Toxic Anger vs. Healthy Anger: What's the Difference?
Updated: Apr 24
"Healthy anger" might seem like an oxymoron - after all, isn't anger a bad thing? While the misconception abounds that anger is inherently a toxic or negative emotion, that's not actually true. Anger is something that we all experience; it's the body's natural reaction when something isn't right. In its healthiest expressions, anger can serve to motivate us towards our goals or get us fired up to fight injustices that we see around us.
But not all forms of anger are created equally. When it comes to anger awareness, the person having trouble getting a handle on their anger is "often the last to know how toxic and damaging their anger can be to the people around them." The resulting communication and relational strain often occurs as "the other people around you start to manage you in an effort to control [your emotions] for you" (1).
It is also worth nothing that some people are simply more predisposed to getting angry than others. Some reasons for this include genetic predisposition, sociocultural influence, or family background. Psychologists believe people who are easily angered have a "low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance" (2).
There are three ways that people tend to express anger - expressing, suppressing, and calming. The manner of expression makes all the difference - expressing toxic anger in the exact way that we want to isn’t the most productive way forward. In fact, “research has found that "letting it rip" with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you're angry with) resolve the situation” (2).
Suppressing, on the other hand, turns the anger inwards or diverts its method of expression (ex. passive aggression, cynicism, etc.). This can lead to a plethora of health issues, including heart disease, hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.
The third method, calming, is when you proceed with controlling both outward expressions (words and actions) and internal reactions to anger (heart rate, quick breathing).
Of these,“expressing your angry feelings in an assertive—not aggressive—manner is the healthiest way to express anger.” A healthy expression of anger includes “making clear what your needs are, and how to get them met” (2) while being respectful of others. Here are some other ways that we can differentiate between healthy and unhealthy anger:
Healthy anger is...
Problem-focused, not people-focused.
Still aware of how that anger might affect others.
Productive. It can even aid your focus and help you to work towards a goal.
Unhealthy anger is...
Irrational and definitive. It is more based on emotion than on fact.
Can make us feel impulsive and out of control of our actions.
Not conducive to conversation and does not make space to problem solve. This form of anger it’s not productive and doesn’t address the anger itself. It alienates the other party, and leaves no room for open communication and problem solving.