By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Knowing your anger triggers — the events and situations that make you mad — is important because you’ll respond more effectively to your anger when you feel prepared for it. Anticipating the possibility of anger increases your ability to express it more constructively. Here are some common anger triggers.

Being treated unfairly

Many people feel annoyed, irritated, or even enraged whenever something unfair happens to them. Unfortunately, unfair events occur to everyone and even fairly often. Here are a few common examples:

  • Someone cuts in front of you at the movie theater line.

  • A teacher gives you what seems clearly to be an unfair grade.

  • Your boss gives you an inaccurate evaluation at work.

  • A policeman gives you a ticket when you know you weren’t speeding.

No matter what response you have to unfairness, what matters is whether your reaction is mild, productive, or out of proportion to what happened.

Responding to time pressure and frustrations

Today’s world is a busy place. People feel pressure to multitask and constantly increase their work output. But things inevitably get in the way of making progress. Examples of such interruptions include

  • Leaving a bit late to work and running into a huge traffic snarl

  • Running late for a plane and getting selected for extra screening by ­security

  • Having family members or friends constantly text you while you’re working

  • Having a contractor for your house project fail to show when you had set the whole morning aside to wait

  • Being placed on hold for 45 minutes and then having your call suddenly disconnected

Are events like these frustrating? You bet. However, they happen to everyone, and they happen no matter what you do to prevent them.

You may be able to set limits in a useful way for some types of interruptions. For example, you may be able to tell family members you need to have them stop texting you at work. However, numerous delays and frustrations inevitably happen. Allowing anger to run out of control won’t help; instead, it will merely flood you with unnecessary stress.

Experiencing dishonesty or disappointment

When people let you down, whether they renege on a promise or simply lie, it’s pretty common to feel annoyed, upset, or angry. And most people encounter these events off and on throughout their lives. For example:

  • Your partner or spouse cheats on you.

  • Your boss fails to promote you or give you a raise as promised.

  • A close friend forgets your birthday.

  • A friend fails to help with moving as she said she would.

  • A coworker makes up a lie to get out of work one day.

  • Your kid tells a lie about hitting his brother.

Of course, it’s normal to feel irritated or even angry about all these triggers. However, you should try to figure out which types of events happen to you the most often and, more importantly, cause you the most anger.

Encountering threats to self-esteem

People like to feel reasonably good about themselves. Even people who have low self-esteem usually don’t like to experience put-downs and criticism. Some people react to self-esteem threats with sadness and/or self-loathing, whereas others respond with anger. These threats can be either realistic and deserved or quite unfair. A few examples of self-esteem threats include

  • Receiving a bad grade or evaluation

  • Getting insulted or disrespected

  • Making a mistake in front of other people

  • Spilling wine on your neighbor’s carpet

  • Getting rejected

  • Not getting picked for the sports team

  • Losing an election

Running into prejudice and discrimination

A few special historic figures, such as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, have channeled their anger and rage into remarkable, world-changing movements. Most people who face discrimination and prejudice feel powerless and unable to change their world. They respond with irritation, anger, rage, or even despair. The nature of discrimination or prejudice can be subtle or blatant. Here are the most common themes of unfair treatment:

  • Racial or ethnic differences

  • Sexism

  • Sexual orientation

  • Nationalism

  • Classism

  • Disability

  • Religious beliefs

  • Appearance (such as height and obesity)

You probably realize that this list of common prejudices could be endless. Some people even prejudge others based on the TV news shows they choose to watch.

Anger can be triggered either by being intolerant or prejudiced or being the victim of intolerance or prejudice.

Getting attacked

Violence permeates the world. Being the victim of violence or abuse naturally creates anger, although some people respond with anxiety and/or depression. Chronic abuse changes victims into abusers in some cases. Abuse takes many forms and ranges from subtle to blatant. The following are broad categories of abuse or attack:

  • Partnership or domestic violence

  • Partnership or domestic verbal abuse

  • Child abuse

  • Assault and battery

  • Rape or sexual abuse

  • War trauma

  • Verbal intimidation

  • Genocide

  • Random violence and accidents

Like prejudice and discrimination, you may be the perpetrator or the victim, either one of which may involve substantial anger. Look into your heart to determine whether you’ve been an abuser, a victim, or both.