Anger is an emotion that gets triggered when we feel threatened. The threat could be real or perceived. We’re always angry with an object- another person, life situation, or even ourselves.
Anger varies in intensity. Some events only trigger mild annoyance in us, while others cause us to explode. The more our core biological and social needs are threatened, the more intense the anger.
Anger is caused by:
- Experiencing frustration when we’re trying to reach our goals
- Violation of our rights
- Disrespect and humiliation
Anger motivates us to fix whatever is wrong in our life. If we’re experiencing frustration, it forces us to reflect and shift our strategies. When our rights are violated, it motivates us to get our rights back, and when we’re disrespected, it motivates us to restore respect.
Stages of anger
Let’s break down anger into its different stages. Having this microscopic view of anger enables you to understand anger better. It’ll also help you to manage your anger well because you’ll know when you can pull the plug on your anger and when it’ll be too late.
- Getting triggered
- Buildup of anger
- Preparing for action
- Feeling the impulse to act
- Acting on the anger
1) Getting triggered
Anger always has a trigger, which could be external or internal. External triggers include life events, hurtful remarks from others, etc. Internal triggers of anger could be one’s thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes anger is triggered as secondary emotion in response to a primary emotion. For example, getting angry for feeling anxious.
A trigger for anger is any information that makes us feel threatened. Once threatened, our body then prepares us to meet the threat.
Since you’re not yet entirely under the grip of anger, this is an excellent time to re-evaluate the situation. Important anger management questions to ask yourself in this stage include:
What triggered me?
Why did it trigger me?
Is my anger is justified?
Am I misperceiving the situation as a threat, or is it really a threat?
What assumptions am I making about the situation?
2) Buildup of anger
After you’ve been triggered, your mind tells you a story of why your anger is justified. It might borrow events from the recent past to weave the story.
When this happens, anger starts building up inside of you. At this stage, you can still change gears re-evaluate whether the story is true.
If you realize that the story is false and the threat isn’t real, you can short-circuit the anger response. If, however, you feel your anger story is justified, the anger keeps building up.
3) Preparing for action
Once your anger reaches a certain threshold, your body starts preparing you for action. Your:
- Muscles get tense (to prepare them for action)
- Pupils dilate (to size up your enemy)
- Nostrils flare (to let in more air)
- Breathing rate increases (to get more oxygen)
- Heart rate increases (to get more oxygen and energy)
Your body is now officially under the grip of anger. It will be hard at this stage to re-evaluate the situation and drop the anger. But with enough mental work, it’s possible.
4) Feeling the impulse to act
Now that your body has prepared you for taking action, the next thing it needs to do is to push you to take action. This ‘push’ is felt as an impulse to act, yell, say mean things, punch, etc.
The energy that has been building up inside you creates tension and needs release. Feeling the impulse to act pushes us to release our pent-up energy.
5) Acting on the anger
It’s not easy to say “No” to an impulse. The energy that has built up seeks quick release. However, it isn’t impossible to resist the urge to act. But the amount of mental energy it takes to counter the release of pent-up energy is tremendous.
If your anger was a leaking pipe, you could fix it with little energy when you’re mildly annoyed, i.e., if the leak isn’t that bad. If your pipe is leaking like a firehose, however, you need more energy to fix the leak. You may need the help of 2-3 people.
When you act on your anger, a firehose gets opened that is hard to close. Within a matter of minutes, you say and do mean things motivated by hostility.
At this stage, your fight-or-flight survival instinct is in charge. You can’t think rationally.
Note that you can still release your energy at this stage harmlessly if you don’t want to hurt those around you. You could go for a drive, clench your fists, punch the punching bag, throw things, break things, and so on.
When you release the tension that anger has been building up inside you through action, you feel relieved. You feel good momentarily. Expressing anger unburdens us.
During the recovery stage, anger has subsided completely, and the person begins to cool down. The ‘temporary madness’ of rage is now over, and the person is brought back to their senses.
During this stage, the person is likely to feel guilt, shame, regret, or even depression. They feel like they’d been possessed by some demon when they were angry. They feel like they weren’t being themselves.
Now, they’re themselves again and feel bad for what they did during the heat of anger. They regain the ability to think rationally and clearly. Their ‘safe mode’ is back online as their ‘survival mode’ goes offline.
In this final stage, the person reflects on their behavior and learns from it. If they feel they over-reacted and were hurtful, they apologize and repair their relationships. They might make plans to behave differently in the future, at least until the anger demon takes over them again.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 400+ articles on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4.5 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.