Anger is probably the most common emotion, yet I learned from a recent book written by a therapist that most professionals in the therapy world consider anger to be a secondary emotion. They say anger is a nuanced, complex feeling commonly expressed in tandem with primary emotions such as frustration, rejection, resentment, contempt, and confusion.
An international counseling center called Life Supports lists 10 common types of anger: assertive, behavioral, chronic, judgmental, overwhelmed, passive-aggressive, retaliatory, self-abusive, verbal and volatile. They explain further and offer management strategies under each explanation.
Assertive anger is a really constructive type of anger expression. If this is your type of anger, you use feelings of frustration or rage as a catalyst for positive change. Rather than avoiding confrontation, internalizing anger, or resorting to verbal insults and physical outbursts, you express your anger in ways that create change and get you closer to having your wants and needs met—without causing distress or destruction.
Expressing anger assertively helps you address what you want, without transgressing other people’s rights and boundaries.
Management Strategy: Assertive anger is a powerful motivator. Use assertive anger to overcome fear, address injustice and achieve your desired outcomes in life.
Behavioral aggression is a choice to react physically toward the feeling of anger. This form of anger expression is physical and often aggressive, or at the very extreme end of the spectrum, violent. Aggression is behavior that has an intended motivation to cause harm to someone else who doesn’t wish for it. This might look like breaking or throwing things, or physically intimidating or attacking someone.
Expressing anger by using behavioral aggression often has negative legal and interpersonal consequences, as this highly unpredictable and impulsive behavior erodes your ability to form trusting and respectful relationships.
Management strategy: It’s worth noting that emotions, like anger, don’t automatically generate aggression or violence. Take time to reflect on what might be the real motivation for you to choose aggression once you’ve felt anger. As you feel your anger rising, remove yourself from the situation if possible and use grounding self-talk (“take it easy, stay cool”) to regain control of your emotions or try a deep breathing technique until you feel yourself physically calm down enough to reconsider what is happening and what options you have of reacting differently.
If you’re someone who needs to let out frustration physically, consider going for a walk or run.
Chronic anger feels like an ongoing and general sense of resentment of other people, a sweeping sense of frustration with certain circumstances, or often anger towards oneself. It’s embodied by a sense of nagging and perpetual irritation: the prolonged nature of this type of anger can have profoundly adverse effects on one’s health and wellbeing.
Management strategy: Spend some time reflecting on the underlying causes of your anger. Your indignation might well be justified, though it likely does not serve you to be chronic and ongoing. If you can identify the source of your resentment, you may be able to resolve the inner conflict you’re experiencing by forgiving yourself and others for past transgressions. The process of forgiveness is powerful and empowering, and can help to resolve lingering hurt and frustration. Learning how to express emotions assertively can help greatly.
Judgmental anger is righteously indignant—this type of anger is usually a reaction to a perceived injustice or someone else’s shortcoming. What often underlies this is a core belief that you are either better than, or less than, others. Although judgmental anger assumes a morally superior stance of justified fury, it may alienate potential allies by invalidating their difference of opinion.
Management strategy: Commit to exploring the light and shade in different situations, as circumstances are rarely as simple as they seem on the surface. It’s healthy to gently challenge your own deeply held assumptions by opening up to other people’s perspectives. You can disagree and still gain valuable insight into possible solutions and perspectives to life’s challenges, without belittling others’ experience or damaging your own reputation by being condescending.
Overwhelmed anger is an uncontrolled type of anger. It usually occurs when we feel that a situation or circumstances are beyond our control, resulting in feelings of hopelessness and frustration. This type of anger is common when we’ve taken on too much responsibility, or unexpected life events have overthrown our usual capacity to cope with stress. Anger here is an emotion trying to alert us that we don’t feel like there’s enough in the tank to handle the stressors stacking up in front of us, even if we’re not finding the right words to put to it yet.
Management strategy: It’s critical to reach out for help if you’re experiencing overwhelmed anger. Work on expressing to others—family, friends and professional colleagues—that you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some support. Try ask for what you need that could support you—whether it’s help with babysitting, taking a family member to their medical appointments, getting a couple of hours off to go get professional support, a quiet night in without a to-do list or an extension on a work project. By alleviating potential sources of stress, you’ll regain a sense of emotional and behavioral control again.
Passive-aggressive anger is an avoidant type of anger expression. If this is your usual mode of anger expression, you likely try to evade all forms of confrontation, and may deny or repress any feelings of frustration or fury you’re experiencing. Passive-aggressive anger may be expressed verbally, as sarcasm, pointed silence or veiled mockery, or physically in behavior such as chronic procrastination at work. Sometimes people who express anger passively aren’t even aware that their actions are perceived as aggressive—this can have dire personal and professional outcomes.
Management strategy: Learn assertive communication techniques, and explore your fear of confrontation using ‘What if?’ scenarios. By developing your ability to articulate your frustrations and confidently face a range of fears, you’re more likely to get your needs met in both personal and professional relationships.
