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Behind the Anger: Why You Need to Meet Your Needs Before You Can Calm Down

angry woman shouting.

We’ve all been irritable, snappish, annoyed, and rageful. Anger is a universal emotion. However, unlike other emotions, such as joy, sadness, disgust, or love, anger often involves a sense of deep shame.

We are told not to be angry, to calm down, or to be rational. Anger is seen as an emotion to avoid, suppress, and not engage with. But anger has been with us since the beginning. It protects us and warns us against dangers.

When left uncontrolled, anger can hurt others (and yourself!). Leaning into every angry urge is a surefire path to anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. At the same time, never engaging with your anger can mean your boundaries are frequently crossed, allowing you to be taken advantage of and possibly put in dangerous situations.

The key to healthy anger is understanding what role anger plays in our mental health. It’s not just a loose cannon of rage. Like all emotions, anger is trying to tell us something. We just have to listen.

What’s behind the anger?

Anger is considered by many to be a secondary emotion. This means that, unlike feelings of fear or joy, anger only rises out of another emotion. We feel an uncomfortable emotion and experience anger to protect ourselves from that hurt. Here are some emotions that could be causing anger:

  • Fear
  • Panic
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Disgust
  • Hurt
  • Frustration
  • Humiliation
  • Rejection

Anger can protect us from these uncomfortable emotions. It provides us an outlet to express our hurt, fear, shame, or whatever else is simmering underneath without actually experiencing those unpleasant feelings. As destructive as anger feels, it can seem better than acknowledging the rejection or humiliation that caused it.

The first step to understanding your anger is to listen to it. You are angry for a reason, and if you can find out why, you can address your need without expressing anger in dangerous or unhealthy ways.

What is anger telling you?

Emotions are always telling us something. Sadness tells us we’re missing something important. Fear tells us we should be on high alert. Disgust tells us that something is wrong, possibly unsafe or unhealthy.

Anger can be the carrier of many messages, including:

  • An important boundary has been crossed.
  • You are in an unsafe situation.
  • You are uncomfortable with something that was said or done.
  • Someone (including yourself) let you down in a big way.
  • You had high expectations that weren’t met.

Sometimes, the things you are getting angry about seem frivolous. More often than not, they are pointing to a deep need you have. For example, when you snapped at your coworker right before lunch, were you angry or just hungry? Your body needs food! A basic need was not being met, and it resulted in anger.

Our needs aren’t always that simple, and our anger can point to emotional or relational needs that aren’t being met, such as:

  • Life fulfillment
  • Meaningful human interaction
  • Positive mental stimulation
  • Emotional safety
  • Ability to grow

Feeling unfulfilled, withdrawn from our peers, stuck in a monotonous routine, unable to safely express ourselves, and unable to grow into our full potential can all result in anger taking root. In these cases, simple breathing exercises and mindfulness might not be enough. Instead, we must take steps to meet our needs.

How to Meet Your Needs

The key to anger management is not to ignore it, as this can result in deeply repressed anger that can bubble up in explosive rage. 

When you get angry, rather than telling yourself to “calm down,” take these steps instead:

  • Remove yourself from the situation.
  • Don’t sit: Move your body by walking, swinging your arms, or doing a few jumping jacks.
  • Check the big three: Have you eaten recently? Drank enough water? Got enough sleep? If not, these needs can overshadow your logical reasoning and cause you to lash out.
  • Feel your emotions: What’s underneath the anger?
  • Listen to your anger: What need is your anger trying to convey?
  • Meet your needs: Reestablish a boundary, stand up for yourself, or readjust your plans to meet your identified needs.

It isn’t always possible to meet all your needs. In these situations, be gentle with yourself. You might snap or lash out at others more frequently. Try to communicate why you’re angry with those around you, and apologize when you unwittingly hurt someone. Anger may not be a negative emotion, but it can have negative consequences.

Remember to take breaks if you need to. Managing anger is a heavy and tiring exercise, but understanding and listening to it is one step closer to well-rounded mental health. 


If you struggle with chronic or explosive anger, you may be facing a need that can’t be resolved by setting boundaries or engaging in self-care practices. Take a good look at your life and ask yourself what you would change if you could. Then, figure out how you can meet your needs where you are. Can you get a different job? Move out of a harmful living situation? Form new relationships?

Anger is not the problem. Take one small step today towards empowering yourself by listening to your anger instead of shoving it away.

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About the Author: Alli Mann is a mental health content writer at Lifebulb Counseling. She is interested in bridging the gap between current mental health research and the people who need it through easy-to-understand, succinct, and applicable articles. You can find more of her articles at https://www.lifebulb.com/

Photo by Liza Summer: https://www.pexels.com/photo/angry-black-woman-screaming-in-room-6382710/

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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