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What Triggers Anger

Learn what triggers anger from anger management expert Dr. J. Ryan Fuller in this Howcast video.


I'm Ryan Fowler. I'm a clinical psychologist with a private practice in New York City. When we look at anger, it's first important to understand one model at least for explaining how anger takes place. Typically when we talk about anger triggers, you might think about those... as we look at the ABC model. The ‘A’ would be the activating event and these are sort of the external triggers that are most oftentimes other people doing things that are against our wants and our goals. So you may be driving somewhere in quite a rush under time constraint and someone cuts off or begin slowing down in the lane. There is a trigger. It’s an activating event. Second piece that might happen today though is for people who struggle with anger management issues, they often have what's called a hostile attribution bias.

There's a tendency even when something might be neutral or ambiguous to assume the other person in fact intends to be doing harm to that person. So that's the activating event. But with those two things alone, a person still may not become that upset unless at ‘B.’ So first would be the activating event, now we have the ‘B.’ I have certain beliefs about that. So one of the most common is the belief that's called the ‘demand’ or ‘a should.’ So I believe people should always be courteous on the road. They should be keeping in mind there’re people behind them and that other people may have destinations that are important as well. If I have that unconditional demand, that's likely going to exacerbate and increase my tendency at ‘C’ the emotional consequence to become anger and to intensify that. So the activating event, the belief about the event or the other person and then ‘C’ the consequences.

And I'm going to give you three other irrational beliefs in the ‘B’ column. So first we have a person shouldn't act that way. They should be polite and courteous under all circumstances. Second is sort of an exaggeration or magnification of how bad or negative the event really is. So I might use words like awful or catastrophe or call it terrible. When in fact showing up late to something although it an inconvenience, certainly isn't awful when I compare it to other kinds of incidence in the world. The third might be little frustration times. And this is really an underestimation of my own capacity to cope with the situation. So since It's like "I can't tolerate this." "I can't stand this." "This is unbearable." Really those are not logical or realistic because in fact, I've been in lots of traffic jams. I've been late numerous times and I withstood it every single time but what we know is when clients come in with anger management issues and they tell themselves repeatedly they can't stand this event, they can't stand how aversive this is, in fact what happens is their anger intensity and the consequence column comes up.

Finally one of the most common as shown by research for people who have anger management issues is that global evaluation of worth. And in the case of anger, it's most frequently basically an inflammatory label put on that other person. So this person shouldn't have cut me off. They should always be polite and courteous. “This is really horrible," "I can't stand it." And "that person is a total jerk" or some expletive. And that kind of inflammatory label is highly associated with people who have intense anger at other people. So we’ve the activating event, the belief about the event or the other person and finally the emotional consequence and the ABC model of anger.

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