My last few posts have discussed ways to deal with anger using “after-the-fact” anger strategies, when an episode of anger has already occurred. But what are triggers that prompt an episode of anger?
Knowing triggers can prevent an anger outburst
You may remember, in an earlier post, I described the neurological process of anger and defined it as the result of complex emotionally charged thoughts that are triggered by something in the sphere of one’s life. Rather than handling anger issues after the fact, it is far better to prevent an angry outburst from happening.
In order to circumvent anger, one would have to be intentionally aware of triggers that cause it to erupt. Therefore, to cut off the anger process in its early phases, a good understanding of these triggers is essential.
Triggers are unique to each person
There are many ways that our brains can be triggered, and these triggers are usually different from person to person based on individual life experiences. For instance, if you were bullied significantly during your childhood, your triggers will be intense towards someone who is controlling or threatening.
Here are common triggers to anger:
- Violation of your personal space
- Abusive language
- Labeling, shaming, blaming
- Physical threats
- Relationship disputes
- Constant disappointment
- Lack of control, and
- Some individuals, exclusively
These triggers are ways that someone can experience a complete amygdala hijacking (I also find that adults who have had certain volatile childhood experiences can become very angry when those situations are recreated in their current lives).
It is important for us to realize what our triggers are, to be aware of what issues in our lives promote a high alert in our brains and send us over the edge. Then, once we identify our triggers, it is beneficial to determine why these triggers cause such an emotionally charged response.
Further, it may be helpful to write a list of your triggers as you begin to recognize them so you can be prepared to ACE your anger.
You can anticipate your anger
Understanding the underlying reasons for our triggers allows us to anticipate potential anger episodes. When we understand our triggers, we are able to ACE our anger (keep the process in the cortex instead of the limbic system), and provide an intentional response, hopefully aborting the episode.
If we are attuned and aware of our triggers, we are better able to predict our own response and make choices not to respond in an angry manner. This means that we will be:
- observational about what is going on to trigger us
- take measures to talk ourselves into a more acceptable response that will allow us to be in control of how we are reacting to the situation.
Being more in charge of your reaction during anger comes from the self-control you maintain in understanding what happens in your brain, and in knowing and understanding your triggers. Your thoughts and emotions remain in your cortex where you are able to be strategic and less emotionally charged.
A solution that can help the world
It may sound somewhat simplistic, but quite honestly, our world would be a totally different place if we were aware of what triggers our angry outbursts, or even allows us to quietly withdraw. Then, we can put a strategy in place that would permit us to remain in the thinking part of our brains and to make Assessments, Choices and Execute the Choices (ACEing) which keep us in a much calmer place.
So, for yourself (or someone you are helping) take time to identify triggers and begin the process that can lead to greater control of your emotions.
Coming next: anger as a family legacy
Some people have a significant family history of anger. That kind of family legacy adds a different level of anger issues. I will discuss anger as a family legacy in my next post to help those who have had a history of family anger.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Some information taken from Understanding Anger, 2004, Diane Wagenhals.