September 24 , 2005

About Shokooh

Pissed off Persian

Dear Shokooh,

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 smallest thing.

Can this be helped or am I just stuck being angry?


Pissed Off Persian


Dear Reader,

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 others.
  • 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 you.

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 have afterwards.

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.

Be well,



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

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