Dealing with anger

At times I was consumed by anger, and out of control. It’s taken me a bit of work, but I have learned how to better manage anger.

Anger is a common emotion.  Sometimes anger can operate as a valuable sign that there is something wrong or not quite right. Anger can vary in degrees and become associated with particular people, contexts or events, like an act of abuse or harm.  Anger can be a response to trauma that can present for a brief moment or bubble along in the background and can get in the way of addressing difficulties in a positive way.  

Given that anger appears in all our lives at different times, we can all benefit from developing our awareness of anger, how it operates and how to better manage it. 

Anger as a common reaction to sexual violence 

The pain, abuse, manipulation, and injustice associated with sexual abuse can evoke strong feelings of anger. Following an experience of sexual abuse there are a host of reasons why a man might feel: 

  • Angry at being sexually assaulted, manipulated and abused 
  • Angry at the betrayal of trust 
  • Angry that responsible adults and family members failed to listen or protect you 
  • Angry at the way the abusive person seems to have just got away with it 
  • Angry at the limited acknowledgement and support for adult survivors 

Anger is an active emotion that can drive us towards seeking justice and promoting positive societal change.  Anger can also overwhelm us and negatively impact us and our relationships.  Anger can be both destructive and constructive.  

Anger can kick us into fight mode, as part of a ‘fight, flight, freeze’ trauma response to abuse.  For some people, becoming angry and fighting may have reduced harm and literally saved their lives, whereas for others, being compliant (fawning), fleeing and freezing was key to survival.   

A challenging legacy of childhood trauma, can be that whenever we feel under pressure, being ignored or not listened to, we can become triggered, automatically fire up, become angry and move into fight mode, whereby anger takes hold and can get in the way of us sorting out problems in the present or long-term.    

Men and anger 

Unfortunately, many men are too familiar with anger and its impacts.  They may have grown up in an angry household or witnessed friends or family members using anger and aggression to impose their will on someone.  

One of the challenges in dealing with anger (particularly for men) is that it can act as a coverall for a whole range of emotions. Anger can overshadow feelings of fear, inadequacy, sadness, vulnerability, distress, feelings that do not fit with the image of the strong man, who supposedly should always be in control of himself and his emotions (including being able to keep anger in check).   

Unacknowledged and unchecked, anger can feed feelings of outrage and rage that can overwhelm men and their ability to address and deal with problems at hand. Anger can impact relationships in negative ways, frightening and pushing those close to us away. Anger can also be self-destructive. 

Men who have been subjected to sexual assault report feeling anger at themselves for not speaking out, for not fighting, for not coping, even anger at themselves for becoming angry.  The reality is that too much anger can shorten our lives.    

Intense and prolonged anger is not good for anyone 

Identifying ways to better manage anger is important for our own overall health and wellbeing.  There is growing evidence to suggest that intense and prolonged anger can:  

  • Stress our heart, which can lead to higher blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and heart attacks. 
  • Impact our gut and digestive system, leading to reflux, stomach pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea  
  • Impact our overall immune system, reduce our ability to manage chronic pain, trigger migraines, asthma attacks and even skin disorder like psoriasis    
  • Reduce our ability to manage anxiety and depression, as well as to concentrate and think clearly 
  • Increase sleep difficulties, not just in going to sleep but staying asleep.  

Before looking at how we may better manage anger, it is useful to separate out anger from aggression.   

Anger is different from aggression 

“I just exploded, I was so angry. I wanted to lash out and make someone pay. I felt out of control: it was scary.”

Anger is a feeling and aggression is a hostile or destructive action.  While certain people or situations can result in us feeling anger, how we handle and act in response to anger is our responsibility.  Anger does not need to lead to aggressive behaviour.   

“Dave would remember his feelings of shame when was abused, he would then become very angry at this and take this anger out on whoever was around.”

