Anger is a normal emotion that people experience as part of everyday life. Anger, like any emotion, sits on a spectrum. The different levels of anger may range from being annoyed to rage. However, concern arises when we start to notice ourselves not making sense of why we are angry.
Why do I feel angry?
Anger can be thought of as a primary and secondary emotion. Each of these types of emotion helps to explain different situations that lead us to feel angry.
Accidentally stubbing your toe on the corner of your table which activates your pain sensors is an example of how anger as a primary emotion is triggered.
An example of anger as a secondary emotion may be if in the same situation you become angry with yourself because you think “I should not have stubbed my toe, what an idiot.”
Yet another example of anger as a secondary emotion could be anger as a result of other emotions. For example, if your partner cheats on you, your feelings will probably be hurt that may manifest itself later into anger.
An appraisal approach has been theorized by Wranik and Scherer (2009) as an explanation of why we feel angry. It is explained that our minds go through a process of asking ourselves 4 appraisal questions. These are:
- How relevant is this situation/event for me? (relevance detection)
This question determines how much this situation/event is predictable or pleasant, and if it is relevant to us.
- What are the implications/consequences of this event? What is the effect of this on my well-being and goals? (implications)
This helps us assess whether there was intentionality behind those involved in the event, how this event may or may not help my future needs, and whether it requires action.
- How well can I cope or adjust to these implications/consequences? (coping potential)
This asks about whether we believe we have the power, control, or internal strategies to manage the situation.
- What is the significance of this event to my sense of self and societal ideas?
This challenges our perspective of how this event reflects upon your own values (internal standards) and societal norms and expectations (external standards).
If our responses to these questions are unfavourable, this may lead us to feel angry.
In summarising the model above, one aspect of feeling angry is related to the appraisal that an important goal has been intentionally obstructed by someone or something. Intentional goal obstruction can also be viewed as something we do to ourselves.
Other factors that play a part in anger are from our life experiences. Trauma and distressing events often lead to involuntary anger. Other emotional states such as depression, anxiety, and grief can also come across like anger.
What can I do about this?
Taking a moment to examine and reflect on your appraisal process using the questions above may help you to gauge whether anger in that situation is helpful, and also if the level of anger is proportional to the event.
Seeking professional help with a psychologist may help to provide clarity on underlying reasons that may be contributing to the anger.
If you are also experiencing mental health symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, or there is a history of trauma or distressing events, it may be important for you to explore your anger in context of these concerns with a psychologist.
Wranik, T., & Scherer, K. R. (2009). Why Do I Get Angry? A Componential Appraisal Approach. International Handbook of Anger, 243–266. https://doi.org.au10.1007/978-0-387-89676-2_15