Causes and Management of Angry Outbursts

Most people fall victim to angry outbursts out frustration at some point in their lives. The difficulty arises when these emotions are disproportionate and get out of control.
Causes and Management of Angry Outbursts
Montse Armero

Written and verified by the psychologist Montse Armero.

Last update: 09 October, 2022

Angry outbursts are the most visible expression of frustration. They can be a real problem for coexisting with others because they cause pain for those who experience them and those close to them.

Everyone can experience anger. It’s an innate universal emotion, one of the six basic emotions, as noted by psychologist Paul Ekman.

The problem arises when people feel anger intensely and the way in which they channel is to lose control. Let’s see what anger attacks are about and some strategies to better manage them.

Angry outbursts

These are episodes of anger in which people react disproportionately to the rage they experience. The main characteristics are sudden onset, loss of impulse control, and violent expression of emotions.

Additionally, this violence can be verbal (shouting and insults) or physical (hitting or breaking things or people).

Anger attacks are in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) as an intermittent explosive disorder. The following symptoms must be present to meet the diagnostic criteria:

  • Recurrent behavioral outbursts manifest as a lack of aggressive impulse control that includes both verbal and physical aggression towards objects or beings
  • The reaction is quite disproportionate
  • Anger attacks aren’t premeditated
  • The outbursts cause significant distress in the person and affect their work performance, relationships with others, or there’s some type of legal or financial consequence
  • The person is over six years old

Recurrent anger outbursts aren’t a consequence of another mental disorder. They can’t be attributed to another medical condition and aren’t the consequence of substance abuse.

A man undergoing an angry outburst.
Anger is one of the basic emotions but has serious consequences if it gets out of control.

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Causes of angry outbursts

According to the DSM-V, people who experienced emotional trauma during childhood or adolescence are more at risk for anger attacks.

The intermittent explosive disorder also occurs more frequently among first-degree relatives of people who experience angry outbursts. In fact, twin studies have shown a marked influence of genetics on the onset of the condition.

Let’s not forget that disproportionate expression of anger is present in many mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or depression (Muscatello y Scudellari 2000 cited in Painuly et al 2005). It can also appear in various types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, certain personality disorders, and in situations related to substance use, such as withdrawal syndrome.

Why are some people explosive?

In addition to the above-mentioned causes, the common denominator of all anger attacks is the person who experiences them perceives the situation as humiliating. They really feel an attack on themselves or their loved ones and thus react disproportionately.

The triggering stressor may be something that offends their ideology, values, actions, employment, family, or even their favorite team. A person who perceives an offense and is going through a rough time is likely to have an angry outburst at any time.

Strategies for managing angry outbursts

People who manifest an intermittent explosive disorder aren’t condemned to experience them permanently. In fact, psychology offers many tools that can be useful in controlling impulses. Some of the most common are the following:

  • Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help distance oneself from the most distorted thoughts.
  • Relaxation techniques and tools such as Jacobson’s progressive relaxation can be effective for the person to learn to better manage all the physiological aspects activated in an angry outburst.
  • Physical activity helps significantly to release stress and increases the level of transmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, those that promote emotional well-being.
  • Social skills training such as improving assertiveness is one of the most effective strategies and will allow more adequate communication in situations in which there may be an anger attack.
  • Distorted thoughts are, in many cases, the main trigger that generates the explosive reaction so learning to detect and replace them with more functional thoughts can be a great life-changer.
  • People with anger outbursts can’t manage their emotions well so another fundamental key to increase their well-being is to carry out a process of self-knowledge; one in which the person will learn to recognize their emotions, accept them and let them go.
A man keeping two angry ones apart.
Anger attacks in the work environment are hard for workers to handle.

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Ask for help if you don’t know how to manage anger

Anger attacks aren’t easy to manage at first. Thus, people feel it’s the only way to express their anger. They explode like a pressure cooker regardless of how hard they try to control themselves.

This causes a lot of frustration in the person and, in most cases, deep regret afterward. This is because no one likes to lose control over themselves.

Don’t hesitate to consult a mental health specialist if you or someone around you can’t control their anger. As we mentioned above, it’s possible to learn to manage anger more efficiently.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Psychiatric Association (2018). Manual Diagnóstico y Estadístico de los Trastornos Mentales (DSM-5), 5ª Ed. Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.
  • Ekman, P. (1992). Are there basic emotions? Psychological Review, 99(3), 550–553. [fecha de consulta 30 de enero de 2021]. Recuperado de:
  • Ellis, A. y Trafate, R.C. (2013). Controle su ira antes de que ella le controle a usted. Barcelona: Paidós.
  • López, B., Rodríguez, E., Vázquez, F. y Alcázar, R. J. (2012). Intervención cognitivo conductual para el manejo de la ira. Revista Mexicana de Psicología, 29(1), 97-103. [fecha de consulta 30 de enero de 2021]. Recuperado de:
  • Painuly, N., Sharan. P y Mattoo, S.K. (2005). Relación de la ira y los ataques de ira con la depresión. Revista de toxicomanías, 45, 11-18. [fecha de consulta 30 de enero de 2021]. Recuperado de:
  • Roca, E. (2003). Cómo mejorar tus habilidades sociales, programa de asertividad, autoestima e inteligencia emocional. Valencia: ACDE. [fecha de consulta 30 de enero de 2021]. Recuperado de:
  • Zapata, J.P. y Palacio, J.D. (2016). Trastorno explosivo intermitente: un diagnóstico controversial. Revista colombiana de psiquiatría, 45(3), 214-223. [fecha de consulta 30 de enero de 2021]. Recuperado de:

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.