Retaliatory anger is usually an instinctual response to being confronted or attacked by someone else. It’s one of the most common types of anger, and is motivated by revenge for a perceived wrong. Vengeful anger can also be deliberate and purposeful. It often aims to intimidate other people by asserting control over a situation or outcome, yet may only serve to escalate tensions.
Management strategy: Whether your urge for retaliatory anger is impulsive or intentional, it’s important to pause and think before you act upon it. Will your angry retaliation improve the situation, or only worsen relations? Retaliation is a choice, and cyclical anger seldom dies off in a tit-for-tat scenario. By choosing to diffuse the immediate conflict you can avoid the unwanted long-term consequences of revenge.
Self-abusive anger is a shame-based type of anger. If you’ve been feeling hopeless, unworthy, humiliated or ashamed, you might internalize those feelings and express anger via negative self-talk, self-harm, substance use, or disordered eating. Alternatively, you may find yourself lashing out at those around to mask feelings of low self-worth, increasing your sense of alienation.
Management strategy: Learn about cognitive reframing techniques and use them to challenge and transform any self-defeating, distorted thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing. Mindfulness meditation can also help center you in the present moment and deal with any impulses to engage in self-harming behaviors.
Verbal anger is often seen as less dangerous than behavioral anger, but it can be a form of emotional and psychological abuse that deeply hurts the target of one’s anger. It is aggressive or even violent in that there is a motivation to release it by causing harm to someone else who doesn’t wish for it. Verbal abuse may be expressed as furious shouting, threats, ridicule, sarcasm, intense blaming or criticism. If you’ve lashed out at someone verbally it’s common to feel ashamed, apologetic and regretful afterwards.
Management strategy: Even if the words are on the tip of your tongue, take a breath before you speak. Then another one. As tempting as it may be to blurt out the first angry response that comes to mind when you’re upset, the key to effectively managing this type of anger is simply delaying the impulse to lash out. With practice, you can curb any tendency towards verbal abuse and replace it with assertive anger expression (See Type 1).
Volatile anger seems to come out of nowhere: if this is your type of anger, you are very quick to get upset about perceived annoyances, both big and small. Once you’ve impulsively expressed your anger, you often calm down just as quickly. Unfortunately volatile anger can be incredibly destructive, as those around you may feel they need to walk on eggshells for fear of triggering your rage. Volatile rage impacts your ability to form and maintain long-term relationships, as others require stability and trust to form meaningful connections with you. If left unchecked, volatile anger may eventually lead to violent outbursts.
Management strategy: Identify the signs and physical symptoms that precede a volatile outburst, and use relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing) to stop your anger from escalating.
There are many other forms that anger can take, but these are the types that most people commonly use when they’re feeling upset and frustrated. Anger management is a fascinating area of research—there’s a strong body of evidence that the practical strategies mentioned above plus others are effective tools for expressing anger and other emotions healthily without causing damage to yourself or others, and regulating behavior so that it is constructive.
According to studies done by Berkeley University, there is an overwhelming indication that feelings of anger can increase optimism, creativity and effective performance—and that expressing anger can lead to more successful negotiations, in both personal and professional circles. In fact, repressing anger, research shows, can actually hurt you. As we blogged about a few weeks ago, demonstrating vulnerability in the workplace can actually help to advance your career.
Assertive anger, in particular, can be a catalyst for positive change in a professional environment because it gives you the ability to address an injustice and achieve a desired outcome without causing distress or destruction, according to the Life Supports website.
Here are some instances where people don’t always express their anger in the workplace, even though it’s more than okay to do so:
- When someone agrees to provide something on a deadline and does not notify you in advance that they will not meet the deadline
- When someone is responsible for something, or agrees to take responsibility for it, but then fails to own that responsibility
- When someone does not follow safety protocols
- When someone displays total disregard for their colleagues
- When someone is not mindful of budgetary constraints
- When someone lies about a business situation
- When someone frequently fails to show up for work, or is often late
You have a right to be angry if your employees, teammates, vendors or service providers are not doing what they say they will do, when they say they will do it. You should have no shame or guilt for expecting someone to do their job. Especially if their job affects you doing yours.
It’s important to communicate anger appropriately by addressing the situation—not belittling the person. Supervisors have a right to issue consequences and hold the person accountable for finding a resolution, to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Employees should keep in mind that supervisors will expect them to either correct the issue or bring it to their attention for help, so as to prevent issues on projects and avoid negative repercussions on the future of the business.
Of course, there are times when you might get angry in the workplace and the feeling is caused by deeper underlying emotions, as is described above. Here are some classic triggers:
- Computer, printer or technology problems
- Disrespectful clients
- Co-workers taking credit for your work
- Having to work without a break or lunch break
- People talking to you when you’re trying to concentrate
- Office gossip
- Co-workers using your desk or tools
Shannon L. Alder, an acclaimed book author and writer for Psychology Today, states, “Staying silent is like a slow growing cancer to the soul. There is nothing intelligent about not standing up for yourself. You may not win every battle. However, everyone will at least know what you stood for—YOU.”
So go ahead and get angry when someone is not doing their job! The industry will have more projects running on time, within budget and of better quality with finger pointing for accountability versus finger pointing as an excuse!