understanding anger - for friends and family

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

Anger becomes a problem when it affects a person’s daily life and 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. For young people, anger can also be a common sign of distress that may be masking sadness or depression.

Learning to be aware of our anger and to express it appropriately is a part of good mental health.  If a 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 do young people get angry?

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

  • Frustration

  • Embarrassment or humiliation

  • Guilt or shame

  • Jealousy

  • Hurt or sadness

  • Feeling unable to control 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)

  • 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 drugs to manage anger

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

  • 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).


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.

  • 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'.

  • Look after your own wellbeing. It can be difficult at times to support someone else, so make sure you're looking after your own health and wellbeing, and remember to seek support for yourself. For further information and support, see ‘Other useful websites’ below. 

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. 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.

  • Give them space. If continuing the conversation is making things worse, give the young person time and space to calm down and think. If they are very emotional, keep an eye on where they are but also allow distance.

  • Keep yourself, and others, safe. It is never okay for someone to hurt other people or property. If the young person’s behaviour is outside the boundaries you’ve set, remove yourself and others from the situation and remember to revisit these limits later on, when everyone is calm.

Other useful websites

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


If someone you know is struggling with anger, visit headspace.org.au to find your local centre or contact eheadspace on 1800 650 890 or eheadspace.org.au

Last Reviewed 16 March 2017



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