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April 15, 2016
by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

Anger or Abuse - What's the Difference?

April 15, 2016 03:21 by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

There are many types of abuse and all are difficult to endure. Physical, sexual, emotional, financial and verbal cruelties are among the various forms of mistreatment that our society faces daily.  Another type of brutality that is widespread and difficult to address is domestic abuse. Domestic violence has been a concern in our society for decades. It is an epidemic and affects individuals in every community regardless of sex, socio-economic status, religion or race. The devastating effects of domestic violence can last a lifetime and be a repeated cycle for generations. Domestic violence can result in broken families, physical injury, and psychological trauma and in severe cases even death. Often times when evaluating a situation that resulted in domestic violence, observers often attribute the violence to uncontrollable anger. However, many studies suggest that domestic abuse is not the result of anger but instead a strategy to maintain power in a relationship.


Anger is an emotion depicted by resentment, bitterness, and/or hatred toward someone or something that we may feel has harmed us or done us wrong. Though anger can be an intense feeling that is difficult to manage, it can be a positive force. It can forge an outlet to communicate negative feelings and engage in conflict resolution to solve problems. Conversely, excessive anger can have potential negative effects that can include health problems. Excessive anger has been linked to high blood pressure and heart problems as well as familial and community deterioration. Holding back and/or stuffing anger can eventually lead to an unexpected explosion. Often times, people particularly men don’t realize when they are angry and suddenly become overwhelmed with the intensity of the emotional reaction to the situation. The body feels angry before the mind realizes it’s angry and what it is angry about. When we don’t express our feelings we take a chance of becoming a walking “time bomb” waiting to explode. Therefore, controlling and expressing anger in a healthy manner is encouraged. The first step to controlling anger is to recognize when we are feeling low levels of angry. Recognizing anger when it’s in the early stages affords us the opportunity to manage it while it’s containable. Identifying our personal body signals (chest pains, headaches, tension in various body parts, dizziness) when angry is important in managing the emotions early on then we are more likely to express ourselves effectively.

What’s the Difference?

In comparing domestic violence/abuse and anger, there are several key differences. As mentioned previously, it is argued that domestic violence is the result of the need to control and gain power in a relationship versus uncontrollable anger. The feelings of being entitled to power may be a driving factor for a person to disregard the feelings of their partner. Often, the underlying drive for power can include feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment and guilt.

A person with anger management problems often are struggling with a distorted thinking process and demonstrate skill deficits. When confronted with their behavior, this individual is likely to accept responsibility for his actions and accept the consequences that follow. While an abusive person also struggles with an inaccurate thinking process and exhibit a lack of prosocial skills, an abuser often externalizes their anger. They blame others or their circumstances for their behaviors. Further, many abusers don’t visualize their victims as people but instead as property or sexual objects.

Another difference between the two is that anger can be expressed towards anyone or anything (i.e. God, others, situations, unmet needs) whereas domestic violence generally occurs within an intimate relationship. Further, anger can be expressed in a positive healthy manner via coping skills assertiveness, problem solving and conflict resolution. Anger only becomes a problem when it occurs too frequently, too intensely, lasts too long and disturbs work or relationships. Contrastingly, domestic violence is always a problem. It’s never useful or healthy. It harms both the victim and the perpetrator.


Both the person who engages in domestic violence and the individual struggling with anger management should seek therapeutic assistance. There are some differences between treatments but there are useful techniques that are applicable for both parties.  Domestic violence/abuse programs tend to focus on the power/control philosophy, accepting consequences and responsibility and changing behaviors. Anger management often centralizes on developing methods to communicate anger in a healthy manner. In addition to those techniques, both parties can benefit from learning empathy, identifying triggers, developing a plan, use of coping skills and calming techniques, and dismantling the distorted thinking process that occurs during the episodes.


Curtis, C (2016) Anger and violence a change in thinking retrieved April 4, 2016

Hoy, L (2009) Anger Management and Domestic Abuse retrieved April 15, 2016

Hoy, L (2007) Is it Anger of Abuse? Retrieved April 15, 2016

NVADC What is domestic violence? Retrieved April 15, 2016

American Psychological Association (2016) Anger. Retrieve April 15, 2015

About the Author

Dr. Dawn Crosson Dr. Dawn Crosson, Psy.D

While there are a variety of places that offer psychological services, many of these services use a "one size fit all " approach to treatment. Dr. Dawn Crosson provides quality services that are tailored to meet the need of the individual.

Dr. Dawn Crosson has a clinical practice in Harrisburg, PA

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