I think Elliott Larson sums anger up well in his quote; “Anger is only one letter short of danger.” Anger can be evoked by any number of personalised triggers, with everyone having their own individual “pet hates”, tolerances, and breaking points (if any). Dr. Robert Anthony says; “The angry people are those who are most afraid,” which I believe is true in some circumstances; however I don’t believe this to be the case overall. Ekman & Friesen (2003) suggests that anger can be aroused in six different ways; frustration, physical threat, psychological attack, moral violation, failure to meet expectations, and when anger is directed at you. In my opinion, fear would only fit into a few of these categories.
Tip: Even though anger is considered one of the most dangerous emotions, it can also serve as a motivator. Anger can motivate us to stop or change whatever is causing us to feel angry, as well as communicates with the autonomic nervous system in fight-or-flight situations.
Frustration: I believe frustration is the most common cause of anger, and is best described when something or someone interferes with the pursuit of a goal. The goal could be on any scale, from something small (such as going to the store only to find you forgot the most important item upon returning home) to something a little larger (such as breaking a limb just before sports try outs, purchasing a car to find it has mechanical issues, or finding out that an investment firm hasn’t looked after your money). To some extent, anger acts to assist in removing the source of frustration. One extra point; what has one person become frustrated may not do so for another.
There are two things that particularly bother me; frustration and injustice. For me, frustration stems from feeling helpless, feeling like I’m in a position to not be able to do anything about a negative situation. What’s helped me here is adopting the attitude to some extend of “what will be, will be”. Letting go of having to control every little detail has certainly helped me with dealing with frustration. Injustice is another beast; I can sympathise with the vigilante mindset, however (of course) I don’t condone vigilantism!
Physical Threat: If someone poses a real physical threat, fear or a mixture of fear and anger would likely result. If the threat is more superficial or more evenly matched, then anger is likely to be triggered. Fight-or-flight.
I started learning martial arts to improve my fitness and to learn how to defend myself. Something I didn’t realise I was going to gain was self confidence, and it’s self confidence that has had me avoid quite a number of confrontations. Depending on the mindset of the martial arts instructor and the student, I suggest that learning martial arts is an excellent preventative measure for avoiding physically threatening situations, and provides a much higher chance of walking away should an actual confrontation occur.
Psychological Attack: Anger can be triggered by insults, and any actions that leave someone feeling disrespected – which generally intensifies if the action is perceived as intentional. As each person’s life experiences are different, an insult that causes anger and upset to one person may not when aimed at someone else. People’s perceptions of respect and tolerance are individualised.
Moral Violation: Even though not directly involved, anger can be triggered by witnessing someone else being mistreated. Where each person’s moral baseline sits differs for everyone, therefore some people wouldn’t get angry witnessing domestic violence or public degrading of children. However, for a lot of people this would be too much to ignore, and the police or social services would expect a phone call.
Failure to Meet Expectations: Most common as a parental reaction to children, impatience and irritation can occur when requested or expected tasks have are not completed. This could be from the child not tidying up after themselves, to the husband who was expected to have the lawns mowed before guests arrive.
I’ve been on the receiving end of the anger triggered by the failure to meet expectations at home a few times, mainly due to the expectations not being communicated. If you find yourself in this situation, taking the time to find out where the anger is coming from can save a lot of time and is much more productive than becoming angry back.
When Anger Is Directed At You: Perhaps more so when there appears to be no valid justification to receive anger, some people reciprocate anger directed at them.
Basically, depending of an individual’s life, experience and history, virtually anything can trigger anger. Matsumoto & Hwang sum up Larazus’s (1991) trigger for anger being “goal obstruction, injustice and perceived norm violations”, and the function of anger being to remove the obstacle (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2012).