couple looking upset in front of windowShare on Pinterest
Johnce/Getty Images

Anger is a basic emotion that everyone feels from time to time. Yet it has something of a bad reputation, in part because unaddressed anger generally doesn’t go away on its own. Its intensity might fade, only to reignite in the face of a new trigger.

When uncontrollable anger washes over you, it can fuel physical discomfort and internal distress. Your thoughts race, your heart pounds, and your chest tightens. You might go numb or even “see red” as anger takes hold and you battle the urge to lash out in response.

Movies and TV shows might have you believe slamming a fist into a wall or punching bag is a normal, safe way to release anger — after all, you’re not hurting anyone. But punching a wall isn’t a helpful way to deal with anger. Not only will you hurt your hand and potentially damage property, you might even get angrier.

People who feel so angry they have to punch something in order to cope are often grappling with some deep-seated emotional turmoil. This response may also reflect a form of abuse. In either scenario, it’s important to examine the reasons you’re angry and learn to express it in healthy ways.

Anger may stem from a number of sources, like:

  • chronic stress
  • conflict with loved ones
  • life challenges, including job loss or financial difficulties
  • stress related to injustice, misunderstandings, or humiliation
  • trauma
  • untreated mental health conditions, including depression

Anger often arises due to ordinary difficulties that occur in the course of daily life. It can also relate to issues outside of your control, and these causes aren’t always easily addressed.

When you can’t take action to deal with the factors feeding your anger, you might push it down and tell yourself you’re better off ignoring it.

This usually doesn’t work, though: Emotions ignored become emotions magnified. Left to simmer below the surface, anger can intensify until it begins to bubble up and boil over, often in the form of verbal outbursts or aggressive behavior, such as punching a wall.

Signs you might have trouble managing anger

Many people grow into adults without ever learning healthy ways to navigate difficult emotions. When you have a lot of anger but lack the tools to manage it productively, it can show up in several ways.

Some key signs of anger issues include:

  • frequent frustration, irritation, or rage
  • a tendency to hold grudges or plot revenge
  • regular disagreements with co-workers, friends, family, or strangers
  • difficulty controlling your anger, even when you try
  • relationship conflict related to your anger

Frequent thoughts of violence or aggression also tend to accompany uncontrollable anger, and that’s what usually drives wall punching. You wish you could punch the person making you mad, but you don’t truly want to hurt them or deal with the consequences of getting into a fight. So you use the closest wall as a handy scapegoat.

In the context of a romantic or family relationship, intentional property damage can be a sign of abuse.

Punching a hole in the wall causes damage, even if it doesn’t completely destroy it. Someone who punches walls might also kick or throw household items or damage property and belongings in other ways.

While punching a hole in the wall might not seem like abuse (since it only hurts the person doing the punching), it can be a form of intimidation.

An abusive partner might destroy property to control you or make you feel afraid. Their aggressive acts are essentially saying, “Don’t make me mad, because I might not be able to control myself,” or “Do what I say or this could happen to you.”

Wall punching can be a pretty big red flag even if they don’t show other signs of physical aggression. Maybe you truly believe they’d never hurt you, but abuse involves more than just violence.

Living in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing can take a huge toll on emotional health, even if you never experience direct physical harm.

Here are a few other non-physical signs of abuse to watch for:

  • displays of jealousy when you spend time with friends or family
  • attempts to control your decisions and finances
  • insults or put-downs, especially in front of others
  • threats to your children or pets

For help recognizing signs of abuse, safety planning, or leaving an abusive relationship, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

If you’re in immediate danger

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you’re able to.

Some cities have introduced the ability to text 911. Ask your local law enforcement about whether they’ve rolled out this program. You can also just send the text — you’ll get a bounce-back notification if the system isn’t available in your area.

If you can’t call or text 911, try to physically remove yourself by getting to a neighbor’s house or nearby business.

Healthline

Maybe you stumbled upon this article after punching a wall, kicking the sofa, or throwing a rock through a window.

First, know you’re not alone. Anger can be tough to deal with, especially when you don’t have good coping techniques in place. When fury overwhelms you, the urge to smash or destroy can sometimes take over.

If your anger relates to emotional pain, such as a betrayal, it might almost seem as if causing yourself physical pain might help soothe those inner wounds.

Yet breaking something or hurting yourself usually doesn’t help. If you destroy someone else’s property, the consequences might complicate the situation and make new problems for you.

Punching walls can also reinforce a link between anger and destruction, making it more likely you’ll behave aggressively when you get angry in the future.

If you’re starting to worry you might have some trouble with anger, that’s a great first step. A willingness to explore the sources of your anger and practice releasing it in safe and productive ways can help you learn to maintain your calm, no matter the situation.

A few quick tips

Looking for ways to cope with anger in the moment?

Try:

How therapy can help

When anger begins to affect your daily life and interpersonal relationships, it’s usually time to talk to a therapist.

Professional support can make all the difference when trying to address anger issues or abusive behavior.

If you want to get help for anger issues, a therapist can offer support and guidance.

In therapy, you can:

  • learn tips to cope with anger more effectively and see lasting relief
  • begin exploring causes of uncontrollable anger, such as trauma, relationship issues, or workplace challenges
  • develop more helpful techniques to manage stress and solve problems without outbursts
  • build communication skills

Though many believe that abusive people will never change, this isn’t necessarily true. You need to be willing to acknowledge your actions, though: Recognizing the problems with your behavior and the harm it brings to others marks an essential first step toward positive change.

A therapist can help you cultivate more empathy and compassion for others, work on communicating your feelings and relating to others in healthy ways, and practice taking responsibility for your actions. Therapy can also help you begin to identify and explore any patterns from your past that might contribute to the cycle of abuse.

You might feel a little nervous around your partner after they punched a hole in the wall, and that’s absolutely normal. Punching a wall doesn’t automatically mean they’ll become violent toward you, but aggressive behavior can escalate into abuse, sometimes before you even realize what’s happening.

Even if they never become violent, their anger likely won’t improve unless they get the right support and learn healthy coping skills.

If they haven’t displayed any other signs of potential abuse or aggression, you might want to consider talking about what happened. Aim to have this conversation when you both feel relaxed, safe, and have time to talk.

During this conversation:

  • Let them know you feel concerned and worried.
  • Use I-statements: “I felt scared when you punched the wall,” or “I worry what will happen if you punch a wall at work, or anywhere else.”
  • Encourage them to talk to a therapist.
  • Set some boundaries. For example, you might say you don’t feel safe living together or continuing the relationship unless they get help.

However, if you have any concern that their aggression might be a form of intimidation or part of an abusive pattern, it’s best to talk to a therapist or other healthcare professional to figure out the safest next steps.

Talking about abuse can feel frightening, but opening up to trusted loved ones can help you feel less alone. Friends and family can provide emotional support, but they may also want to offer more tangible assistance, such as transportation or a place to stay, if you choose to leave the relationship.

Anger doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a normal person. The way you handle your anger is what matters.

If you struggle to manage anger without outbursts or physical aggression, a mental health professional can offer compassionate guidance and support.

Anger issues don’t have to be permanent, though change does require some effort on your part. You’ll probably find this effort pays off, though, since cultivating an internal sense of calm can improve your relationships and your well-being.


Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.