How Anger Affects the Brain and Body [Infographic – Part 1]

Anger can be a challenging emotion for clients to work through.

Sometimes anger can be frightening for clients. Or, maybe they consider it inappropriate to even feel this emotion at all.

Not only that, but when anger is misdirected, it can lead to poor choices, damaged relationships, and even violence.

So what’s really going on in the brain and body when anger is triggered?

Here’s a tool to help you visualize anger's impact on the brain. Click To Tweet

We thought it would be useful for you to have a way to help your clients visualize this (so please feel free to make a copy of this to share with them).

Click the image to enlarge

If you’d like to print a copy to share, just click here: Color or Print-friendly

(When you make copies to share, please be sure to include the copyright information. We put a lot of work into creating these resources for you. Thanks!)

Coming Soon: How Anger Affects the Brain and Body, Part 2 – How Stress Hormones Change the Brain

Now we’d like to hear from you. What have you found to be helpful in working with anger? Please leave a comment.

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87 Comments

  1. Lisa Tynes says:

    I am an early intervention special instructor. I visit homes and help families increase their knowledge in parenting their child (birth-3) who has one or more difficulties that impact development. Would your material be available to someone like me?

  2. Uriel says:

    Hello, I love your infographic and i think it could be very usefull in my line of work. I am currently working in a school and part of my job is teaching the pupils about emotional intelligence, could i translate this and put it up as a poster for the school? All the material will be cited as part of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine with your permission.

  3. Vanessa Chant says:

    I have only just got to the program Practical Skills for Working with an Angry Client. I am still trying to work out how I can access the Videos. This is my third try with an online course I would really like to complete it and get the Hours as credits. I printed the Important information and clicked Practical skills for working with an Angry Client program, it did not seem to go anywhere.
    I have printed out “How ANGER affects your brain and body
    I have printed out the bookmark information but do not understand it sadly.
    I have printed out the Program Questionnaire.
    Yet somehow I have not got to the course yet.

  4. Julie Hogan says:

    Thank you!!

  5. Julie Hogan says:

    Thank You ,Iam looking forward to learning more …

  6. Julie Hogan says:

    Thank you .I am looking forward to learning mre ,to be able to pass on to clients

  7. Thank you so much for the information and creative visuals.
    Is it possible to use these images as handouts/presentation, or on our own website giving full credit?
    Alexandra Hall

  8. Marina says:

    Thank you

  9. Catherine says:

    Thank you for your amazing work which benefits all of mankind

  10. Maggie Lawson says:

    the illustration is the process of Allostatic Load developing over prolonged exposure to trauma or stress. The body adapts away from the ability to return to homeostasis which is the task of the autonomic nervous system. Medication can be used to support the body. The symptoms were described by Freud and called psychosomatic this only led to society and medical practitioners being suspicious and dismissive as a ‘real’ illness. these symptoms are extensive and include sleep Apnoea and cardio-vascular disease. The emerging treatment models require a collaborative approach of professionals and other forms of treatment. There is a very useful paper on Hyper-response and Hypo-response. It clearly demonstrates the dynamics operant in behaviour and feeling. Complex PTSD often means that the person experiences both these responses at the same time. You need an experienced practitioner to direct and treatment someone with these symptoms.

    • Robin says:

      thank you, i’ll be very interested in looking more into it. Could you give some details on the participants of the research and when it was done, Maggie.

  11. thanks for the opportunity to print this chart. it is extremely helpful.

  12. denise hufer says:

    Thanks for making this available. A great template to use during treatment sessions, enables me to break down a complicated topic into comprehensible bites.

  13. Liked the cartoon. Quite often clients ask about technicalities when thinking about how affect regulation works and why it is important. What a good way to do it!! Thanks.

    Robin Trewartha

  14. Katy Scoones says:

    Thank you for the diagrams, and the permission to share them. I too am wondering if we could add the links to our own website if we cite them and credit accordingly?

    Upon scrolling through I have found the comments equally as helpful, with some great links and further research to explore. Thank you for your contributions everyone!
    To add to this discussion, I have found Dr. Porges work vital, as well as Peter Levine’s work (Waking the Tiger), and Pat Ogden’s/Janina Fishers book Sensorimotor Psychotherapy – Interventions for Trauma and Attachment very useful in informing my own practice.

    Thanks for all the good work you do!

  15. Karen says:

    Thank you Dr. Buckzinski for those very comprehensive presentations. I love everything about them: clarity, detailed, informative. I learned a lot from what you’ve given. It is worth a million words. It will still takes me back to my reading in text books , but thank you to Nicabm & staffs.

