I think Elliott Larson sums up anger 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. 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) suggest 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.
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. Also, what frustrates one person may not frustrate another.
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.
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 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 a phone call to the police or social services would follow.
Failure to Meet Expectations: Most common as a parental reaction to children, impatience and irritation can occur when requested or expected tasks 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.
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.
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).
Read more about emotions in True Lies.