Psychology Melbourne Blog

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We all get angry, but not everyone gets mad

By Greg Eder,

we all get angry, but not everyone gets mad

Seven different anger types and what you can do about them

We all get angry. For some, their anger is no more than a minor hiccup; for others it is an intensely furious rage.

On its own, anger is a very normal, healthy human emotion. In fact, anger – along with joy, sadness, and fear – is one of our four universal emotions. All other emotions are expressions of combinations of our four universal emotions.

The problems with anger occur when it gets out of control and becomes destructive. Work activities, personal lives, social occasions, public events – all can potentially be impacted by someone’s angry outburst. And let’s not forget the impact that being excessively angry has on the perpetrator. While it might take some a lifetime to recognise the damage their anger causes, those who do see it can experience feelings that range from regret and remorse through to guilt, shame, and intense self-loathing and disgust.


Anger is defined by the American Psychological Association as a “commonly experienced emotion which can range from mild annoyance to rage”. Anger can be triggered when someone believes something, or someone has wronged them. It can be directed externally towards an individual (a work colleague, a friend, a salesclerk) or an event (heavy traffic, a cancelled flight, a COVID lockdown). It can be result of the inner turmoil that comes from excessive worry or rumination about personal problems or from memories of traumatic events or very stressful situations from the past.

Biophysiological response

Anger can be a formidable emotion. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by various physiological and biological changes. The sympathetic nervous system is activated, producing adrenaline and noradrenaline which raises your heart rate, lifts your blood pressure, and increases more muscle tension. We also produce various other neurochemicals that help control mood, sleep, appetite, learning, and memory, but these neurochemicals also negatively influence how we experience and express anger.

These reactions are priming the body to act. In evolutionary terms, the options on what action to take were simple – fight off the danger and protect yourself or turn on your heel and run. This is your survival mechanism – your fight or flight response.

In today’s modern world, however, constantly triggering your fight or flight response comes at a cost. You’re primed, ready to act – to fight or flee. But modern world stressors do not require any physical response at all. The chemicals and hormones we produce aren’t needed and so must dissipate. Over time this will happen, but if we experience repeated incidents that stress or annoy us, our physiology continues to produce and add to what’s already in your system. Over the long-term your immune system can be supressed, increasing the risk of a myriad of other health problems ranging from the flu to heart disease or stroke.

When our fight or flight is constantly triggered, our physiological response also heightens our sensitivity to other things, reactions such as our anger response, the escalation of other emotions, and the impairment of rational thought. If these anger reactions are excessive or expressed in ways that are unhealthy or harmful to others, uncontrolled anger can quickly turn into aggression, abuse, or violence.

Anger Control

In learning how to control anger, the most important thing to understand is that no one else makes us angry. Anger is a reaction that reflects the way we interpret what someone has just said or done, the coping skills that mange our response, and finally the supports we have.

So, anger itself is not the problem, it’s our interpretation of events together with our expression of that interpretation that can become problematic. So, if someone is going to control their anger issues, they must first determine how they behave when angry.

Here are seven common anger profiles:

  1. Passive Anger. The most avoidant anger type, passive anger can also be the most exasperating, especially to those who have respond to it. Sometimes it manifests as sarcasm or ridicule, passive-aggressive statements, the silent treatment, or stubbornness. It indicates the person's unhealthy relationship with anger, keeping a belief that it's inherently wrong, punishable, or socially unacceptable. It may stem from being forced to bottle up negative emotions as a child or as an adult because of a dominant partner. This type of anger can be much more emotionally and physically draining to the one expressing it than other more overt types of anger.
  2. Explosive (Volatile) Anger. Often coming from seemingly nowhere, this is an impulsive reaction to whatever is perceived the slightest bit annoying. Because it's so unpredictable, it can eventually force everyone around such person to walk on eggshells or avoid the person altogether. Explosive anger is slightly more common in males and those with substance abuse problems. In its most extreme it may have developed into an Intermittent Explosive Disorder diagnosable under the DSM-V.
  3. Hardened (Petrified) Anger. When someone feels stuck in their anger over a specific wrong-doing or disappointment. If this person had, and continues to have, a very hard time forgetting, let alone forgiving a particular event, or person, who wronged them may have hardened your anger.
  4. Vengeful (Moral) Anger. This anger often manifests itself as righteous indignation over someone else's actions which they perceive, as unjust, wrong, or incorrect. These people see themselves as a natural moral compass and cannot look the other way when rules are broken. With the right focus this anger need not be destructive. It can be harnessed for greater change. But such a person risks alienation – this type of anger can also be a feature of certain personality types and a characteristic of Asperger's syndrome.
  5. Chronic Anger. Chronic Anger manifests itself in constant frustration and resentment towards others and, often, towards oneself. At its worst, this person is likely to be described as bitter, mean, or spiteful. It can indicate long-lasting or unresolved emotional issues and over time, it can seriously affect a person's mental, emotional, and physical health.
  6. Incidental Anger. Incidental anger is about a specific event or situation that gets addressed directly and quickly – “it's great to have an anger-provoking incident, appropriately express it and then move on”. Here anger is not a bad or terrible emotion; it reminds us of the difference between right and wrong.
  7. Empathic Anger. Expressed appropriately, empathic anger can be another form of healthy anger. It occurs when you are angry on behalf of someone else or for someone else. It can be helpful as it even reduces anger in some situations. Think of the satisfaction that comes from defending someone who’s been treated unfairly.

Want to find out your anger types and what you can do about them?

Enrol now in Take charge of your anger: ways to control your anger before it controls you

Starts on Tuesday 14 June, 2021

About the author, Greg Eder

Greg is a registered psychologist and executive coach. He has worked across a diverse range of consulting, in-house and military global and national projects. Most recently, he has been working for a MedTech start-up developing a real-time health platform combining biopsychometric factors to give users profiles of their work-life balance and stress performance.

Particular areas of interest include adaptability and emotional intelligence, coaching, leader and talent development, performance and productivity, stress and fatigue, change and transition, mental health and wellbeing, resilience, and diversity and inclusion.

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