  16. M Metzgar says:

    Ruth I am Having a problem with the print, my computer it says that doesn’t recognize it and down loads a bunch of computer jargon I think it is absolutely great and would love to share it. could you send it to me in a different format

  17. Debby Jones says:

    Is it possible to use these images as handouts or on our own website giving full credit?

  18. Cheryl W says:

    Thank you so much for the image representations. They will be very helpful for non clinical people, who have some idea of how their bodies work. I will show these to my small group at church. We are discussing stress and anger. Many in the group are professional working people or retired from professions.

  19. Great diagram on how anger affects the brain and body. So grateful for your work!

  20. I consider anger ‘furious love’ It is a sign that we actually care about something otherwise we’d be indifferent. It is also a secondary feeling. Beneath anger is hurt ,fear, insecurity. i have people recall a time when they were angry and we examine how they are experiencing their body. There is always a place that has a feeling. We welcome that feeling and breath deeply and continually into that part of the body . This can activate the anger again which we welcome and keep breathing. The breath flushes underlying feelings which are inevitably hurt, sadness etc. All feelings are welcomed and allowed to move through the body. This exploration finally leads to a heart opening and insights as to what the issues actually are. By becoming aware of the breath and engaging consciously with it when anger occurs with commitment and practice change happens. I also show people how to consciously create oxytocin and replace what can be an addiction to adrenaline and cortisol with oxytocin addiction. Love to you all.

    • daisy says:

      Beautiful thoughts and feelings, thanks for sharing.
      The sound of ‘furious love’ resonates.

      Apart from hugging ourselves I’m a bit at a loss as to how we can consciously create oxytocin?

    • We created an app for iPhone/iPad that guides you through a similar process. It’s called “iClearIt,” and you can find it on the Apple app store. First use is free so you can check it out. To keep it after that, it’s $5. Let me know what you think after you’ve tried it.

      Lion Goodman, liongoodman@gmail.com.

      • As I was reading Rachana’s comment which I thought was a beautiful way to get to the anger, I couldn’t help think of the process Lion Goodman mentioned here above that I also use as I am one of his students. It’s a powerful process that has given me great results working with clients and for my own self-use.

  21. Greg B. says:

    Awesome diagram and explanation of the primitive brain’s reactions to (D)anger!

    Thanks.

  22. Charlaine says:

    Thank you!
    Quick, easy, simple to explain diagram.
    Great way to help the client make sense of it all.

  23. Kay W says:

    Great visual

  24. C.Esteban says:

    Thank you , Ruth . I am interested and looking fwd to the pt 2 .

  25. Mitra Bishop says:

    Thank you! These will be really helpful in our work with women veterans with PTSD—as well as for anyone attending our Zen meditation retreats!

  26. George steinfeld says:

    Just yell stop-internally
    Focus on your breath
    Close your eyes
    Open them and look at an object
    Tap using EFt protocol

  27. Thank you Ruth… will keep in touch.

  28. Renee Potik says:

    Thank you…a great help!

  29. Renee Potik says:

    Thank you very much one and all. This visual is extremely helpful.

  30. great visual. thank you for your time and effort!

  31. Thanks. But rather technical for clients. Useful knowledge for the therapist.

  32. Sandra Cohen says:

    Fascinating. Useful to see visually

  33. Jim says:

    I’ve found that you have to give voice to your anger, or else it goes nowhere. I hurl a wet towel into the bathtub and scream it out!

  34. J. Shelley says:

    Thank you that is a great overview on the basics of how anger affects our mind and body. It gives great material for direction to search for further understanding.

  35. liz says:

    Thanks for this it is a good way to show clients how certain emotions like anger, if held in the body can cause illness by continually being bombarded by these hormones. A great example to share in order to look at un expressed emotions.

  36. Michael Kirton says:

    Good material Thanks

  37. Marilyn Bader-Nesse says:

    Look forward to sharing with my wide range of clients and see how they react; which ones will benefit more from visual aids.

  38. Taylor says:

    Sharon,

    There are somatic therapies that hold space for the client to discharge the anger in a healthy, contained way, with the aid of the therapist; rather than attempting to “get rid of” or “fix” the anger, the latter which can reinforce resistance, shame, stigma, etc. (Of course, the ethos, style, personality, and skill of the particular therapist are always at play.)

    I have some somatic resources to share with you (from which I don’t profit, etc.). I am willing to have a brief, live phone conversation, as well.

    ATBurton@yahoo.com

  39. Vicki Lunghofer says:

    Thank you for this. I have been looking for something that can be more easily understood by the general population. I will use it in a an upcoming workshop and see what the response is

  40. Alicia Ortiz Rivera says:

    The infographics have been very useful to understand myself and explain to my patients the complex processes of their emotional responses, and give them effective tools for their emotional self-control. Thank you very much for providing such a valuable experience!

