Mental Health


Mandy Kloppers

The dynamics of controlled anger in relationships

Controlled anger is common, especially in relationships where there is emotional abuse. Are you in a relationship with a partner that gets angry? If you are in a relationship with an angry person they can leave you on tenterhooks. You spend your time tiptoeing around so as not to annoy them or trigger their anger.

The nature of anger

There are a few things to consider if you or in a relationship with an angry person. Some people get angry for reasons that have nothing to do with you. They may have suppressed emotion or they may be sitting with something that they haven’t fully dealt with from their past. Anger often comes from unresolved emotional issues. Controlled anger is destructive and destroys relationships.

You teach others how to treat you

It’s important to remember that angry people can often control their outbursts, controlled anger is easy to identify. Before I get on to controlled anger, consider whether you have unwittingly contributed to their angry episodes. By this I mean, have you allowed anger to be expressed without any consequences? When a person feels that they can get angry and you do not retaliate or put them in their place in any way, it sends a message that they can take their anger out on you and you will accept it.

If this Is true for you, it’s time to set some healthy boundaries. Let your partner know what you will accept and what you won’t accept and be consistent with that request.

The nature of controlled anger

Think about this: is your partner angry in certain situations and not in others? For instance, do they show their anger when the two of you are alone yet in the company of others they managed to control their outbursts? This is a clear sign that they are able to control their anger.

I have often heard clients saying that this ‘red mist’ descends upon them and meant they could not control their anger. This is true in some instances but in the majority of cases, people express their anger when they know that they will be allowed to without retaliation. Angry people are less likely to express their anger when they know there will be a limited tolerance for this.

Angry outbursts are a learned behaviour. Somewhere along the line the angry person has learned that anger gets them what they want. Whether the anger shuts down a conversation they do not want to have or whether their anger helps them to get what they want, it is an unhelpful behaviour that has had positive outcomes for them in the past.

Becoming less angry

While anger is a normal emotion and shouldn’t be suppressed under normal circumstances, it becomes dysfunctional when it is used as a manipulation tactic. It also becomes dysfunctional when it is used as a coping mechanism where other people suffer. Everyone has the right to get angry but they do not have the right to take their anger out on you. Controlled anger is a form of control towards others.

Ways to cope with anger

Time out – go for a walk or take a break. Breaking the cycle of anger is a positive and effective intervention.

Knowing your triggers

Being aware of what makes you angry is beneficial. When you realise that you are in a situation that makes you vulnerable to anger, rate your anger level. Once you get to above 7 out of 10 (10 =  full on anger), take time out.

Understand anger’s limits

We express anger when we feel hard done by, disrespected or treated unfairly. Exercising is a legitimate way to dissipate anger, as are many sports such as football or rugby. When anger is directed at people, it’s time to make a change.

When you understand why you get angry, dealing with your intense negative emotions becomes easier. If you are in a relationship with someone who has controlled anger, ensure that you have clear ground rules regarding the expression of this intense negative emotion.

Uncontrolled anger leads to anxiety and depression and the ultimate breakdown of a relationship. Learning to control anger takes time but when you deal with the underlying issues and find ways to lead a calm and fulfilled existence your anger will decrease. Anger is a sign that there is a lack of balance in your life.

Mandy X