Triggers are automatic and sometimes involuntary responses to a specific stimuli. Emotional triggers are when your response is an emotion like anger, frustration, sadness or shame. Our own thoughts, memories, experiences and current mental, emotional and physical states all influence when and to what extent we might be triggered by a particular situation or stimuli.
Once we can identify that we’re likely to have an automatic response to particular behaviours, words or situations, we’re more likely to be able to choose our reaction more intentionally. This will likely result in less conflict, harm and regret. The four main categories of triggers that tend to provoke anger are:
• Frustrations. Anger is a common reaction when we are trying to achieve something important and something gets in the way of success. For example, you apply for a new position you really want, but someone you feel is less qualified gets the position.
• Irritations. Daily hassles are annoying and can trigger anger. For example, while trying to work, you keep getting interrupted or you realize you’ve left something important at home and have to go all the way back to get it.
• Abuse. Anger is a normal and expected reaction to verbal, physical or sexual abuse. For example, someone putting you down, hitting you or forcing you to do something you do not want to do.
• Unfairness. Being treated unfairly can also trigger anger. For example, being blamed for failing to meet a deadline at work when it was actually the fault of your co-worker.
When we hold in or deny our anger, the negative impact from not resolving the issue can build up over time and lead to physical and mental health problems. Unresolved or unprocessed anger can also result in inappropriate reactions that lead to loss of relationships, employment or trust. Anger may become a problem if it:
• Is too frequent. Sometimes anger is appropriate and useful in pushing us to solve problems. However, if you are coping with lots of anger on a daily basis, it may be reducing the quality of your life, your relationships and your health. Even if your anger is justified, you will feel better if you choose only your most important battles and let go of the rest.
• Is too intense. Very intense anger is rarely a good thing. Anger triggers an adrenalin response and all kinds of physiological reactions (e.g., heart pumps faster, breathing speeds up, etc.). When we become very angry, we are also much more likely to act on impulse and do or say something we’ll later regret.
• Lasts too long. When angry feelings last for a long time, they are hard on your mood and on your body. When you stay angry, the littlest thing can really set you off.
• Leads to aggression. We are more likely to become aggressive when our anger is very intense. Lashing out at others either verbally or physically is an ineffective way to deal with conflict. When anger leads to aggression, no one benefits.
• Disrupts work or relationships. Intense and frequent anger can lead to problems in your relationships with co-workers, family members and friends. At its worst, anger can lead to the loss of employment and damage or destroy important relationships.
It’s inevitable that sometimes you’ll feel anger. What’s not inevitable is how you process and express your anger. Anger is problematic when we allow it to dictate our behaviours rather than using its wisdom and choosing our own behaviours. Those behaviours exist on a continuum and vary in severity. The intensity of behaviour can include motivation, inspiration, paralysis, fury or rage.
Emotional reactions are often automatic and involuntary. What we do with this emotion is usually within our control. It’s not about never feeling angry, but instead learning ways to express your anger constructively to minimize the negative impacts angry behaviour can have on you or others.
Anger may also be a symptom of other strong feelings and emotions. In this case, anger would be considered a secondary emotion to fear, hurt, shame or other emotions. We may feel that an expression of anger shows strength, whereas expressions of fear or anxiety, insecurity or hurt are a sign of weakness. This, of course, is not true, but may be a result of our upbringing or experiences. Knowing the underlying emotion means we’re more likely to be able to deal with the issue that caused it more effectively. Part of emotional intelligence is the ability to express all emotions effectively. How we behave once we have experienced an anger-provoking situation can have a big impact on how much anger we experience and how long the feeling lasts. Try to avoid doing the following:
• Bottling it up. One way to deal with anger is to avoid saying anything and walking away mad. This way of coping with anger is usually ineffective, as:
o the problem doesn’t go away,
o when you think about what happened, you get angrier,
o over time, your anger turns into resentment, and
o because you haven’t tried to solve the problem, you may end up feeling discouraged and even worse about yourself.
• Getting defensive. If you react too quickly to feeling angry, you are more likely to express unhelpful hostility towards others. When you come across as bitter or antagonistic, it is more likely the other person will act hostile in return.
• Lashing out. Physical or verbal aggression is rarely the best response to an anger-provoking situation. Aggressive acts are usually impulsive acts that are later regretted. Aggression leads to negative consequences for everyone involved and doesn’t solve anything in the long run.