understanding anger - for family and friends

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Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that can help us to express, and deal with, difficult feelings and situations.

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. It can help us to deal with difficult situations, help us to understand what's important to us, and help us get our needs met.

Anger can become a problem when it affects a person’s daily life and/or relationships. This might be because they find their feelings of anger overwhelming or hard to control, or because they express their anger in ways that might hurt themselves or others around them, or because they find it hard to express their angerDifficulties with anger can also be a sign that someone might be experiencing sadness, depression, isolation or discrimination. 

Learning to be aware of our anger and to express it appropriately is a part of good mental health. If your young person seems angry a lot or has trouble controlling their anger, there are lots of ways you can support them to manage their anger in a healthy way.  

Why might people get angry?

Anger can be our way of expressing or responding to a range of other feelings, such as:

  • frustration

  • embarrassment or humiliation 

  • guilt or shame  

  • jealousy 

  • hurt or sadness 

  • feeling rejected 

  • feeling disrespected, disregarded, unimportant or devalued 

  • feeling unlovable 

  • feeling powerless, or unable to control or influence a situation 

  • feeling threatened or frightened 

  • feeling unfairly treated

  • feeling misunderstood or not listened to 

  • feeling the pressure of living in two worlds (that is, First Nation Peoples and non-Indigenous; or needing to hide things from those around you)  

  • feeling a loss of connection to family, community or country. 

When does anger become a problem?

Anger becomes a problem when it begins to affect a person’s daily life and causes them to react in ways that might hurt themselves, and/or others around them.

  • feeling angry a lot of the time, at an intense and overwhelming level

  • having trouble controlling anger

  • feeling down and distressed as a result of getting angry, or using alcohol or other drugs to manage anger

  • feeling the need to use anger to get people to do things

  • withdrawing from people or situations and bottling things up, rather than dealing with them

  • expressing anger by saying or doing something aggressive or violent (e.g., shouting, swearing, throwing or hitting things)

  • when it has a negative impact on others (e.g., causing them to feel scared or intimidated).

Anger vs aggression

Anger can lead to people being aggressive or violent but they are not the same. Anger is a feeling, but aggression and violence are actions. Anger can sometimes be intense and overwhelming but it doesn't mean that people become violent or aggressive.

These suggestions may be useful for longer-term anger management, and should be attempted when you and the young person are both feeling calm.

  • Validate their emotions (e.g., I can see you are really angry) and be curious about what’s making them feel angry.
  • Help them identify their triggers. Explore what regularly causes the young person to get angry, how they might be able to avoid these things in future, and how to react differently when they happen.

  • Set boundaries around angry/aggressive behaviour. Remind the young person that it’s okay for them to be angry, as long as they express it appropriately  it is never okay for them to be violent or abusive towards someone or damage property. Agree on constructive ways that the young person can let out their anger without hurting other people or their environment and the consequences for crossing these limits. The extent to which the young person is involved in setting these boundaries will depend on their developmental stage (i.e., boundaries for younger adolescents will be largely set by their parents, whereas boundaries for older adolescents may be largely set by themselves).

  • Model healthy ways to manage anger. How you respond to situations that make you angry can have a big impact on how your young person manages their anger.

  • Help them to seek professional help. If the young person’s anger continues without improvement, you could help them to research anger management courses, or arrange for them to see their GP or a mental health professional. For more information, see 'How to support a family member'.

These suggestions may be helpful in the heat of the moment to help a young person de-escalate their anger and express it in a healthy way. Remember, everyone is different, so it may take practise to find out what works for them.

  • Try to stay calm. You probably have a lot of challenging feelings of your own but if you can control your anger (e.g., by talking in a calm voice), this may help stop the young person’s anger from escalating and help you to think clearly about how to respond.

  • Help them to calm down. If your young person seems agitated or is becoming aggressive, encourage them to try some of our ‘Ways to manage feelings of anger, such as:

    • Relaxation: relaxation techniques may help a young person change how they are feeling physically, calming them down enough so that they can think about different responses to their emotions. Try encouraging them to take a few deep breaths, or tense and release some of their muscles.

    • Delay/Distraction: delay or distraction can help a young person to take their mind off what is making them angry and stop them from making the situation worse. Consider encouraging the young person to count to 10 or do something physical, such as fast walking, push-ups or bouncing a ball.

  • Listen. Allow the young person to express their feelings without judging them. If someone feels they are being listened to, they are more able to hear other people’s points of view, too. Being able to communicate anger can also help someone calm down, and can be important for getting their needs met.

  • Give them space. If continuing the conversation is making things worse, give them time and space to calm down and reflect. Encourage them to go for a walk or have some time in their room before returning to the situation or issue. If they are upset, keep an eye on where they are but also allow them space. 

  • Keep yourself, and others, safe. It is never OK for someone to hurt other people or property. If your young person’s behaviour is outside the boundaries you’ve set, remove yourself and others from the situation. When everyone is calm, revisit boundaries, discuss what was contributing to their anger, and explore healthier ways they can manage their anger.

Look after yourself

Family and friends often neglect their own needs because they are busy looking after others, or because they feel guilty taking time for themselves. It’s important that, while you take care of someone, you also look after your own mental health. Check out our tips on self care for family and friends, talk to someone you trust, or seek professional help.

Further information and support

Professional support is available for both you and your young person. For more information, visit eheadspace for online and phone support or find your nearest headspace centre.

 

Other useful resources

Parent helplines (in every State and Territory of Australia) – Google ‘Parentline’ along with your State or Territory 

  • Raising Children Network is an online resource for parents and carers filled with tips and tools for raising young people  

  • Beyond Blue has lots of resources on mental health and runs online forums 

  • ReachOut has resources to help under 25s and their parents through tough times. 

  • headspace Group Chats hosts many discussions for family and friends with a range of topics. You can register to join or view the transcripts here. 

  • headspace has a number of interactive tools that can help young people and their family and friends reflect on their needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing. 

 

the headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed 27 April 2021

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