Recognizing and Understanding Our Anger

Delving into our anger and what sets it off

Now that we’ve completed Part 1. Intro to Anger and know a bit more about anger in general, we can move toward better understanding what fuels our own anger and how to recognize when it’s beginning to flare up. 

We’ve divided Part 2 into five subsections:

  1. What triggers our anger
  2. What’s often behind our anger
  3. Other factors that influence our anger response 
  4. Common thought patterns that fuel anger
  5. Warning signs of anger

All of these can play a factor in how and when we experience anger. As you go through Part 2, see what resonates the most with you, and you’ll start to develop a better understanding of your anger and how to get a handle on it.


Understanding anger can be difficult, as it’s not always  immediately apparent where it’s coming from. But when we get angry, there is nearly always an underlying want or need that has not been met. 

Sometimes this unmet want or need is something material (like money), or it can be a psychological or emotional need (like wanting to be respected or loved).

These unmet wants and needs tend to surface in reaction to a ‘trigger’ event that is accompanied by difficult emotions. What triggers these feelings differs for each of us, as there are certain circumstances that tend to be common triggers, including:

  • Feeling like we are threatened, disrespected or treated unfairly
  • Feeling afraid
  • Feeling ignored
  • Being interrupted when we are trying to achieve a goal 
  • Feeling powerless (a lack of control) or hopeless
  • Feeling ashamed or humiliated
  • Feeling rejected
  • Feeling devalued or unlovable

Being aware of the circumstances that set our anger off is an important first step in better understanding ourselves.


Anger is almost always triggered by situations or circumstances that bring up difficult emotions for us, like those above. Generally speaking, anger is often tied to three strong emotions: frustration, shame, and powerlessness.


Arguably, the most common issue underlying anger is when our goals are blocked (what is more technically called ‘goal obstruction’).

The problem is that when something occurs to trigger anger in us, we are quick to associate being  obstructed with the person whose actions we perceive as getting in the way of our goal. 

Blaming the person leads to our expressions of anger toward them, when in fact we could and should be directing our energy to the obstruction not the person (to come up with solutions to whatever is getting in our way).


Shame is a feeling of being unworthy or or not good enough. Shame is often mistakenly interchanged with guilt, but they are different emotions. 

“Guilt says I’ve done something wrong; shame says there is something wrong with me. Guilt says I’ve made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake. Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no good.” – John Bradshaw, motivational speaker and author

Anger is often used as a defence to divert attention away from the painful feeling of shame, which stems from the false belief that we are “not enough”. This false belief of unworthiness usually develops at a very young age when we don’t experience feeling like we matter, or are loved, valued, or understood.

Shame and anger have an especially complex relationship. On the one hand, shame often gives rise to anger as a way to protect our vulnerable self, but on the other hand, shame frequently emerges after feeling angry or acting angrily (i.e.,we end up embarrassed by how we feel or act). A vicious cycle is then created between anger and shame.


A sense of powerlessness (not being able to control our situation) is also a major contributor to anger.

When a person or situation makes us feel defeated or powerless in some way, transforming these helpless feelings into anger provides us with a false sense of control.

If anger can make us feel powerful, it can end up controlling us. In a sense, it’s as much of a drug as alcohol or nicotine, with many people becoming “addicted” to anger because of the illusion of its empowering aspects.

Let’s look at some other factors that can also help us understand what’s influencing our anger response.