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Anger Diary And Triggers

Harry Mills, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 8th 2016

Anger Plan

hands writing on paperAnger ratings help you to become aware of your anger, but they won't help you stop being angry. In order to lessen your anger before it gets out of control, you'll want to develop an anger plan listing out things you can do to calm yourself down. For example, part of your plan might be to take a 'time-out' when you start getting upset; to temporarily remove yourself from the situation that is provoking you so as to provide yourself with a space in which to calm down. Another way to lessen anger might be to move the conversation away from what is bothering you and towards a more neutral topic. There are lots of things you can do to lessen an angry situation once you start thinking about it. The best of them help you to effectively keep yourself calm without damaging your pride. As each person has unique strengths and weaknesses, each person's list of strategies for defusing anger will be slightly different.

Anger Diary

Rage ratings help you understand just how angry you feel in certain situations, but they don't do much for predicting what situations are likely to set you off in the first place. "Prevention is the best medicine" as the saying goes. Being able to predict what situations will cause anger will be a tremendous tool in helping you keep your temper under control. You can choose to avoid these provoking situations entirely, or, if that is not possible, you can prepare yourself with ways to lower the danger of your losing control prior to entering your dangerous situations.

An anger diary or journal can be a useful tool to help you track your experiences with anger. Make daily entries into your diary that document the situations you encounter that angered you. In order to make the diary most useful, there are particular types of information you'll want to record for each provoking event:

  • What happened that gave you pain or made you feel stressed?
  • What was provocative about the situation?
  • What thoughts were going through your mind?
  • On a scale of 0-100 how angry did you feel? (Rage Rating)
  • What was the effect of your behavior on you, on others?
  • Were you already nervous, tense, and pressured about something else? If so, what?
  • How did your body respond? Did you notice your heart racing, your palms sweating?
  • Did your head hurt?
  • Did you want to flee from the pressure or perhaps throw something?
  • Did you feel like screaming or did you notice that you were slamming doors or becoming sarcastic?
  • What did you actually do?
  • How did you feel immediately after the episode?
  • Did you feel differently later in the day or the next day?
  • What were the consequences of the incident?

After recording this information for a week or so, review your diary and look for reoccurring themes or "triggers" that make you mad. Triggers often fall into one of several categories, including:

  • Other people doing or not doing what you expect them to do
  • Situational events that get in your way, such as traffic jams, computer problems, ringing telephones, etc.
  • People taking advantage of you
  • Being angry and disappointed in yourself
  • A combination of any of the above

You'll also want to look for anger-triggering thoughts that reoccur again and again. You can recognize these particular thoughts because they will generally involve one or more of the following themes:

  • The perception that you have been victimized or harmed.
  • The belief that the person who provoked you meant you deliberately harm.
  • The belief that the OTHER person was wrong, that they should have behaved differently, that they were evil or stupid to harm you.

Use your anger diary to identify instances when you felt harm was done to you, why you thought the act was done deliberately, and why you thought that it was wrong. Tracking your thought patterns will help you begin to see the common themes in your experiences. Here are some examples of trigger thoughts to get you started:

  • People do not pay enough attention to your needs; they do not care about you.
  • People demand/expect too much of you.
  • People are rude or inconsiderate.
  • People take advantage or use you.
  • People are selfish; they think only of themselves.
  • People criticize, shame, or disrespect you.
  • People are cruel or mean.
  • People are incompetent or stupid.
  • People are thoughtless and irresponsible.
  • People do not help you.
  • People are lazy and refuse to do their share.
  • People try to control or manipulate you.
  • People cause you to have to wait.

And here is a list of situations where these themes are likely to occur:

  • When stating a difference of opinion
  • While receiving and expressing negative feelings
  • While dealing with someone who refuses to cooperate
  • While speaking about something that annoys you
  • While protesting a rip-off
  • When saying "No"
  • While responding to undeserved criticism
  • When asking for cooperation
  • While proposing an idea

At the base of all trigger thoughts is the notion that people are not behaving properly and that you have every right to be angry with them. Most people find a few thoughts that frequently trigger their anger. Look for instances of situations that trigger your anger and see if you can't identify the particular set of triggering thoughts that really do it for you.

The purpose of your diary is to help you identify patterns of behavior and specific recurring elements that really "push your buttons". The more accurately you can observe your feelings and behaviors and the more detailed your anger diary, the more likely you will be able to identify anger triggers and how you react to them. Understanding the ways in which you experience anger can help you plan strategies to cope with your emotions in more productive ways.

Deactivating Your Triggers

Once you have identified some of your triggers and have begun to understand your trigger themes, you will be able to be work more constructively to control your response to those triggers. Anger-triggering thoughts occur automatically and almost instantaneously, so it will take some conscious work on your part to identify them and to substitute something more to your liking.

For example, imagine you have just been cut off while driving on the freeway. Take notice of the physiological anger signs that tell you you're upset. Take a deep breath, and try to look at the situation rationally instead of going with your first impulse to attack. Instead of automatically assuming the driver that cut you off did it deliberately (which might be your first thought), consider the possibility that the other guy did not see you. If you can consider that the provoking action was not aimed at you personally or was a mistake, it will be easier for you to tolerate.

