Understanding anger isn’t just about triggers. It is also important to look at the basic beliefs you have about yourself.

Consider this scenario. Paul’s daily commute involves a drive to the station. On

average this takes him 25 minutes, but on a good day he can do the journey in 15.

Often Paul is sensible and he leaves himself enough time. But let’s imagine a day

when he errs on the side of optimism as he sometimes does, and imagines that

he will be able to get there in the quickest possible time. And then, halfway to

the station, Paul finds himself stuck in heavy traffic.

 

How does Paul behave when this happens? Ahead of him there is a line of traffic,

backed up from some traffic lights. It is crawling forward, maddeningly slowly.

Then the person in front of Paul fails to notice that the car in front of them has

moved forward and is slow to move off. Paul is suddenly furious. He leans on the

horn. He shouts abuse at the driver in front. He pounds his own steering wheel in

But what is the actual cause of Paul’s anger? The simplest answer to this is that

the driver who hasn’t moved is making Paul angry. But is that really the cause?

The driver has delayed him by a few seconds. He hasn’t really affected the time

when Paul is going to arrive at the station.

 

So is it more accurate to say that the clogged traffic is the trigger for Paul’s rage?

Yes, perhaps. But the traffic is something that is to be expected. Heavy traffic in

urban areas isn’t a once in a blue moon thing. It is a common feature of modern

British life. Why is Paul angered by something that is actually a normal and

predictable phenomenon?

 

The truest answer to what is making Paul angry, I would argue, is that he is

angry with himself. Somewhere in his mind Paul knows that he was naïve, stupid

even, to assume that the journey to the station would be an easy one. Sure it can

be a quick drive sometimes. But there are enough occasions when it isn’t, to

make it sensible to build a bit of extra driving time into your plans. Paul didn’t do

that and he feels furious with himself for his own short-sightedness.

Being angry with ourselves is one of most common, and most potent, causes of

anger. For many of us there is something uniquely difficult about feeling that we

have messed up. For some people it involves a powerful feeling of shame. For

some it feels almost is if someone is actually telling them that they were foolish

or inadequate in some way.

 

Usually this kind of self-criticism has profound roots. Many of us carry around

deeply rooted, highly self-critical, beliefs about ourselves – the ‘I’m rubbish’, ‘I’m

useless’ way of thinking. Sometimes we are only dimly that these beliefs are

actually there. But when they are, making mistakes about something like your

journey time to the station will hit you with a nasty stab of self-loathing. In

short, when looking at your anger dig deep into how you think about yourself.

Self-criticism is the foundation stone of a lot of angry feelings.

Understanding anger isn’t just about triggers. It is also important to look at the basic beliefs you have about yourself.