Why do we get angry?

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. “

Wouldn’t it be great if we could control our temper at all times? If emails or conversations never resulted in our anger emotion being triggered and us feeding this feeling by responding with an aggressive language or a snappy, self-serving response?

Humans have a common set of primary emotions that become triggered due to external circumstances:

  1. Happiness: Happiness is triggered by things we like. Too little happiness is bad, causes depression and lack of will to live. Too much Happiness can be bad, it can make us take unreasonable risks and pay the consequences.
  2. Sadness: Sadness is triggered by a loss we don’t accept. Too little sadness is bad, sadness helps cope and empathise with others. Too much sadness causes depression.
  3. Fear: Fear is triggered by a threat. Being unable to feel fear will lead to foolishness and taking unreasonable risks and pay the consequences. Being too fearsome will incapacitate you from living a normal life.
  4. Disgust: Disgust helps us avoid certain parts of something. For example I may not like the noise someone makes while chewing food, but I can separate that from the whole person, I don’t reject the whole person, just a small part.
  5. Anger: Anger is triggered by disrespect of boundaries, either someone does not respect a limit you impose on them or someone is imposing a limit on you that you don’t accept.

Us humans cannot control feeling the emotion, it being triggered, what we can work on is what we do with it after it has been triggered.

  1. When happiness is triggered we can work on taking care of how we express it to avoid making others feel sad or angry. For example it’s important to be a good winner and not rub it in your opponent’s face when you win.
  2. When sadness is triggered we can work on understanding what loss we are not accepting, and finding ways to cope.
  3. When fear is triggered we can work on measuring the size of the threat. More often than not the scenarios we play in our minds are worse than the real outcome.
  4. When disgust is triggered we can work on understanding which part of the whole we don’t like and make a differentiation. Accept the person even if they wear a watch of your rival football team.
  5. When anger is triggered we can analyse which boundary the other person is breaching or imposing on you. Figure out why and what stories are you telling yourself: Is the other person a villain? (Is the other evil or stupid?) Are you a victim? (I am good, this is happening to me) Are you helpless? (Are all courses of action pointless?) Is the boundary being pressed immovable? Should you not accommodate?

In particular, email is a wonderful tool to ignite the flames of angry discussion, since email is always interpreted (what did he mean by “fine”, does he think I’m stupid? I’m sure he thinks I’m stupid! Arggg, I’ll respond copying his boss!). It would be great if we were all more conscious of our emotional intelligence, and used it to remove the obstacles limiting us from perfect collaboration.



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