Anger is a universal emotion. We all feel annoyed, frustrated or outraged from time to time. Yet there’s a common misconception about anger, that it usually manifests as shouting or violent behaviour. Anger is a lot more complex and nuanced than that.
According to Professor Ephrem Fernandez’s psychological research, anger can be categorised according to six bipolar dimensions of expression. These include:
- The direction of anger (internal vs external)
- The anger reaction (retaliatory vs resistant)
- The mode of anger (physical vs verbal)
- Anger impulsivity (controlled vs uncontrolled)
- Objective of anger (restorative vs punitive)
We all have a range of anger types that we resort to when feeling threatened, disrespected or frustrated. The type of anger we use to express our feelings can vary depending on our mood and the circumstances we’re in. Anger is neither inherently good nor bad – it’s simply an emotion.
It’s how we manage our reaction to anger that can be the difference between creating positive change, or perpetually needing to deal with the unwanted consequences of an angry outburst.
Although there’s no consensus amongst psychologists as to how many types of anger exist, below are the 10 most common types of anger. We recommend perusing the list to see if you can identify the ways you most commonly react in anger. Clarifying your anger type – and learning simple strategies to manage that type of anger – is the key to controlling your emotions and behaviour.
Type 1: Assertive angerAssertive anger is the most constructive type of anger expression. If this is your type of anger, you use feelings of frustration or rage as a catalyst for positive change. Rather than avoiding confrontation, internalising anger, or resorting to verbal insults and physical outbursts, you express your anger in ways that create change in the world around you – without causing distress or destruction.
Management strategy: Assertive anger is a powerful motivator. Use assertive anger to overcome fear, address injustice and achieve your desired outcomes in life.
Type 2: Behavioural angerBehavioural anger is expressed physically, and is usually aggressive. If you’ve experienced this type of anger, you may feel so overwhelmed by your emotions that you lash out at the object of your rage. This might involve physically attacking someone, or breaking or throwing things. This type of anger can be highly unpredictable, may be fuelled by alcohol or drugs, and often has negative legal and interpersonal consequences.
Management strategy: Philosopher Thomas Paine said “The greatest remedy for anger is delay”, and this is especially valuable advice for behavioural anger management. If you feel your anger rising, take a moment to calm down before you do something you may regret. Remove yourself from the situation if possible, and use a self-talk technique to regain control of your emotions (eg repeat “Take it easy” to yourself until you feel yourself physically calm down, then reconsider what is happening when you’re feeling less agitated.)
Type 3: Chronic angerChronic anger is an ongoing, generalised resentment of other people, frustration with certain circumstances, and anger towards oneself. It’s characterised by habitual irritation: the prolonged nature of this type of anger can have profoundly adverse effects on one’s health and wellbeing.
Management strategy: Spend some time reflecting on the underlying causes of your anger. If you can identify the source of your resentment, you may be able to resolve the inner conflict you’re experiencing by forgiving yourself and others for past transgressions. The process of forgiveness is powerful, and can help to resolve lingering hurt and frustration.
Type 4: Judgmental angerJudgmental anger is righteously indignant – this type of anger is usually a reaction to a perceived injustice or someone else’s shortcoming. Although judgmental anger assumes a morally superior stance of justified fury, it may alienate potential allies by invalidating their difference of opinion.
Management strategy: Commit to exploring the light and shade in different situations, as circumstances are rarely as simple as they seem on the surface. Other people’s perspectives can also give you valuable insight into possible solutions to life’s challenges.
Type 5: Overwhelmed angerOverwhelmed anger is an uncontrolled type of anger. It usually occurs when we feel that a situation or circumstances are beyond our control, resulting in feelings of hopelessness and frustration. This type of anger is common when we’ve taken on too much responsibility, or unexpected life events have overthrown our usual capacity to cope with stress.
Management strategy: It’s crucial to reach out for help if you’re experiencing overwhelmed anger. Let family, friends and professional colleagues know that you need some support, whether it’s help with babysitting, taking a family member to their medical appointments, or an extension for your school assignment or work project. By alleviating potential sources of stress, you’ll regain a sense of emotional and behavioural control again.