When you feel justified in your anger, you are giving yourself permission to feel angry, whether or not it makes sense for you to feel that way. The faster you stop justifying your anger, the sooner it will begin to recede. While all anger you feel is legitimate in that it is the reality of how you feel at a particular time, this does not mean that your choosing to act on your anger feelings is always justified. Remember that being angry is quite bad for your health, and destructive towards your important relationships with others.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

alone - - Jul 30th 2013

I know I have serious anger disease that infects everyone I'm around. I desperately get into reltonships without getting to know who i'm with. I'm currently in a 5 yr. relationship with a set of twins.the mother of my twins and I are two different people. I'm not a \\

adult tantrums - desert voice - Oct 8th 2011

Today, for the first time ever, I had an awakening regarding the nature of adult uncontrolled rage. A twenty-some mother ascended the bus, went to the driver, and asked to buy the ticket with a 20 dollar bill. No luck. He had no change, he angrily retorted. The woman went into an escalating rage. I followed her response with a growing interest. She raised her voice with every sentence. All the eyes were now on her every word. She "would not pay the fine if caught without fare." She was telegraphing her unresolved, psycho-somatic "problem"! She was right: the driver should have change, given the stiff finess for lacking ticket. She felt that she was right, and that gave her the right to demand an answer there and there, in "righteous" anger.  Her countenance  was transfigured by anger. She was pale. She wrote downe the bus company's address. She was shaking. her eyes were rolling with indignation.  She was out of control when she returned to her mother, sitting a few feet away. She was furiously arguing with her mother, convincing her that "something needs to be done." The adrenaline caused her to order her mother "to put the 20-dollar bill, which she still grasped in her hand,  in the mother's  pocket. She felt courageous enough to bent the mother's will to her will. The mother smiled calmly: the mother was an adult. She knew her daughter's "problem", and calmly refused. Why are you giving this to me?  The daughter, by that time was reavealed to all the passengers as "an not-yet-cured immature adult tantrum thrower." I was stunned. A revelation came to me: that woman will only be cured by a slap in the face and a solid spanking from her husband, soon she gets home. The mother's expression seemed to confirm this insight! She would probably inform the husband that a "tantrum" occurred in the bus. The younger woman was "in trouble." I even read it in her face: her face said to all of us that she would soon be getting what she asked for. It was as if she were saying: "Mommie, don't tell." Did she asked for a spanking on purpose? No! The driver had provoked her ... to have some fun. It was clear like day! He made her anger to blaze! He recognized her nature! She belonged to the group of people who need to be spanked ... and they know it ... but can do nothing about it. When they are told "no," they explode in a quickly escallating, uncontrollable anger at the latest provocation, like toddlers! They are "adult toddlers" in fact, ones that have never grown up! They need thoughtful but inflexible husbands! But the psychiatrists, for reasons of political correctness, keep denying this primordial human necessity, not for all people, but certainly for some! That woman, I saw, fit the description!

afraid to be alone - ava bourne - Apr 2nd 2010

I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 14 along with clnical depression.  Neither my parents or the counselor validated WHY I was a nervous wreck as a child so I began a constant journey of religion, spirituality, and self-abuse ranging all over the spectrum.  I was married early to find that he was leading another life.  I moved to a different country after divorcing at 20 to take care of my sick mother.  I married again at 24 to find that he was leading another life as well.  I now find myself cynical and stand-offish yet I very much long for the closeness of friends and my current boyfriend who is desperate to help me.  I hadn't realized that my anger and betrayal experiences had shaped me into a walking conundrum.  This isn't the first time I've considered that I may have anger issues, but recently I've started lashing out physically and I'm afraid of really hurting someone and eventually becoming a person I don't want to be. 

rage - tenzing56 - Jan 11th 2010

I have destroyed my life by uncontrolled anger. I never took time to find out the cause. I have always been running away from myself, self destructing along the way. I have lost friends, my job, my health, my mental health due to this. How can i move on ? I attempted suicide, ended up in psychiatric care. Got out and ran myself so hard physically that i injured both my knees permanently. Have been bi-polar for years without working it out, now clinically depressed also. I avoided marriage because of this, hid it for years, but it exploded in my face last year. My reputation is shredded, credibility ruined, i'm like a dead man walking.

pretty precise for me - give me wings - Oct 17th 2009

I've just read your list of "triggers", and I must say, it was pretty precise for me. I struggle with my anger, and I am currently to enroll in an anger mgmt. class. I do hope and pray that this will help me deal with the underlying issues I am having particularly with "friends", and now, social circle. I'm a mess right now, but extremely hopeful as well.


Thanks - Robin - Jul 23rd 2009

You web page is very helpful. I have struggled with anger my entire life. The smallest thing can set me off and I really never understood why, much less how to manage it. I will spend a lot of time thinking about what I read here tonight and I have bookmarked this site as I plan to return again and again as I learn to control my anger and improve my life.  

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