Bob is fuming because he is stuck in traffic and he is late. Joanne is furious because James is already a half-hour late in calling her. Ted is upset because he received a bill that he did not anticipate. Marcia is mad because she just discovered she left her wallet at the store when she was cashing a check. Kathy is frustrated because she has trouble registering for services.
There are many types of circumstances that can cause a person to become angry. Perhaps the most common source of anger is frustration. Frustration occurs when you are blocked from doing what you want to do or from going where you want to go. It is a feeling of helplessness and loss of control. Bob is frustrated because he can’t make the traffic move any faster.
Another primary cause of anger is disappointment. You are disappointed when situations, events, or people, including yourself, do not meet the expectations you have for them. Joanne is disappointed because James has not called.
Threat to our sense of security is also a major cause of anger. Situations that threaten your security like doing poorly on an exam, losing your wallet, or encountering a problem your not prepared to deal with can leave you feeling vulnerable and angry.
The common thread that runs through all of these situations is another emotion, fear. These situations all result in the experience of fear, like bob’s fear of the consequences of being late to class or Maria’s fear that her wallet and its contents are gone forever. Anger is an emotion of fear. It is a defensive response to the feelings of helplessness and vulnerability that fear produces. While fear is a passive emotion with energy directed inward, anger is an aggressive emotion that allows you to direct energy outwards.
Sometimes there are more subtle cause of your anger. Some people get angry because they fear being powerless or being taken advantage of; some believe that being aggressive is an effective way to get their way; many have not learned to deal with conflict assertively; some use anger to displace their feelings of guilt; and some people get angry because they overreact or misinterpret a situation.
We cognitively interpret most of our life experiences; how we interpret a situation influences how much anger we might experience. For example, if Joanne believes that James has not called because he frequently forgets, she probably will experience annoyance. However, if she interprets his behavior as not caring about her, her fear and anger may be magnified. If Kathy begins to believe that she will not get what she needs, her anger will become intense.
Angry driver photo available from Shutterstock