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What Is the Anger Cycle?

By Tara Barnett
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The anger cycle is the process of anger for an individual person. In many cases, this process follows a regular and predictable trajectory, although the stages may not be apparent to people other than the person experiencing them. When looking at patterns of anger, understanding the anger cycle can help alleviate some of the negative qualities associated with dangerous or inappropriate anger. Theoretically, a person can learn to intervene when he or she sees the anger cycle beginning in order to prevent violent outbursts or acting out.

There are many different types of anger, and each of these has a fairly regular cycle. People typically do not appear to be angry all the time, and this phase of apparent peace is often called a rest or normal phase. This can quickly and often without provocation move into a build-up phase, which in turn erupts into an angry outburst. After the outburst, there may be a guilt or a remorse phase, after which the person typically returns to the normal or rest stage.

Each stage of the cycle involves different activities and emotional experiences. The guilt stage, for example, may be characterized by apologies or may be entirely internal. Rage and anger are guided by different cultural conventions, and the display of a man's anger process may be different than a woman's. It is also important to recognize what qualities attach to each stage in each individual case.

One of the interesting parts of the anger cycle is that it often matches stages identified by victims of emotional abuse. Knowing that anger moves in a cyclical pattern gives victims of abuse the capacity to predict an outburst long before it occurs, and even the build-up phase often terrorizes victims of abuse. Even when anger is not violent, it can still be part of an abusive situation.

Resolving anger using the anger cycle is problematic because it requires the angry person to overcome his or her emotional state and take a step back. Typically, individual intervention must occur before the outburst stage is reached, although there is no point of no return with anger. Exercising willpower is key to stopping the cycle before it becomes a major problem.

Although anger is not always a negative emotion, it is typically considered healthy to have a non-destructive outlet for anger. In most cases, this will involve talking about the problem or physically exercising the problem away. Most people find they can appropriately control their anger with practice.

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Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Aug 12, 2012

I had a friend in high school who was abused by her stepfather. She could always recognize the phases of his anger cycle, and she knew when to get out of the way.

She said that he would get this look in his eyes when he was about to go into a rage. It was an accusing look, as though he suspected her of something.

If she was near a doorway when she saw this look, she would run away. If not, she would brace herself for a beating. She was able to escape on several occasions.

By kylee07drg — On Aug 12, 2012

I know that feeling of regret and shame that comes after anger has surfaced. Even if my anger was justified, I often feel bad about expressing it.

That's probably because I'm the type of person to repress my feelings. When the pressure has built up to a certain point, I just blow up.

Even if the person on the receiving end deserved the tongue lashing, I feel ashamed that I lost control. I usually apologize right away, regardless of how warranted the attack was.

By orangey03 — On Aug 11, 2012

@StarJo – I guess it's kind of like a menstrual cycle. Though a woman is only bleeding for about a week out of the month, the whole month is considered a part of the cycle, because other stuff is going on, like ovulation.

I kind of relate my own menstrual cycle to the anger cycle, because I usually get really angry about the little things during PMS. So, that comparison just jumped into my head.

By StarJo — On Aug 10, 2012

I really never thought about anger as having a cycle. I never considered the peaceful state before an outburst and the guilty state afterward as part of a whole cycle.

I would have considered the boiling up of anger and the spewing forth of either violence or angry words as the two parts of the cycle. I'm surprised to learn that not being angry to begin with is called a phase.

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