Anger In; Anger Out: Understanding the Psychology of Anger
Anger is a powerful emotion that we experience repeatedly throughout our lives. It can manifest in various ways and have different effects on individuals. Understanding the psychology behind anger, particularly the concept of “Anger In; Anger Out,” can help us better manage and regulate the intense energy accompanying this feeling.
Emotions spontaneously erupt. When we encounter stimuli, it triggers an emotional response. Stimuli may arise from internal sources such as thoughts or from external sources such as other people. We refer to the arousal as an affective response. Basically, our chemical balance reacts in a way that it impacts the biological state of the body. We can measure the affective response by level of arousal and by emotional valence. Emotional valence is the positive or negative balance of a feeling affect. T. Franklin Murphy defines valence as “the value associated with a stimulus, typically measured on a continuum from pleasant (positive) to unpleasant (negative) or from attractive to aversive” (Murphy, 2022).
What is Anger?
Anger typically is associated with hot cognitions of higher arousal with a negative valence directed at someone or something interfering with a basic goal. The powerful role of anger can bless and curse our lives. Misguided wrath motivates maladaptive behaviors that destroy relationships or lands us in a cold prison cell. Perhaps, these undesirable responses are why so many of us repress anger in a valiant attempt to dampen the potential harmful consequences of unbridled expressions.
Understanding our anger, and finding effective avenues of expression may have tremendous benefits across all domains of our lives. Les Carter, a psychotherapist and author, wrote “exploration of anger can lead to discovery about hidden insecurity, fear, misassumption about control, the role of spiritual strength, raw selfishness, and myths that have been accepted as truth. It can prompt us to look deeply into our methods of communication, and it can challenge us to ponder the roles of love, respect, understanding, and forgiveness’ (Carter, 2009, Kindle location: 54).
Leslie Greenberg explains that “emotional intelligence involves expressing anger in the right way at the right time” (Greenberg, 2015). In exploring the different ways of expressing anger, two basic categories emerge. One is anger-in; and the other is anger out.
What is Anger In?
Anger in refers to expressions of outrage directed inward at ourselves. An example of this is after failing at a certain task, we experience self-deprecating thoughts, such as “I am so stupid” or “I can’t do anything right.” Examining personal culpability for disappointing events is a healthy habit. However, a pattern of inwardly focused rage that attacks personal character does not educate, it shames. The inward directed expressions of anger are harmful.
Brené Brown warns that “the danger of telling ourselves that we are bad, a cheat, and no good, is that we eventually start to believe it and own it” (Brown, 2007). For the most part, inwardly directed anger at our being is unhealthy. However, inwardly focused anger at certain behaviors may serve a helpful purpose, aligning behaviors with values.
In some psychological circles “anger in” refers to the internalization of anger, where individuals suppress or hold in their anger instead of expressing it outwardly. This can happen for several reasons, such as cultural norms, personal beliefs, or fear of the consequences of expressing our feelings. People who tend to keep their anger in may feel uncomfortable or ashamed about displaying their emotions in front of others.
While we should regulate how and where we express anger, repeated suppression of emotion also has drawbacks. Greenberg teaches that “regulating a response by reviewing the situation generally is far superior to suppressing it” (Greenberg, 2015).
Internalizing anger can have both short-term and long-term effects on a person’s well-being. In the short term, it may lead to increased stress levels, irritability, and even physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches. Over time, unresolved anger may contribute to chronic stress, anxiety, and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
What is Anger Out?
On the other hand, “Anger Out” refers to the externally directed expression of anger. This could take the form of yelling, aggression, or even physical violence. The object of focus is external. Anger out may occur in more subtle behaviors such as passive aggressive words and behaviors or in more obvious displays.
Some circumstances demand an immediate response to stop the errant behavior. This may occur when personal boundaries are ignored or severe danger. An immediate arousal and defensive stance may save our lives or protect against physical or emotional attacks. Some actions are so devious and hurtful an angry stand must be made. However, in most cases, “to disarm resistance you needed to disarm anxiety first, and that this would never be accomplished by expressions of anger or bitterness, but only by courtesy and respect for the other’s dignity” (Nussbaum, 2018).
While expressing intense emotion may provide temporary relief, uncontrolled or aggressive outbursts often have negative consequences. These heated expressions may damage relationships, escalate conflicts, and lead to regrets or guilt afterward. Anger expressed through harmful means is generally not a constructive way to deal with the underlying issues.
Much like inward expressions of anger, outward expressions should focus on behaviors rather than the person.
The Balance: Constructive Expression
Greenberg explains that “Primary anger, or anger in response to violation, is essential; it must be validated and its expression encouraged” (Greenberg, 2015). In their intriguing book, The Upside of Your Downside, authors Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener wrote that “anger often dramatically alters other people’s behavior, most often causing them to retreat, or compromise quickly. For this very reason, anger—and other negative feelings—are sometimes more appropriate than positivity” (kashdan and Biswas-Diener, 2015, Kindle location: 1,004).
An essential element to appropriate expressions of anger is to conveying frustrations or disappointment without destructively pointing to someone’s character in a shaming manner. This include expressions that are internally directed.
We are tasked to find a healthy balance between directing anger inward and outward. And certainly, we are challenged to direct behaviors at circumstances and behaviors rather than at the being of ourself or others. Regulating anger effectively is no simple task. However, the benefits of proper expressions of emotions will enormously bless our lives.
Tips for Healthy Expression of Anger
Here are some tips for constructively expressing this potentially dangerous emotion:
- Self-reflection and awareness: Take time to understand the root causes of your arousal. Deep reflection may bring to light emotional patterns of arousal. Recognize your triggers and underlying emotions that may be fueling the intense feelings.
- Effective communication: Express your anger assertively and respectfully, using “I” statements to convey your feelings without attacking others. Active listening is important during discussions to foster understanding and resolution.
- Manage stress: Engage in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or physical activities, to reduce stress levels and promote emotional well-being.
- Seek support: Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support in managing emotions.
- Conflict resolution: Learn healthy conflict resolution strategies, such as negotiation, compromise, or seeking mediation if needed, to address underlying issues and find mutually satisfactory solutions.
A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic
Remember, anger is a natural emotion, but how we choose to express it can make a significant difference. By practicing self-awareness, effective communication, and constructive coping mechanisms, we can channel our irritations and frustrations, responding in ways that nurture better relationships with ourselves and others.
However, proper expression of emotion is not a simple task. Heightened arousal distracts from the best plans and we jump into automatic mode. Creating new habits of response takes time. Accordingly, we must be patient with the process of change, evaluating progress, and constructively dissecting failures. As we do so, we will inch closer to our goal, increase emotional intelligence, and begin to reap the rewards of a stable and healthy relationship with our emotions.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. If you are struggling with anger management, consider seeking support from a qualified mental health professional.
Brown, Brené (2007). I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough.” Avery; 1st edition.
Carter, Les (2009). The Anger Trap: Free Yourself from the Frustrations that Sabotage Your Life. Jossey-Bass; 1st edition.
Greenberg, Leslie S. (2015). Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings. American Psychological Association; 2nd edition.
Kashdan, Todd, Biswas-Diener, Robert (2015) The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment. Plume; Reprint edition.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2022). Emotional Valence. Psychology Fanatic. Published 3-11-2022. Accessed 11-15-2023.
Nussbaum, Martha C. (2018). Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice. Oxford University Press; Reprint edition.