Type 6: Passive-aggressive angerPassive-aggressive anger is an avoidant type of anger. If this is your usual mode of anger expression, you likely try to evade all forms of confrontation, and may deny or repress any feelings of frustration or fury you’re experiencing. Passive-aggressive anger may be expressed verbally, as sarcasm, pointed silence or veiled mockery, or physically in behaviour such as chronic procrastination at work. Sometimes people who express anger passively aren’t even aware that their actions are perceived as aggressive – this can have dire personal and professional outcomes.
Management strategy: Learn assertive communication techniques, and explore your fear of confrontation using ‘What if?’ scenarios. By developing your ability to articulate your frustrations and confidently face a range of fears, you’re more likely to get your needs met in both personal and professional relationships.
Type 7: Retaliatory angerRetaliatory anger is usually an instinctual response to being confronted or attacked by someone else. It’s one of the most common types of anger, and is motivated by revenge for a perceived wrong. Retaliatory anger can also be deliberate and purposeful. It often aims to intimidate other people by asserting control over a situation or outcome, yet may only serve to escalate tensions.
Management strategy: Whether your urge for retaliatory anger is impulsive or intentional, it’s important to pause and think before you act upon it. Will your angry reaction improve the situation, or only worsen relations? By choosing to diffuse the immediate conflict you can avoid the unwanted long-term consequences of revenge.
Type 8: Self-abusive angerSelf-abusive anger is a shame-based type of anger. If you’ve been feeling hopeless, unworthy, humiliated or ashamed, you might internalise those feelings and express anger via negative self talk, self-harm, substance use, or eating disordered behaviour. Alternatively, you may find yourself lashing out at those around to mask feelings of low self-worth, increasing your sense of alienation.
Management strategy: Learn about cognitive reframing techniques and use them to challenge and transform any self-defeating, distorted thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing. Mindfulness meditation can also help centre you in the present moment and deal with any impulses to engage in self-harming behaviours.
Type 9: Verbal angerVerbal anger is often seen as less dangerous than behavioural anger, but it can be a form of emotional and psychological abuse that deeply hurts the target of one’s anger. Verbal abuse may be expressed as furious shouting, threats, ridicule, sarcasm, intense blaming or criticism. If you’ve lashed out at someone verbally it’s common to feel ashamed, apologetic and regretful afterwards.
Management strategy: Even if the words are on the tip of your tongue, take a breath before you speak. Then another one. As tempting as it may be to blurt out the first angry response that comes to mind when you’re upset, the key to effectively managing this type of anger is simply delaying the impulse to lash out. With practice, you can curb any tendency towards verbal abuse and replace it with assertive anger expression (See Type 1).
Type 10: Volatile angerVolatile anger seems to come out of nowhere: if this is your type of anger, you are very quick to get upset about perceived annoyances, both big and small. Once you’ve impulsively expressed your anger, you often calm down just as quickly. Unfortunately volatile anger can be incredibly destructive, as those around you may feel they need to walk on eggshells for fear of triggering your rage. If left unchecked, volatile anger may eventually lead to violent outbursts.
Management strategy: Identify the signs and physical symptoms that precede a volatile outburst, and use relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing) to stop your anger from escalating.
There are many other forms that anger can take, but these are the types that most people commonly use when they’re feeling upset and frustrated. Anger management is a fascinating area of research – there’s a strong body of evidence that the practical strategies mentioned above are effective tools for regulating angry feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
Types of anger research resources:
Deffenbacher, J. L., & McKay, M. (2000). Overcoming situational and general anger: A protocol for the treatment of anger based on relaxation, cognitive restructuring, and coping skills training. New Harbinger Publications.
Elison, J., Garofalo, C., & Velotti, P. (2014). Shame and aggression: Theoretical considerations. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 19(4), 447-453.
Fernandez, E. (2008). The angry personality: A representation on six dimensions of anger expression. International Handbook of Personality Theory and Testing, 1, 402-419.
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2011). Attachment, anger, and aggression. Human Aggression and Violence: Causes, Manifestations, and Consequences, 241-257.