What Are The Causes of Anger?
By Jon Terrell, MA

You may have turned to this page on the causes of anger because of the negative affect of your anger or of someone else's anger who is close to you. I sincerely hope this information is of use to you. I specialize in helping people transform anger and other difficult emotions.

Anger appears to be caused by something or someone who has done us wrong. We perceive an injustice ("It's not fair!"), have a grievance, and blame whoever caused it. We feel victimized by them, although this is usually unconscious. Our anger is a way of correcting this imbalance and help us feel empowered.

But, of course, our anger can cause a lot of damage - to relationships and to others. We say and do things that we later regret.

Many of us carry around a lot of anger. We may be angry for things that happened years ago, that happen in the world around us, that we see on TV. We swallow anger when it doesn't feel safe to express it, and that may end up causing body discomfort.


We may think the cause of anger is the thing right in front of us, but that's really just a symbol of something that still hurts inside of us from long ago.

And few of us are taught how to express anger in a healthy way or to
transform our anger. If we express raw anger we can harm ourselves, and if we don't express it it can live on in our lives, bringing misery and frustration.

Above and Below
Below anger lies uncomfortable feelings we are fleeing from. Anger hides our deeper feelings of inferiority or worthlessness.

We try to rise above those feelings with our anger. Anger inflates us temporarily and makes us feel larger and powerful. Look at someone when they are angry and you will see this. Energy goes into their outer muscles, they make threatening gestures going outward, they heat up and speed up. In the animal kingdom anger serves in this way, making animals appear larger than they are, to intimidate others. We rise up to intimidate and threaten.

A Way Out
When we learn to heal the deeper feelings, things change for the better. If we can learn to heal those deeper feelings, we no longer react with anger...instead we can respond more appropriately.

Our Distorted Perspectives Can Make Us Angry
And what we often don’t realize is our feelings and perceptions are often not accurate but are based on past and often unconscious attitudes and beliefs.

Someone says “hello” to us at work or at a party and we read into it in various ways. We may feel resentful, angry, hurt or any number of emotions, all projected on them. These projections are often not conscious, and may be based on their appearances, tone of voice or behaviors that connect us to past experiences. We react without knowing why, or feel angry for no reason we can put our finger on.

These are the causes of anger and are inside of us even when they appear to be out there in other’s behaviors and words. These causes of anger are our own conditioned perceptions--and are often inaccurate.

This can cause some people to
blow up at what appears to others to be trivial. We say they are making “a mountain out of a mole hill.”

How Anger Works
Physically, anger “pumps us up.” Our fight hormones get triggered, our blood pressure goes up, and our muscles get ready for battle. We speed up, lose our mental clarity and can say things or do things we later regret!

Anger can be a dangerous emotion. Out of control anger can cause us to kill or hurt others. Yet as we learn to transform our anger it can serve us. We all need the effective "no" that conscious anger can give us.

The physical effects of anger can be very stressful on our body. It raises our heart rate and blood pressure and inflammation levels. We speak of someone "Boiling with rage."

Anger and rage reduces blood flow to the thinking areas of the brain and sends out a flood of hormones throughout the body to tense our muscles, increase our respiration, contract our spleen, intensify our nerves and sensory perception, etc. Anger gets us ready for to fight!

Ways to Deal with Anger more Constructively
There are several anger management tools that may be helpful. I’ll list them briefly as ways of dealing with the causes of anger and then go to what I believe is the best approach.

  • A type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be helpful in teaching us how to catch our thought patterns that trigger our anger before we take action. It's based on the idea that the causes of anger are our thoughts. Thoughts cause our behaviors and feelings, as mentioned above. In this approach you learn problem solving skills that can help with the frustration that often leads to anger.

  • Stress management tools may be helpful. For example, in the heat of anger, when you just want to say or do something that is hurtful and mean, learning to pause and take a deep breath or two or three can often deflate our anger and give us some breathing room and perspective.

Learning stress management skills can help us in many ways--including increasing our ability to handle day-to-day frustrations that can escalate to anger.
In my in-person and distance counseling sessions I teach clients several stress management techniques that have been very helpful, such as autogenics, progressive muscle relaxation, and unique types of meditation and imagery that specifically help release anger and other stuck feelings.
The next section describes a rapid method of working through deep feelings, including anger, that I have found extremely effective.

Shalom Retreats—Breaking Through The Old Story
I believe that the true cause of anger is being out of touch with ourselves and our actual nature as loving beings. We are born into this world
to love and be loved and along the way we get bumped around by life until we lose ourselves in trying to please others and survive.

We stuff down our feelings, sometimes imploding and harming ourselves and sometimes exploding out and harming others.
We lose our way.

Shalom Retreats have helped people for over 40 years work through their stuck feelings in a loving, caring and safe environment.

Anger, fear, grief and other so called “dark” feelings are welcomed. In the space of a few days anger is transformed into passion and renewed aliveness and focus.
Transformed feelings bring the greatest of gifts...Love.

I lead Shalom Retreats three times a year at Shalom Mountain, in the Catskills in New York State. There are other very talented leaders there as well. I also lead these and my
Grief and Loss Retreat at other locations, including Massachusetts and California. For more information you can contact me.

Jon Terrell, MA, offers psychotherapy for individuals and couples at his office in Northampton, Massachusetts and in midtown Manhattan. He does not take insurance, but has a sliding scale fee. For more information or if you have a question contact him here.

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