When Anger Backfires
Part 2 of 4

It’s quiz time. 

Imagine yourself in each of the following situations. What do you think you would do?

1. You’re driving to work when another driver almost runs into you. Would you…

a. Blow your horn once to let him know he was careless?
b. Blow the horn repeatedly and yell obscenities out the window?
c. Fume silently until you get to work and then go on a tirade to anyone who will listen?
d. Note his license tag number and call the cops? 

2. Your child’s teacher treated him unfairly at school. Would you…

a. Email the teacher to express your frustration and ask for a conference?
b. Call the teacher and chew her out over the phone?
c. Go to the school office and punch out the principal?
d. Call the school board and demand the teacher’s dismissal? 

3. A classmate accused you of cheating on an important test. Would you…

a. Talk to the professor and try to clear up the matter?
b. Get revenge on the person who accused you by spreading rumors about her all over campus?
c. Confront the person who accused you by screaming in her face?
d. Ask all of your friends to support you by snubbing the person who accused you?

4. Your boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with you and won’t return the DVD’s, books, alarm clock, and various other items you loaned him or her. Would you…

a. Send a polite text message asking him/her to leave the items at your door?
b. Contact the person he/she is now dating in order to reveal all the rotten habits of your ex?
c. Call to demand your stuff back—“or else…!”?
d. Gather all of the gifts he/she gave you and methodically destroy them?


Evaluate each choice you made. Do you think it was appropriate? Would your choice improve the situation? Would it make you feel better? How about the other people involved? How would your choice affect them? 

Consider the other options given. Why is each one appropriate or not? Can you think of better ways to deal with the anger in each situation?

You can probably tell that option A is the best choice for each scenario. If you chose other options, you may have a bit of work to do when it comes to expressing your anger. Keep reading to find out why your reactions matter.

Destructive Anger

When you have a legitimate reason for anger, you should find a way to express it. As we saw in part 1 of this series, you won’t benefit by bottling it up. On the other hand, expressing anger in inappropriate ways can be harmful, too.

Which of the following destructive ways have you used to express anger?

  • Screaming or yelling
  • Threats
  • Revenge
  • Foul language
  • Violence
  • Vandalism
  • Kicking
  • Hitting
  • Throwing things

Can you think of other destructive expressions of anger?

Most of us have conveyed our angry emotions inappropriately at one time or another, for different reasons. A bad day, stress, depression, or other negative emotions may cause you to lash out in response to something that ordinarily wouldn’t have angered you. Or maybe you’ve been suppressing your anger, and then one day it bursts out all at once.  Alcohol or drug use can lower inhibitions and affect judgment, resulting in inappropriate reactions, as well.

Most of the time, destructive anger represents a desperate attempt to take back control of the situation. Think about it…when you’re angry, it’s usually because something has happened that conflicts with the way you want things to be or with the way you think things should be. Tom G. Stevens, psychologist and professor emeritus at California State University, explains that “anger is caused by a perceived loss of control over factors affecting important values.”   

In other words, when you find yourself cursing, yelling, or tossing your laptop across the room, you’re frustrated at losing control and perhaps trying to prove control of another sort. You couldn’t keep your hard drive from crashing, but you could control the location of your laptop!

Anger in Overdrive

While it often seems that a big explosion or an angry outburst might make you feel better, any extreme or prolonged anger might actually be harmful.

Significant evidence directly links anger and hostility to heart disease, one of the most often cited effects. WebMD professionals explain that anger results in the well-known “fight or flight” response, which triggers the release of stress hormones. As your body prepares for extreme circumstances, your heart and breathing rates increase, your blood pressure rises, and you feel a surge of energy. 

In ancient times, this physical reaction was necessary for survival. But in today’s society, it “pushes your body into an overdrive mode that is almost always unnecessary,” writes Dr. Joseph Mercola, founder of the world’s leading natural health website. When your body responds this way too frequently, your cardiovascular system begins to wear down.  Artery walls become damaged and your risk for a heart attack or stroke rises.

In addition to cardiovascular effects, repeated or prolonged anger has been linked to the following long-term physical effects:

  • weakened immune system
  • headaches or migraines
  • insomnia
  • digestive problems
  • anxiety or depression
  • high blood pressure
  • skin problems
  • chest pains
  • worsening of other health conditions
  • breathing problems (especially for older men)
  • slow wound healing

Anger has the power to affect your mental and emotional capacities, as well. Although it sometimes allows you to analyze a situation right away so that you can take action, anger may also cause you to react too quickly. According to the Mental Health Foundation of the UK, anger often interferes with clear, rational thinking by taking temporary control of the nervous system. When you don’t take the time to evaluate the situation properly, you sometimes end up making wrong decisions or taking unwarranted action. 

If a quick reaction leads to an inappropriate expression of anger, writes Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today, it may make the situation worse. Often, your angry reaction only serves to make you, and others, angrier. “Anger often feeds on itself,” Marano writes.

Even worse, when you hold on to anger, you’re not able to experience other positive emotions, according to Dr. Mercola. Instead, the prolonged anger might lead to more negative emotions such as bitterness, hopelessness, and futility, while inflicting you with feelings of guilt and shame. Harbored anger can keep you from handling the regular stresses and irritations of life, as well, and often affects your ability to focus.

It's Not Just You

Obviously, your anger affects other people, too.

You may not mean those unkind words aimed at your spouse or the insulting names hurled at your sibling. And you can apologize for it later. But once you release your words, they can’t be taken back. Feelings have already been hurt. An extra wound has been inflicted on the relationship. The damage has been done.

Do children, family members, or working colleagues look to you as an example? The way you handle your anger presents either a good model or a bad model for them. As the pediatrician once told a young mother who wondered how to deal with her angry, screaming toddler, “It’s very tempting to yell at your child, ‘Stop screaming!’ But that probably doesn’t set the best example.” 

If you lead groups of people at church, school, or work, you might begin to lose their respect when you repeatedly lose control of your anger. Maintaining a “hot-head” reputation might even alienate you from them. Many people avoid those whose anger intimidates or frightens them.

From all perspectives, then, finding a middle ground for your anger yields the best results. While you don’t need to hide your anger or bottle it up, you also want to avoid letting your anger kick in to overdrive, which can result in harmful, destructive reactions. Instead, acknowledge your anger and learn to express it in appropriate ways. Then let it motivate you to solve problems constructively. 

But how can you find this middle ground? What if you’re naturally hot-tempered? Or what if certain things make you angry no matter how hard you try?

Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg


Part 1:
To Be or Not to Be...Angry

Part 3:
Solving the Anger Problem

Part 4:
Weathering the Anger Storm

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

A healthy outside starts from the inside. Robert Urich