In this lesson we will learn about the complex emotion anger and the many different ways humans express it. Take a quiz after the lesson to test your knowledge.
Definition of Anger
Describing someone as ‘angry’ will bring up different visions depending on the listener’s experience with this emotion. They might picture a grumpy grandfather complaining, a toddler throwing himself on the floor during a temper tantrum or a coworker refusing to compromise. All three of these examples are apt; they all entail outward expressions of a feeling called anger.
Anger can be defined as a feeling of annoyance, displeasure or antagonism. Think of a time you felt angry. It may have been because of personal circumstances – maybe someone harmed you or you felt very frustrated because you had so much work to do. It may have even been related to something that didn’t happen to you directly. All of us experience the feeling of anger from time to time, but how we express this emotion can vary widely from individual to individual.
Let’s take a look at a few ways this works.
Types of Anger
Anger is a surprisingly complex emotion. It can happen in many different circumstances for many different reasons. People can express it in a large variety of ways – imagine a sports fan yelling at the TV or a mother ignoring her sullen teenage daughter. It’s even common for the same individual to react differently to the same situation at different times.
Because of these complexities, there is no solid agreement among psychologists about how many forms of anger there are or how to classify them. When talking about anger, experts often refer to methods of expression – passive, aggressive or assertive.
The term passive anger, often referred to as passive-aggressive anger, explains the manner of dealing with angry emotions by, well, not dealing with them. People with this expression style often avoid dealing with situations that make them angry and instead try to keep the feelings inside. However, anger is still expressed by passive-aggressive individuals. They tend to channel their ire into behaviors like making judgmental comments, spreading rumors or holding grudges.Let’s imagine an example.
A husband and wife are watching TV. The husband, Jack, wants to watch his favorite TV show. Sue, the wife, would like to watch a movie. Though Jack has been waiting for this TV show to air for several weeks, he agrees to watch the movie. The anger he feels isn’t expressed to Sue, but instead he holds it inside because he doesn’t want to argue.
Later Jack snaps at Sue when she asks him a question about his job and then sulks when Sue asks him what’s wrong. Jack is expressing his anger in a passive way.
Unlike passive anger, aggressive anger is expressed outwardly.
Aggressively angry individuals yell or commit acts of physical violence. Oftentimes, aggressively angry people want to destroy property or inflict pain on others to somehow retaliate for the perceived injustice they’ve endured.Following on from our earlier example, let’s say Jack doesn’t agree that Sue can watch her movie, but instead insists it is his turn to make the decision about what they watch on TV. Sue then yells at Jack, hurling insults at him, and then throws a vase at the wall. Sue’s intention is to release the anger by inflicting harm elsewhere.
Assertive anger is communicated calmly. People who express their anger assertively want to work through the emotion and come to a resolution. Their wording is direct and straightforward. Anger is not repressed but controlled.
Let’s re-imagine our earlier scenario. When Sue says she wants to watch a movie, Jack may say to her, ‘It seems like we’ve been watching what you want every night. I feel you don’t value my opinions or wishes.’ Sue can then hear exactly how Jack is feeling and then respond to the problem instead of trying to guess what Jack is thinking about – or becoming angry herself. Let’s say Sue’s reply is: ‘I’m sorry, Jack.
Let’s compromise. You can watch what you want one night and I’ll watch what I want the next night.’ She’ll be taking ownership of any emotions she may be feeling – including anger – and using them as tools to better her relationship with Jack. In this way both Sue and Jack are displaying assertive behavior in regard to their emotions.
The three types of anger we’ve learned about – passive, aggressive and assertive – are each expressed in different ways.
We saw how Sue and Jack interacted to express themselves. How can we know which form of anger others might be feeling? Let’s look at some indicators.If expressing anger in a passive way, people may:
- Fail to make eye contact
- Sigh heavily
- Mutter under their breath
- Make statements like ‘If that’s what you want’
- Use sarcasm
Those expressing emotions in an aggressive way may:
- Finger point
- Use body language such as crossed arms or hands on hips
- Hold their hands in fists
Finally, expressing anger in an assertive method people may:
- Use ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I feel’, or ‘I think’
- Maintain eye contact
- Speak in a calm voice
Anger is a natural emotion we all have. It is characterized by feelings of annoyance, displeasure and antagonism.
Psychologists often define anger in three ways – passive-aggressive, aggressive and assertive. People expressing anger in a passive way try to ignore situations but then allow their anger to build. They may sigh often or fail to make eye contact. When anger is expressed in an aggressive manner people may yell, point fingers or glare. They often want to inflict harm on the source of anger. Finally, assertive anger is expressed in a calm manner using ‘I’ statements.
Those who express their anger this way want to tell others how they feel and solve problems.