  41. Josh says:

    It still isn’t very clear to me if doing yoga could be beneficial for it. Could increasing our endorphin and cortisol hormones help to balance it out such as judgments, fear, and, of course, anger?

  42. They missed one source of anger – pain, or an “ouch” that is not expressed explicitly, but held onto so as not to show the perpetrator that he/she was effective in hurting you.

  43. Casey Gwinn says:

    Anger is a natural human emotion that results when our goals/expectations are not achieved or accomplished. It is not destructive or unhealthy in and of itself. In our research on the science of hope, we have found that anger is the closest emotion to hope. After 30 years working with abused children, it is very clear to me that the anger response, just like hypervigilance, gets stuck in overdrive the longer someone has their goals blocked and cannot navigate a pathway to goal achievement. We must focus first on children with anger issues. The ramifications of their deep, abiding anger connects to school bullies, mass shooters, batterers, rapists, child abusers, mysoginists, and others who hurt other people.

    • I explain it a little differently. Try this on, and let me know if it fits with your perspective and experience: Anger is a natural response to 1) feeling controlled, or 2) feeling out of control. So blocked goals or expectations is one example of that. Another is being a slave or servant to another’s wishes. Another is interrupted enthusiasm. Another is being betrayed, having the rug pulled out from under you. It’s a little wider net than my understanding of what you wrote, so I’m interested in your response. As far as I can tell, Anger is the “fight” response in the fight/flight/freeze/fold/flock reaction. We just internalize it, which is why it gets stuck inside us.

    • mia angela barbera says:

      thank you Casey. Just left a talk with Anum Thubten, speaking of the maras of hope and fear…. and ecstacy. Your comment is very interesting and I’m looking it up.

  44. kim says:

    Thank you Dr. Buczynski,
    This is very helpful and clear and I look forward to Part II

  45. kim says:

    Hi Sharon,
    Monica Jordan suggests Mindfulness…..which if this can be achieved, is a paramount part of quieting the Limbic system…….but, from what I have read in Dr. Porges “The Polyvagal Theory” and Sebern Fisher’s “Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-Driven Brain”, the brain that is driven by fear is not even capable of being mindful…..it is too vigilante, forever on the lookout for danger…..first, the limbic system must be calmed……via Porges “Safe and Sound Protocol” sound therapy and neurofeedback aimed at quieting the fear centers of the brain…… I can speak from my own experience……both of these therapies have absolutely enables me….suffering from Complex PTSD and having been highly fear activated……into being able to approach mindfulness……”HeartMath” has also helped me tone the Vagal nerve…….hope that helps some…..blessings, Kim

    • Josh says:

      Hi kim thank you for sharing your references. One of my fav specialist in anger-control is Dr. Meichenbaum, Donald, from Canada, who explores the consequences of anger with his clts. He would ask questions like”what was your goal in that situation?”, rather than what caused it, although that can help. And, “what is the impact/price of being in such fashion?” Then, “ How it gets you to…” to achieve your goal? These are excerpts from his handbook :”Treatment of individualls with anger-control problems. “ He is a fascinating researcher. I will check it out. Otherwise, I agree that hypervigilance can get in the way when fear is triggered; and our brain does best …only one thing at a time!

      • Mike says:

        Wow, very helpful . Thanks.

      • mia angela barbera says:

        thank you for this

  46. Thank you! It will be very useful for my group working on emotions

  47. Daniel Stone says:

    Such a wonderfully choreographed scene with the cast taking a bow at the end. Beautifully composed. Very useful.

  48. Marcia says:

    Ruth, Thank-you for another wonderful infographic. Great way to show how our body, brain, mind, and emotions are inter-related.

  49. Elliott, Hypnotherapist says:

    This is useful for my analytical clients who like to “understand” before they let go but not for others. Having said that, after some initial work around making choices about their feelings and their focus, most clients find they can transform their anger into more productive responses within only a few Hypnosis sessions.

  50. Shahine Tavakoli says:

    Thank you great way to teach what happens to body when angry

  51. Mary Sommers says:

    I just thinking it’s a little funny/ironic that the characters on the paper for stress hormones look happy.

  52. Mary Jane Heppe says:

    Dear Joan,

    This is good basic information, yet not for those who suffer brain impairment; such as, brain infection or brain inflammation in the limbic system. My hope is that we can make a dent someday in the DSM by listing possible pathogenic activity in the brain as the root cause of anger, aggressiveness, and violence.

    • Buffy says:

      Mary Jane Heppe, I am interested to know more about your unique slant on this topic.Could you provide any resources or information that I could delve into that inform your thinking on this? Thanks!

