Exploring Anger



Do you think you have a problem with anger? Yes or No?

*If the answer is ‘yes,’ you may want to go directly to the next section. If unsure, take note of anything below that you relate to-these are typical signs of an anger problem.

  • You “blow up” at others.
  • You often criticize others.
  • You feel angry but can’t express it.
  • You have impulses to harm others.
  • You “never feel angry”.
  • You hate yourself.
  • You often isolate.
  • You feel bitter.
  • You have impulses to harm yourself.
  • Others have said you have an anger problem.


It is important to know that anger is not bad or wrong. Rather, it is information that can be used either to help or to harm your recovery. It can be used constructively to help you heal, to be honest with others, to face your pain. Or it can be used destructively to act out against yourself or others, to give up, to become bitter. Anger itself is not a problem-it’s all in what you do with it.

Constructive Anger: Anger that Heals

“Constructive anger” means anger that is…

  • Moderate or lower (e.g., up to 5 on a 0-10 scale, where 0 = no anger and 10 = intense anger).
  • Explored to understand yourself or others.
  • Conscious (you are aware of it).
  • Handled well (e.g., not acted out in dangerous behavior).
  • Respectful of your own and others’ needs.

For example, if you go out on a date and the other person acts selfish, you may rightly feel angry. If you listen to your anger, you can use it as a sign to protect yourself; perhaps you can talk to the person about what bothers you, or you can calmly end the date early. You can feel good about using your anger constructively.

There are great benefits to constructive anger. It can help protect you from danger…convey insights about yourself and others…give you real power.

Destructive Anger: Anger that Harms

“Destructive anger” means anger that is…

  • Acted out in dangerous behavior (hurting yourself or others).
  • Too intense and/or frequent (e.g., often above 5 on a 0-10 scale).
  • “Underground” (quietly seething or feeling bitter).
  • Unconscious (This type of anger will eventually come up into consciousness and can be very intense anger)

There are great costs to destructive anger. It can destroy your relationships…cause physical harm…weaken you…become an addiction.

Destructive anger can be directed toward yourself and/or directed toward others. Both represent a lack of balance between your own and others’ needs. For some people, both are present.

Destructive anger toward self (e.g., self-harm, suicidal feelings): Putting others’ needs too much ahead of yours.

Destructive anger towards others (e.g., verbal abuse, assault): Putting your needs too much ahead of others’.

With destructive anger toward yourself, you may not be aware of anger. For example, if you physically hurt yourself you may not notice anger at the time. However, such acting out does indeed represent anger-typically anger toward others that you have difficulty “owning”.

How do you tend to handle anger? Constructively / Destructively / both. Toward self / Toward Others / Both


Anger is normal in recovery from PTSD and substance abuse. If you have been through the terrible experiences of trauma and substance abuse, anger is inevitable. You may feel angry at people who hurt you, at the world, at God, at yourself, at life, at treaters (doctors etc), at family, at strangers. Your anger is valid and real. In recovery, the goal is to use your anger as a way to learn about yourself and grow. The task is to face your anger without letting it destroy you or others.

Behind all anger are unmet needs. Anger is a signal that something is wrong. It may mean that your not taking enough care of yourself, or that you have a lot of sadness to work through, or that you are in a harmful relationship. Listening to your anger and caring for the underlying needs can resolve anger.

Constructive anger can be learned. It is never too late, no matter how long you’ve had a problem with anger. Mainly it requires really listening to others’ feedback about your anger, “owning” your feelings rather than acting them out, expressing anger in healthy ways, and learning to tolerate the painful feelings behind the anger.

Destructive anger can become an addiction. Can you see similarities between destructive anger and substance abuse? For example, the more you engage in it, the more it increases. Also, with destructive anger you may feel “high” on it in the moment. Have you “hit bottom” with destructive anger-has it caused serious problems in your life?

Venting anger does not work. An old-style view of anger was the idea of venting-that the solution to anger is to “get it out” (e.g., punch a pillow, write an angry letter, throw rocks at a tree). However, these actually tend to increase rather than decrease anger. Currently, it is understood that anger needs to be handled constructively, not simply vented.

Destructive anger never works in the long term. You may get results in the short term. People may do what you want; you may feel powerful in the moment. It is only later that you can see that these are an illusion. Destructive anger spins you out of control and weakens your bonds with others.

