A study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that poor emotional regulation could explain why adolescents who are prone to anger are more likely to experience loneliness.
Loneliness is a widespread mental health issue that often emerges in adolescence when social relationships and peer acceptance become increasingly important. Another trait that often appears in adolescence is anger — and research suggests the two are linked. However, as study author Ali Karababa points out, not all adolescents who feel anger experience loneliness.
“This suggests,” Karababa explains, “that there might be mechanisms underlying the relationship between anger and loneliness, one of which seems to be emotion regulation strategies. In other words, how people deal with their emotions may help understand how anger influences loneliness.”
Exploring this interplay, Karababa says, could offer insight into interventions to help youth who are dealing with loneliness.
A total of 475 young adolescents between the ages of 10-14 completed questionnaires that measured loneliness and tendency towards anger. They also completed the Regulation of Emotions Scale, which classified how they respond to emotion along four dimensions. Internal-functional refers to self-reflection (e.g., “I review (rethink) my thoughts or beliefs.”) and internal-dysfunctional involves internalizing one’s emotions (e.g., “I keep the feeling locked up inside.”). External-functional includes social support seeking (e.g., “I talk to someone about how I feel.”) and external-dysfunctional refers to lashing out (e.g.; “I take my feelings out on others verbally.”).
In line with previous research, results showed that anger and loneliness were correlated. Furthermore, as loneliness increased, adolescents were more likely to report using dysfunctional emotion regulation strategies and less likely to use functional emotion regulation strategies.
Finally, mediation analysis showed that emotion regulation moderated the relationship between loneliness and anger. In other words, adolescents with heightened anger combined with low functional regulation (external and internal) and high dysfunctional regulation (external and internal) were more likely to report heightened loneliness.
Karababa explains that the use of ineffective emotional regulation strategies may lead to difficulties finding and maintaining peer relationships, leading to increased loneliness. Lashing out when angry may push peers away, while holding in feelings may lead to persistent anger which then negatively affects relationships.
In a positive light, the study highlighted certain emotion regulation strategies that might combat loneliness. As Karababa reports, “external-function (e.g., seeking advice and support, doing something nice such as sports, or physical contact with friends and parents) was a constructive anger coping strategy, meaning that it served as a buffer against the negative effects of trait anger on loneliness.”
The study was limited due to the fact that it relied exclusively on self-report data, which could have led some adolescents to offer socially desirable responses. The author suggests that future studies use additional reports to increase validity. Still, Karababa takes the findings as evidence that “emotion regulation-based prevention programs” should be implemented in schools to teach children and adolescents positive skills for dealing with emotion.
The study, “The relationship between trait anger and loneliness among early adolescents: The moderating role of emotion regulation”, was authored by Ali Karababa.