      • Mary Jane Heppe says:

        Buffy, can you please PM me on Facebook? I’ll be happy to provide you with information on this topic.
        Look forward to hearing from you!

  53. Debra P Lawson says:

    Excellent information.

  54. Karen Poseley, MS, LPC says:

    I work with high risk teen girls in a therapeutic boarding school school setting. I have found that an explanation or diagram such as this facilitates their understanding of the need to hyjack the brain before the stress hormones impact the body and there’s a destructive reaction.

  55. Jessica Blount says:

    Great information and very useful! I have several clients working on anger issues who this will be great for!

  56. Tia says:

    Thank you so much for this excellent infographic!
    Very useful not only for clients working on anger issues, but also for those who want to understand what is happening in their bodies once they get angry.

    Once more, thanks again!
    :) -T

  57. Wayne Meluney says:

    Excellent explanation. Illustration that can be used to explain anger to clients.

  58. Linda L Small, LICSW, Registered Play Therapist says:

    There also a great book called “Ahn’s Anger”. It’s a great story, geared toward children, about how one can conceptualize anger in an acceptable and positive way. It’s even helpful for adults!

  59. Linda Gibson says:

    I like to know how to explain anger to a youth.

  60. Josh says:

    Nice. Thank ya for bringing this up. Love infographics

  61. Deborah says:

    I am so appreciative of your work and making it user friendly for use with my clients.

  62. Laura says:

    This is really interesting and useful. Many thanks

  63. My daughter suffers anger that is off the charts and her psychiatrist is ill-equipped to deal with it. In response, he tells her he believes the Rx mix they’ve achieved is perhaps the best they’ll be able to do. Meanwhile on bad days she harbors and festers and screams that she just wants to die. I am at a loss to know what to do though I have been her staunch supporter for years, whereas her father threw up his hands years ago and stays out of contact with her, upsetting her all the more. I would give anything to find something of benefit to her. Her life has been so hard she believes God’s desire is only to torment her. Because of this, at age 35 she is unable to live alone or manage life’s stresses, so we carry on together in a circle of non-progress, though not for lack of love or effort.

    • Teresa Boshears says:

      Hi Sharon. I’m sorry to hear of this suffering, for you and your daughter. I wonder if perhaps she had some brain trauma/injury when younger, e.g. a fall, accident, or hitting her head while playing as so many children do. This can often cause disturbing, erratic, uncontrolled behavior patterns and I’ve found Craniosacral therapy to be amazing and quite helpful in cases like these and many others. It is a pain-free physical process which entails gentle touch/maneuvering which affects the cranial structures and thus the brain and the spinal cord. The founder, Dr. John Upledger was a doctor of osteopathic medicine who created the therapy and the Upledger Institute teaches his work and where you can find providers. Their website is www. upledgerinstitute. com and I always recommend looking for the therapist with the highest number of courses taken, especially brain instruction. Best wishes to you…

    • Taelin says:

      Hi … there are a lot people creating mental clarity and calm with the WHM – Wim Hoff Method. It is a totally different approach, but it might be of some help. Anger is associated with the fear of loss of control. Loss of control is a tough one. The WHM really puts in in your hands … if you can do it, anything is achievable. Just a thought. Cheers,
      T

    • E Chase says:

      DBT Skills. Some do it by self study. There are even groups online. It requires self motivation. Is she ready to create a ‘life worth living’? To quote founder Dr Marsha Linehan.

    • Hi Sharon,
      Has your daughter ever tried mindfulness? Bringing awareness to our emotional states can gradually tame the hyperactive amygdala, and at the same time equip her with the natural power she has within to self regulate her emotions. Mindfulness is an amazing tool that is even effective for bipolar disorder.
      All the best,
      Monica Jordan

  64. Nidia Aurora Gil says:

    I am very grateful for this resource. It’s beautiful and useful!!!

    Thank you very much

  65. Dagmar Voges says:

    Thankgyou for the great visual. It’ll be far mor fun and easier for my clients to grasp than my line drawings.

  66. Basil says:

    Excellent pictorial representation of common triggers, and the subsequent secretion of neurotransmitters ; good for clinicians and therapists, fabulous for patients!

  67. I would imagine it is the same response to pain/chronic pain?

    • Laurie says:

      I would like to know that too. The chart is so very helpful, thank you

  68. jeanne says:

    Beautiful. It helps a client to see what is happening in their bodies

    Please include me in the follow up

  69. W.Buchanan says:

    Great to have a visual like this. Very useful for counselling.

    • L.Lee says:

      I am an auditory learner and get more with in general “big pictures” that I can draw many conclusions and implications from. It gives me some sense of where to look at and to see what problems to address when I am in therapy with my clt.

  70. Dee says:

    Interesting

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