A challenge for us is that when we experience intense anger, we can feel swept away by anger and it can get in the way of us thinking and making good choices.  It is helpful therefore to become aware of the early signs of anger and have strategies for dealing with it. 

Become aware of the signs that anger is around for you 

It is useful to develop an awareness of the signs that you are feeling anger. Everyone is different. Your body is like a thermometer and will exhibit signs that anger is around in a variety of ways:  

Signs that anger is around can be found physically in our body

  • tightness in the chest, shoulders and neck,  
  • increased heart rate, blood pressure pounding in the head (hearing your heart beating) 
  • clenching teeth, jaw or fists,  
  • sweating, shaking, even sense of dizziness. 
  • shallow breathing, increased sensitivity, irritation, being on edge and  
  • hypervigilance, hyper arousal, getting ready to act 

Signs that anger is around can be found in our thoughts and self talk:  

  • sense of injustice – ‘it’s unfair,’  
  • sense of righteousness – ‘It’s not right,’ ‘they don’t know what they are talking about,’ thoughts of blame – ‘it’s your fault,’ ‘it’s their fault,’ 
  • sense of entitlement – ‘they’re not doing what I say’, ‘they’re not attending to my needs’ 
  • jumbled or confused thoughts – ‘I want them to go away,’ ‘leave me alone,’ ‘if only,’ discounting thoughts – ‘what do they know,’ ‘they’re not listening’ 
  • difficulties focussing or concentrating 
  • depersonalizing thoughts – name calling, swearing in your head, labelling 
  • becoming aware of negative or aggressive thoughts towards others or self 

Note: Watch out for some of the above thoughts, as they can fuel anger, a sense of injustice, righteousness and entitlement that can lead to aggression.  Watch out for dehumanizing language, labelling and discounting people that is used by some people to justify aggression.  We recommend you also check out our companion page about unhelpful thinking patterns and basic problem solving. 

Signs that anger is around can be in found in our voice and how we speak:  

  • change of tone of voice,  
  • becoming short, losing your patience 
  • raising your voice,  
  • becoming more directive in what you are saying,  
  • becoming personal – rather than staying on topic,  
  • using sarcasm, swearing, calling people names,  
  • starting sentences with ‘you’ or ‘if you don’t’. 

Note: Starting sentences with ‘you’ or ‘if you don’t’ are flags that you are not taking responsibility for managing your feelings of anger and may be becoming aggressive  

Signs that anger is around can be found in our behaviour,  

  • fidgeting, standing up, putting bags down 
  • starting to pace, picking up our bag or car keys 
  • scanning, looking for exits,  
  • moving towards someone, pushing things out of the way, 
  • removing or isolating ourself. 

Note: Behavioural signs that anger is around can parallel a fight or flight trauma response.  

 Just like we can have trauma triggers, we can have anger triggers.  It is useful to have an awareness of the situations, comments, behaviours that trigger anger in your life.   

Anger might appear if you experience being discounted or ignored, when people treat children badly. It might appear in relation to particular people or places or if you witness someone standing over or pressuring someone.  An awareness of what can trigger anger for you can assist you in feeling more in control and better managing feelings of anger.   

The challenge for us all is to develop awareness that anger is around and to manage it and deal with difficulties at hand without engaging in verbally or physically aggressive behaviour. 

What signs of anger are you aware of? 

  • What are signs that anger is around for you? 
  • Where do you feel anger in your body? 
  • What do you find yourself saying? 
  • What do you do when anger is around? 
  • What can trigger feelings of anger for you? 

It is worth noting or writing down signs of anger and triggers that you are aware of and alongside these create a list of strategies for managing anger. 

Responding in helpful ways 

Just as it is important to have a radar for the signs of anger in your life, it is equally important for all of us to have ways of managing anger. The goal is to keep you on track and to make sure anger does not overwhelm you or negatively impact those close to you.  


