Anger 101 Part I: Understanding, Appreciating, and Coping with Anger

An angry man leans out of his car window and points his finger at someone.

The first in a series of articles dedicated to understanding, appreciating, and coping with our anger.

“Sticks and Stones.” I am sure most of you have heard this saying and think you know the ending. It is said to go “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I think our parents taught us this, thinking it would help us ward off teasing by others. Unfortunately, this misguided saying is far from true. You see, in reality, sticks and stones may break my bones but WORDS CAN DO SERIOUS DAMAGE. Broken bones heal and yet harmful words may stick with and haunt us.

Many clients come to me struggling with their anger and just want to “fix it.” They hope a few tools will do the trick. Sometimes, this is all it takes. More often though, it is not that simple. As we delve into a quick history, it becomes clear that their anger has been around for a long time. In fact, it has grown over time. Realistically, we cannot expect life-long patterns to be broken overnight. I firmly believe it is valuable for me to help clients understand where their anger comes from. For most of us, anger is directly related to deep-seeded pain from growing up, and I want to help look at sources of pain throughout our lives.

When clients bring up how:

1) their parents weren’t there for them
2) their parents handled their own anger inappropriately
3) they were never taught or encouraged to communicate their feelings
4) they don’t show sadness and believe tears are a sign of weakness

I know how that translates into unresolved sadness and pain which, if not expressed, tends to come out as to anger.

I tend to hear people say “if I don’t think about it, the thoughts/feelings will go away.” This is not the case. In fact, stuffing our feelings will only last so long. Like a volcano, when we stuff our feelings and hold them down, they will eventually erupt or leak out. Exploding over someone spilling something or cutting in front of you, and then not understanding why you are getting that upset, is a problem. When I hear how angry someone gets over “nothing,” I want to look at where the anger is really coming from.

Our anger does not just appear out of thin air. More often than not, when we focus on how the anger has come to be, I can help clients grasp at least a few deeper issues within their past that may be tied to current anger. Of course, I am always wanting to explore with them how their denial of sadness and pain (to generalize, something that, especially we guys, don’t like to show) may have found a way into anger (a feeling we guys may be more expected and comfortable showing).

Too often, clients believe others are “making” them angry. Thinking about your anger (feelings, thoughts, actions, etc.), this in indeed yours. Own it! No one makes us do anything unless we decide to do it. No one makes me sad, happy, angry or anything. The other person can do something, that I may not like, and then I get to choose how I want to respond. Yes, at times, someone’s behavior will lead me to feeling upset but, again, I decide if this will happen. I am indeed in control. Why give up yours? Own your feelings. This will help you understand how many choices you have and how to next respond (or not).

It is important for me to normalize client’s anger. Typically, when I ask people if anger is bad, the answer I hear is “YES.” No, I say. Anger is a normal feeling. It is just what we do with anger that can be positive or problematic. Be clear on this; we all get angry. We all get happy, sad, anxious, etc. sometimes. Feelings are a normal part of our existence and we need to express them.

Upcoming articles here, will focus on not only how to face our pain and best express it, but also on tools to best cope with painful feelings and the anger we may have inside. To start, though, I want to highlight how imperative it is to learn how to calm both the mind and body. One of the best ways to do this is via a commonly used tool known as deep-breathing. Sounds simple but you would not believe how we may fail to take the necessary full breaths, especially under stress.

Taking a slow, deep breath through your nose, holding it a second or two, and then slowly expelling the air through your mouth should not be just a few second process. When we focus on this and take the time needed, it will be difficult to be angry as it helps stop the racing thoughts that tend to go hand-in-hand with anger. Again, this is not a race. Just the opposite. Calmly breathing helps the body and trains our minds to slow down. Furthermore, we don’t want to wait until we are upset to do this. The more we are calming ourselves during the day, the less likely we are to get hyped up in the first place. Try practicing this a few times daily and get ready for more next month.

© Copyright 2010 by Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Eri

    April 29th, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    I share your view on how all emotions are normal part of understanding who we are and how we fit into our world. It’s a communication tool between ourselves and our surroundings. And it IS what we do with our emotions that will make us step forward or backward or even stand still. I think the most important thing that I have read in your article above that most people do not pay attention to is the breathing technique. We shouldn’t wait until we are upset to do this. So many of us only breathe deeply in attempt to calm ourselves ‘when’ we’re upset.

  • Stuart Kaplowitz, MFT

    April 29th, 2010 at 7:21 PM

    Very well said Eri

  • Dale

    April 30th, 2010 at 4:44 AM

    Coping with and dealing with anger issues is not something that can get a quick fix. These are things that took time to build up and naturally are going to take time to work through and break through. Some people have been living with this kind of anger for so long that they do not know how to deal in any other way besides becoming angry and frustrated. For these people it is nice when you see them taking a step forward to try to get this type of reaction under control, but it is difficult i would presume to change behavior that you have been exhibiting for years. As they say, Rome was not built in a day, and a resolution for this will not come about as quickly either.

  • rupert

    April 30th, 2010 at 8:38 AM

    anger is something each one of us HAS to face at many junctures in our life and is something none of us is free from.But it is the way in which we handle it that defines us,that defines the person we is therefore very important that we do not do or say things in the heat of the moment and be regretting for it later…it is important to see yourself thoroughly when you are angry and not act in haste.


    April 30th, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    Anger is often a good indicator that you are not happy with something that is happening with you or with something said by someone.But this displeasure should be expressed in the right way,in a non-violent way.

    Anger is something that can be used to make your way through all the trouble and reach something that you see as your destination,but if it gets the better of you,then you are in big big trouble.

  • Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT

    April 30th, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Excellent additions everyone. Anger is something each of us has to face, it won’t be addressed in but a day, and I too believe it is an indicator that we were negatively affected by something / someone

  • ryan

    November 1st, 2010 at 7:02 AM

    hi im ryan im 23 an this is all very new to me i find it very hard to show my feelings an im not brill at spelling so bare with me if you can just latly i feel very low with myself im getting angry very easy e.g i tryed to cook poached eggs the other day not saying iv never done them befor cos im a good cook an realy enjoy cookin it calms me down anyway i got the pan out added the boiling water turnd up the gas put a litle viniga in when it was bubbling i cracked the egg into the pan an it just turnd into a million tiny bits so instead of tryin agen i took the pan to the door an throu the pan into the garden my girlfriend was so scared she started to cry x i dont know why i keep gettin so mad sum times i feel like i cud realy hurt someone my head just feels like its spining its all come on since i met her an she thinks its her i dont think it is cos she calms me down just by looking at her x iv always had a short fuse but never like this ! anyway as i was saying iv been getting angry very easy i was with my wife for 3 years befor we got married in july 2010 she was i nice calm person an we got on well but she was not very gud at new things she was used to going to pub with her dad every nite thru the week becos her mum was not interested it her dad they sleept in separt rooms for the last 5 year ! her dad used to take her so he was not alone when i meet her she never went out never made the efort to were nice thing she just worked in her mums bar an went to the next pub down the road with daddy i put up with this for so long then sumone offered me a pub in york for 6 month so we took it freedom at last we got on brill got a real relationship going all good till 6 month came an we moved back home then it went back to normal pub every nite with daddy agen we was both living at her mum an dads untill a few week later when i saw a house wot was gud for both of us being close to are jobs so a grabed it an we moved in together it was all good we slowly did the house up an it was always clean i did all the cooking cos she cud burn beens on toast lol she had no idea how to cook.. then 6 months later the house 3 doors down came up for rent an her mum an dad gave the pub up an moved in wich i was not happy about we was just gettin right then it happend agen sudenly i was finishing work an cumin home to see the pots was still on side frome nite befor an washin still sat in washer wet an she was in pub with her dad slowly i started to give in an started going out with my pals drinkin as well the house got worse it got to were we just sleept apart then her mum an dad got another pub they keept the house on but was never ther everythin went back to the way it was we got engaged just befor christmas 09 an booked the weddin for july it was all good till 2 week befor weddin an she got a call from her mum sayin theyed been kicked outa pub an was cumin home great for me not !! but it was so close to the big day everythin was paid i cud not let everyone down now so we wed in july went to corfu the day after had a good honymoon then back home all the way back in the car i new it was all guna change within 3 weeks the house was a mess i was workin all the time to pay bills she was in pub she started having time off from her job cos she didnt want to go just wanted to go out i fell out with her dad when i sed she shud be home with me not out with you she my wife not yours sort your own life out instead of messin mine up she sided with her dad we stoped talkin i went to the coast for a few days to sort my head out i was staying with my mum an dad who live ther i saw a beautifull women while away we only got to say hello the nite befor a went home altho she was on my mind a felt a spark between us unlike anythin iv ever felt befor just the thort of her made me smile i got in the car an off i went home i got ther walked thru the door an bang as i droped my bag she was out no dout with dady agen the house was upside down i fliped i lost it big time i ran up to the bed room binliner in hand grabing my stuff i filled 3 bags took them down to the door i had a wash calmed down sent her a txt tellin her to cum home now an w8 ed when she came in i told her it was over and i was leavin she stormed upto the bed room were i folowed expectin her to be upset but instead she was making sure id only taken my money thats just how litle we ment to her as i walked out she sed im going back to pub an with that i lost it agen i put my fist thru the bedroom door it broke in half she screemed an i left an went back to my mums i calmed down an we went for a drink. later that nite i met that women agen she made me feel so warm inside so confident agen after a few week we got togeth an iv now moved down hear to be with her an iv never been happier but im scared of losing her becos i keep gettin mad an flipin over nothin i just cant figer it out it aint her i know that i feel alive wen we togeth an im doing the same at work gettin to the point were if i dont controll this i will hurt somone we went for a drink lastnite an it was a nice litle cottage type pub an we was fine talkin away laffing when someone looked over to see wot we were laffin at a saw him look over at her an i felt hot really hot my hands shakin an he looked agen she was talkin to me when i shot up an walked toward him i asked him wot he kept lookin at if he had a problem as a sed that she came an took my hand an the bar man asked me to leave i did so iv nerer felt such anger im not a nasty person i wud do anythin for anyone but im just not my self i dont understand wots this all about im so scared of losing her iv been to the doctors today an hes given me sum beta-blockers to calm me down but i need to sort this out ! any advice wud be great sorry it took so long to read thanks ryan x

  • Salma Luera

    March 30th, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Hi well i want to help my mom because she has a lot of anger and I’ve told her to write down what she feels but she decides to get drunk and smoke and yell at me and my sister instead.Im always having to protect my sister because my mom can’t control her on voice level and it sounds like she yells every time she talks which is what scares my sister.I don’t know how she would react to what would happen if i got a therapist to help her,she would probably deny she was even mad but she seems to have so much hatred.When shes nad sh smoke and she does that in the house which burns my throat and now I am sick with so much flem in my throat I feel like im going to choke.Any advice

  • dp

    May 16th, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    The rollover text in this comic goes well with your introduction to this article, even though it doesn’t really have to do with anger. Just felt like sharing:

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it.”

  • Anonymous

    January 10th, 2020 at 4:07 PM

    Calmly breathing helps the body and trains our minds to slow down.

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