By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Everyone gets angry. After all, anger is one of those universal emotions — along with sadness, joy, and fear — that people throughout the world recognize when they see or hear it. But everyone experiences and expresses anger a little differently. Following are descriptions of the many ways people show their anger or, alternatively, hold it in.

Understanding your strategies for anger expression can be helpful before you work on changing how you show your anger.

Keeping your cool

Yes, keeping your cool can be one way of expressing anger. Keeping cool means that you don’t respond impulsively. You may take a slow, deep breath or two before saying anything. Then you directly express your feelings while trying to solve the issue or problem.

Verbal bashing

Verbal bashing includes yelling, arguing, put-downs, and threats. Hurting people with words sometimes works at the moment, but it usually leaves a trail of resentment, anger, and bad feelings. For example, parents who frequently yell at their kids sometimes get momentary compliance but usually end up with rebellious, resentful kids in the long run.

Nonverbal bashing

Yes, you can clobber people without saying a word. Examples of nonverbal bashing include unfriendly gestures, such as pointing, clenched fists, and “flipping the bird.” Facial expressions of anger include dismissiveness, hostility, and contempt (through sneers, prolonged angry stares, and snarls). You know a dirty look when you see one! Purposely ignoring and not speaking when spoken to also convey anger and hostility. Body language includes aggressive, puffed-up poses.

Suppressing anger

People who suppress anger feel mad but work hard to hold it in. Usually, close friends and family members pick up on the anger that these people feel. However, some folks are masters at suppression, and no one truly knows how much hostility they hold inside.

Unfortunately, this type of anger often comes with common physical costs, such as high blood pressure, digestive problems, and heart disease. Chronic tension, unhappiness, fatigue, and distress frequently occur as well. Therefore, suppressing anger doesn’t constitute a good anger-management strategy.

Passive-aggressive anger

People who express their anger in a passive-aggressive manner try to find “safe” ways of showing their anger. They like for their behaviors to have plausible deniability of their actual angry feelings. In other words, they make excuses and claim that their motives were excusable. Examples of passive-aggressive behaviors include

  • Chronic procrastination of promised tasks to get back at someone

  • Chronic lateness

  • Subtle sulking or pouting

  • Purposely performing a task for someone poorly

  • Purposely forgetting over and over to do a promised task

  • Indirect verbal expressions such as subtle sarcasm

When confronted, passive-aggressive people always have an excuse in hand and inevitably deny that they feel any anger at all. People living with passive-aggressive partners get pretty tired after 500,000 instances of “I’m sorry,” and/or “I forgot.”

Complaining and gossiping

This strategy, like passive-aggressiveness, generally feels safer than directly confronting someone with anger. Complainers and gossipers find sympathetic listeners that will hear their frustrations, woes, and anger about someone else. That way, they avoid actually confronting the person they’re angry with. And, not surprisingly, little gets resolved in the process.

Physical aggression

Slamming doors, punching holes in walls, and throwing dishes all fall under the category of physical aggression against objects. This type of aggression can feel very intimidating to those who witness it. Furthermore, these behaviors sometimes precede physical aggression against persons. Assaults can take the form of pushing or shoving, punching, and slapping, and they can even include the use of weapons. Obviously, physical aggression is almost always abusive to both recipients and witnesses.

Physical aggression with anger is only adaptive when you’re actually under attack from someone else, and it’s necessary for your own survival. Physical aggression doesn’t lead to solutions.

Displaced anger

Sometimes people feel great anger toward someone. However, because of differences in power or fear, they don’t feel safe in expressing their anger. Unfortunately, these people may take their anger out on innocent victims, such as a spouse, children, pets, or friends. This type of anger is known as displaced anger.