If you notice yourself becoming angry take some deep breaths. Slowing your breathing down and taking the oxygen all the way down to your belly will help you to relax and calm your body.  Whereas, insufficient air in your lungs reduces your ability to think and plan.   

A simple 3, 4, 5 Breath Exercise is a good place to start.   

  • Breathe in for a count of 3  
  • Hold your breath for a count of 4 
  • Breathe out for a count of 5… Repeat… 

Use grounding exercises  

Make use of grounding exercises, like ‘Counting to 10 slowly’ or splashing water on your face and back of neck, to anchor you and provide you with an opportunity for a physical and mental reset. We recommend you check out our page on Grounding exercises.  

Take time out  

Take time out, disengage and remove yourself from stressful and escalating situations. Taking a time out can act as a valuable circuit breaker.  A danger is that when anger is building, we try and stay ‘in there’ to sort the problem out and as result difficulties and anger escalate.   

When you are away from the situation, it is important to actively work to calm yourself. Some people find going for a walk, run, bike ride helpful.  Some people find just getting outside, going to a park or walking around the block is enough.  You might distract yourself by listening to music or a podcast, reading a book, watching a film or checking social media or even talk with a trusted friend. 

Remember: If you’re taking time out, it is important to let other people know that you are taking a break and to give them an indication/time of when you’ll be back, and to be clear that you recognise a need to have important conversations and resolve difficulties in a respectful way. 

Practice mindfulness and become an observer of your thoughts and anger   

If we think of anger and a collection of thoughts and feelings, one way to take control is to try and unhook yourself from these expressions of anger, by becoming a curious observer.   Check out our Mindfulness and Relaxation exercises, including free and accessible MP3s. 

You might, notice whether the anger as thought is in the form of a voice, or of an image in your mind. If the most obvious thing about anger is the feeling of tension or a sensation in your body, then see if you can describe it, its size, mass, weight, colour, form, as if you are curious scientist studying something. The trick is to observe anger as it appears in the present, without setting up a struggle with anger where you become frustrated at being angry.  

This observing approach to anger will reduce the possibility of becoming aggressive or finding yourself stewing over and over something or becoming overwhelmed to the point where anger seems to take hold of you. Note that becoming an observer of anger takes some practice and becomes easier to do when you develop an observing approach to other emotions. 

Notice your thoughts and choose the ones you spend time with 

Watch out for negative commentary about another person or something that someone has done that works you up.  Check out our page on Unhelpful thinking patterns that can increase our anger and distress and are not going to help address difficulties. 

Spending time with thoughts that focus on the offender or with revenge are likely to significantly escalate feelings of anger.  The reality is that they have already taken too much of your energy and time.  Check out our page on Thoughts of revenge

  • Focus on positive self-talk and don’t lose sight of your skills.  
  • Notice and remind yourself of your ability to handle difficult situations well.  
  • Tell yourself ‘This feeling and moment will pass’ 
  • Be encouraging, ‘I can handle this in a positive way’.   
  • Tell yourself, ‘The past does not predict my future’ 

Be aware: Certain habits can build anger 

There are certain habits of thinking that can make anger more likely. These include catastrophising, stewing, sweeping things under the rug, and not taking responsibility for managing our emotions. 

Catastrophising: Is a process that occurs when something you had hoped or planned for doesn’t work out, and you react in ways that amplify the size of the problem where it becomes a complete catastrophe for you and your life. Catastrophising is more likely when you move away from focusing on a particular problem at hand and start to make global statements connecting up this instance with other events, using words like ‘always’ ‘never’ or identifying something as ‘the last straw’ or ‘this is the end.’ This habit makes a problem in the present harder to sort out and in the process is likely to increase your sense of frustration and anger. 

Stewing and ruminating: Involve spending significant chunks of time, replaying and going over and over an event (some people call this ruminating). Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a rabbit-hole of related thoughts that usually increase your stress and anger about a particular situation without providing any exit strategy to sort things out. Instead of accepting that it has happened and taking steps to resolve the problem or develop alternative strategies for the future, you find yourself in a negative spiral thinking about all the different ways that it is hopeless, unfair or shouldn’t have happened. 

