way that is not pushy or demanding. The goal is to
share your feelings in a respectful, appropriate way without hurting
others. Expressing anger in a healthy way means respecting yourself and
- Anger Management: The goal of anger management is to
reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that
anger causes. Anger management acknowledges that you cannot avoid
anger-causing situations and you cannot control or change others. What
you can control, over time, is your own reactions to the world around
I haven’t met you in person, so it is impossible
for me to fully understand your situation. However, from your letter, I
can tell that you are afraid that your anger is getting out of control.
This can be a frightening feeling, but know that you can learn to
handle it. Counseling in the areas of anger expression and management
is an excellent option. A psychologist or other licensed mental
health professional can work with you in developing a range of
techniques for changing your thinking and your behaviors.
When you talk to a prospective therapist, tell her or
him that you have problems with anger that you want to work on, and ask
about his or her approach to anger management. Make sure they
don’t simply answer with a program to “help you get
in touch with your feelings.” That may be precisely your problem!
Instead, look for a therapist who has a specific plan for anger, a plan
that goes beyond identifying feelings and deals with actual skills for
handling these feelings in a positive manner. Cognitive Behavioral
Therapy (CBT) has been especially successful in the treatment of anger.
The American Psychological Association estimates that,
with counseling, a highly angry person can move closer to a middle
range of anger in about 8 to 10 weeks, depending on the circumstances
and the counseling techniques used. This may seem like a long time, but
it is nothing when compared to the lifetime of freedom that you will
Dealing with anger is a difficult topic to discuss and I
congratulate you on being open to your own feelings and wiling to
change. I wish you all the best of luck.
This column is for
general educational purposes only-- it is not a substitute for medical
attention, counseling, or therapy of any kind. The Couch and the staff
of this website urge you to seek immediate medical attention if you are
in an urgent, harmful, or potentially dangerous situation. Psychiatric
emergencies or urgent matters should be handled by calling 9-1-1 or
going to the nearest emergency room. Please note that your
emails will not be answered on an individual basis and your
confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. Top