Healthy VS Unhealthy Feelings



Thoughts and attitudes have an impact on the way you feel. Your emotions result more from the way you view things than from what happens to you. That simple idea can help you change the way you think and feel. In today’s lecture, you’ll learn more about the nuts and bolts of doing this.

However, before we go too far with this, we need to back track just a bit. When should we change our negative feelings? Are all negative feelings bad? Are some negative feelings normal and healthy? Should we try to be happy all the time?

I believe that some negative feelings are healthy and some negative feelings are unhealthy. For every negative emotion, there’s a healthy and an unhealthy version. Healthy sadness is not the same as clinical depression. Healthy fear is not the same as neurotic guilt. Healthy, constructive anger is not the same as unhealthy, destructive anger. And so fourth.

For example, if a loved one dies, it’s healthy to grieve and to share your feelings with friends and family members. Your sadness in the expression of the love that you felt for that person, and the feelings of loss will naturally disappear after a period of time. Clinical depression is very different.

What are some of the differences between healthy sadness and depression? I have listed them below. Think about this question a little bit before you look. What’s your perception?

(Note: The paperwork that i received in class came with a table to obviously separate the comparing example. So, I had to tweak the format a little bit. The first sentence in each example is the healthy version of the emotion being discussed. The second sentence is the unhealthy version of the emotion being discussed.)

Characteristics of Healthy Sadness VS Characteristics of Depression

  1. You are sad but don’t feel a loss of self-esteem. VS You feel a loss of self-esteem
  2. Your negative feelings are an appropriate reaction to an upsetting event VS Your negative feelings are far out of proportion to the event that triggered your bad mood.
  3. Your feelings go away after a period of time. VS Your feelings may go on and on endlessly.
  4. Although you feel sad, you do not feel discouraged about the future. VS You feel demoralized and convinced that things will never get better.
  5. You continue to be productively involved with life. VS You give up on life and lose interest in your friends and career.
  6. Your negative thoughts are realistic. VS Your negative thoughts are exaggerated and distorted, even though they seem valid.

What are some of the characteristics of healthy, constructive anger? How does it differ from destructive, unhealthy anger? I have listed characteristics of both below. Again, think about the differences before you look. What’s your perception?

Characteristics of Healthy, Constructive Anger VS Characteristics of Unhealthy, Destructive Anger

  1. You express your feelings in a tactful way VS you deny your feelings and pout (passive aggressive) or lash out and attack the other person (active aggression).
  2. You try to see the world through the other person’s eyes, even if you disagree. VS You argue defensively and insist there’s no validity in what the other person is saying.
  3. You convey a spirit of respect for the other person, even though you may feel quite angry with him or her. VS You believe the other person is despicable and deserving of punishment. You appear condescending or disrespectful.
  4. You do something productive and try to solve the problem. VS You give up and see yourself as a helpless victim.
  5. You try to learn from the situation so you will be wiser in the future. VS You don’t learn anything new. You feel that your view of the situation is absolutely valid.
  6. You eventually let go of the anger and feel happy again. VS Your anger becomes addictive. You won’t let go of it.
  7. You examine your own behavior to see how you may have contributed to the problem. VS You blame the other person and see yourself as an innocent victim.
  8. You believe that you and the other person both have valid ideas and feelings that deserve to be understood. VS You insist that you are entirely right and the other person is entirely wrong. You feel convinced that truth and justice are on your side.
  9. Your commitment to the other person increases. Your goal is to feel closer to him or her. VS You avoid or reject the other person. You write him or her off.
  10. You look for a solution where you can both win and nobody has to lose. VS You feel like you’re in a battle or a competition. If one person wins, you feel that the other person will be a loser.

We all have circumstances where we react in the wrong way when we are angry. No one is perfect. However, it is always a good idea to be open minded and willing to improve the way we handle situations to decrease our anger and to increase the quality of the relationships we have with others.

It is common for some people to be sad in a healthy way. However, the population of people with depression is extremely high. If we can pin point the unhealthy feeling we have, we then have a great chance to get some help and to change the way we feel. The feelings of depression are awful and they are very hard to live with.

Remember this: No one deserves to or has to live miserably. We have the power to change the way we think and feel if we want that bad enough and are open to suggestions. It is essential to always remain teachable. It is impossible to be happy all the time. But there is a remarkable strength in knowing how to identify our feelings and being able to go through them and deal with them so we can come out on the other side.