When you find yourself ‘stewing’ it is useful to remind yourself that it is unhelpful to waste your valuable time replaying unpleasant scenarios in your head. Instead, redirect your attention to more positive energy giving activities and consider positive ways to sort a problem. Occasionally, you might decide after some consideration that an issue is not worth your time and energy. 

Sweeping things under the rug: This is more challenging to become aware of. Often times we try to be relaxed, and let things slide to avoid conflict and appear reasonable. Sweeping things under the rug is unhelpful when you let things slide that are actually important to you, and you find yourself becoming increasingly frustrated.  

If at first you let something slide and it happens again, and you find yourself more annoyed than the first time, it’s probably a sign from your mind that something needs to be done. What needs to be done depends on the situation, the resources you have, what is important to you, your hopes and expectations. If this anger provoking experience involves other people, it is important to express concerns in positive way and tell them that you are interested in working things out in collaborative, supportive ways with them. 

Expand your emotional awareness   

I am so glad for these professionals I have now, because they have really challenged me to learn not everything’s called “anger”, some things are called “frustration”, some things are called “annoying”…I mean you’re not always mad.  So for me being a man, I didn’t know that, I was, like pissed off.  There was rage and there was anger.   Then there were other feelings you didn’t talk about, like intimacy, love, that mushy stuff.

Teram et al 2006

Developing our emotional awareness can help us to identify and better manage anger and a range of emotions.  It is helpful to be able to recognise what we are feeling and consider whether it is anger or maybe some other emotions as well  

  • Feeling agitated 
  • Feeling resentful 
  • Feeling frustrated 
  • Feeling anxious or worried 
  • Feeling humiliated 
  • Feeling overwhelmed 
  • Feeling vulnerable   

The larger our emotional vocabulary, the more we are able to identify what we are feeling and respond appropriately to that particular feeling or difficulty.  It can also reduce our habit of emotional funnelling and escalating.   

The Feeling Wheel was designed by Gloria Willcox (1982) and can assist in identifying and managing emotions. Check out the feeling wheel here and see what feeling may be around for you, beyond ‘anger’? 

Note the way that anger is a product of the interplay between thoughts, feelings and actions 

On a day where you notice anger is around, take time out to record what happened in the lead up to feeling anger. Pay extra attention to any thoughts, even if they don’t immediately seem relevant to the event. Note how those thoughts might have influenced the emotions and your actions.  

Mapping out these thoughts, feelings and how you chose to act can be helpful for you to see what was going on, how some of your expectations or beliefs can influence feelings of anger and either escalate or de-escalate the feelings of tension, frustration or anger in different situations. People are often surprised to learn that anger doesn’t just explode out of nowhere. 

Developing a more comprehensive understanding of how thoughts, feelings and actions work to influence anger will help you to identify your personal triggers and be on the front foot to better manage anger.  

Note to self  

A reminder to yourself about what is important for you, can be helpful in keeping you on track when anger is around. Make a note on your phone or on a piece of paper that you keep in your wallet detailing a few pointers about what you find helpful and how you wish to be seen as a person who can handle anger in positive ways.  At appropriate times stop and read your note to self and remember why you wrote this in the first place.   

Additional resources 

The MensLine ‘Managing Anger’ Page although not written to assist men who have experienced abuse has some useful resources worth checking out and downloading. 

Consider downloading the MensLine Australia anger management toolkit 

Seek assistance 

If you are struggling with anger, it may be worth speaking with a qualified counsellor or psychologist who has the skills and knowledge in working with men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and are seeking to better manage anger. 

This page has been created to assist men who have experienced sexual abuse to better manage anger and recommend you also check out our companion page on Managing emotions.  The information on this page is not designed to address the significant problem of Domestic and Family Violence.