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Anger: Events and Cues

Read below for part 2 in our ongoing series on anger. This installment will focus on the events that cause anger and the cues you can pay attention to that signal your anger is building.

Welcome back. Part 1 of our anger series explored myths about anger to help bring awareness to anger and to understand anger and the response to anger in the proper context. This installment will further our awareness about our own anger by exploring the events and cues related to our anger.

Anger often is precipitated in us by our interpretation or perception of a specific event that occurs to or around us. These events can occur in the “here and now,“ for example, someone insulting you. But they also can be events that are long standing or part of a pattern, such as, we were frequently insulted, made fun of, or picked on as a child so now we react with anger when we believe we are insulted as an adult. Understanding the events that provoke feelings of anger in you in both the present and the long-standing issues help increase your awareness and improve your ability to control or manage your reaction to that anger feeling. It is important to remember that the “here and now” anger and the long-standing anger are sometimes linked. Also, you may experience that sometimes just recalling or remembering an anger provoking event may make you angry again! Anger events may directly involve people (your boss giving you extra work)  but they may also involve objects (throwing a plate of food because it burnt your mouth).

Think of examples in your daily life, past and present, that have caused you anger. Write these down if you need to. This may help you identify patterns of events that cause anger or help you recognize the potential for a situation to cause you anger so you can adjust accordingly. If you get angry, think of what truly caused that anger and make note or it moving forward.

Cues are the things that occur to us in response to an anger provoking event. Gaining awareness of these cues allow them to function as a warning our anger is building. Cues are physical (body response), behavioral (actions), emotional (feelings), and cognitive (thoughts).

The way our body responds to anger are our physical cues. This may include elevated heart rate, skin flushing, elevated blood pressure, muscle tension, or tightness.

The actions we take and display with our bodies are the behavioral cues. These can be observed by others and ourselves. They may include stomping our feet, pacing, yelling, raising voices, fist clenching, or fidgeting.

Emotional cues are how we are feeling along with anger. Identifying these sometimes helps us determine the true source of the anger. Anger may function as a catch all type feeling that can really encompasses many other feelings. However, due to past experience or learning we interpret and express these feelings as anger. These can include anxiety, jealously, abandonment, betrayal, shame/guilt, rejection, etc.

Finally, we have the cognitive cues. Cognitive cues are our thoughts about the situation. Many times, though not always, if we examine our thoughts on the situation, we may identify that we are interpreting an event a certain way. That interpretation or our thoughts about the event are causing other emotions that increase our anger. Our self-talk about the situation may be negative or hostile, contributing to our anger. If we examine our thoughts on the situation, are they based in reality or based on what is most likely occurring? Are we approaching the situation with negative self-talk? Are we seeing, thinking about, or expecting violence? What are you rehearsing in your head about the situation? Sometimes a slight cognitive shift to more rational thinking or positive thinking is enough to begin to diffuse your anger.

Understanding cues we go through helps us understand when our anger is building and hopefully we can manage our anger during this time period to avoid a blow up or explosion leading to undesirable consequences.

What are your cues in each category? Track your anger, when/why it occurs, and look back at the cues you experienced.

Stay tuned for more about anger including ways to examine and reframe your anger and communciation skills that help reduce conflict.

-Chris Dorian, founder of Know Your Why Recovery

Based on information on information in Anger Management for Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Clients: A Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy Manual. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP19-02-01-001. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019.

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