Understanding anger
Te mārama ki te riri

Anger is a normal emotion, neither good nor bad. But when these feelings are expressed in a way that hurts you or those around you, it's time to ask for help.

All of us experience anger and frustration at times, and for most of us this comes and goes, and doesn’t create too many problems in our lives. However, some of us can get violent when we get angry, feel betrayed, afraid or simply because it helps us feel in control. Violence seriously damages relationships, hurts people physically and psychologically, and can result in the property or possessions being destroyed. It can also lead to legal problems and even imprisonment.

This section has information on common problems relating to anger and violence, why they can happen, and some practical steps towards avoiding them or helping to resolve them.

What is the difference between anger and violence?

Violence can be physical but it can include things you do or say like threatening someone, or being intimidating. It can also mean making people do things they don’t want to do, or stopping them from doing things that are important to them. Violence can also include controlling access to money, social support or opportunities.

Violence can be part of an anger cycle. Our anger can build up gradually, or it can be there in an instant. We can think of this build up as the escalation phase of the cycle. We can learn to healthily address anger during this part of the cycle – even if it is very high. If we do not address it, our anger may explode into violence and aggression – breaking or hitting things, punching someone (the “explosion” phase).

This is when we can do serious damage. In the next stage of the cycle – the “post-explosion” phase – we may feel ashamed and guilty, and we may suffer the consequences of our violence (legal, financial, and – worst of all – losing friends and loved ones).

Do I have a problem with violence?

The application of violence in a controlled manner is something that sits at the heart of the military. We are trained to be warriors. You may have even served in a combat situation where it was your job to apply aggression to meet an objective or tactical outcome.

However, outside of combat or training an effective warrior does not resort to violence or threatening behaviour, whether it is at home, the pub or on the sports field.  

If you hit something or someone, if you break things deliberately, if you become verbally aggressive and threatening, then you have a problem – no question.

If you’re not sure ask yourself:

  • Is my behaviour worrying my close friends and family?
  • Do you feel very guilty and need to make amends for your behaviour?
  • Are your family, friends or colleagues ever afraid of you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you and those close to you could use some help. If you are interested in taking action, read on to learn techniques that can help you get control of your violent behaviour.

If you want to take control of your violent behaviour, particularly if you are striking out at your family, or are worried you might, it is a good idea to get help now.

What can I do about violence?

Learning to understand and deal with your anger, along with other associated thoughts and feelings, is at the core of controlling violent behaviour. This means taking responsibility for noticing the early warning signs, and being prepared to act well before your breaking point.

You can do this by being more aware of what sets off your anger:

  • Watching for signs that your anger is building up: What are your particular signals? Can you identify what happens in your body, what you are thinking, or how you behave as your anger escalates?
  • Monitoring your anger level – try rating it on a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 is perfectly calm and 10 is your worst anger level, and keep track as it builds up.
  • Trying to express what is upsetting you, calmly and assertively before the anger gets too high.
  • Take time out for five minutes - walk away, go to the toilet or go outside.
  • Learn to stop your anger from escalating by finding more helpful ways of thinking and learning strategies to keep calm from the Resilience toolkit.
  • You can also learn some different ways of solving problems from the Resilience toolkit, so that you are better equipped to deal with problems that frustrate you, or make you angry.

What else can I do to control my violence?

You might find that violence happens more often in certain situations. The following tips might help you manage the risk of becoming violent in situations that are risky for you. If you find that violence happens very impulsively for you (quickly, without thinking or noticing your anger build), then the challenge is to limit the chances of acting impulsively:

  • Exercise regularly, eat well, and get plenty of sleep. You’ll be able to think more clearly and make better decisions.
  • Consider getting treatment and support for any physical or mental health condition you are experiencing. Having a mental health problem might sap the strength you have to manage your violence, so it’s important to get on top of any problem as soon as possible.
  • Cut right back on alcohol and other drugs – they can lower your inhibitions, and alcohol in particular is the number one risk factor for violent behaviour.
  • Think about the places you go, and the situations you put yourself in – perhaps you need to limit certain people, venues, places or situations including access to weapons until you are able to control your mood (including feelings like anger and frustration), and your violent behaviour.

Getting help

  • If you’re concerned about your violent behaviour, it’s definitely a good idea to get some professional help.
  • Social worker - If you want to know more about NZDF policy on family harm and violence you can talk confidentially to a social worker.
  • NZDF Safe families. The NZDF supports Safe Families.
  • Professional help. A doctor or professional therapist is always a good place to start when trying to overcome problems with violence, as he or she can help with a thorough assessment of the problem, and make referrals for specialists if necessary.
  • Family Violence It’s Not OK has resources about how to help in the area of family violence.

Personal stories - You are not alone

You are never alone, read these stories from people that have experienced anger and violence in their lives and their journeys.