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Overview of the Stages of Anger

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  • 0:00 What Is Anger?
  • 0:51 Stages of Anger
  • 1:24 The Buildup and the Spark
  • 2:51 The Explosion and the…
  • 3:38 An Example
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Have you ever been so angry you wanted to explode? You're not alone! In this lesson, you will learn about the four stages of anger and how they are connected.

What Is Anger?

Anger is an intense feeling of deep aggravation, irritation, or annoyance about or toward someone or something. Anger is a complex emotion with different levels, and it can be helpful to think about these levels as if they were structured the same way as a thermometer. When body temperature is normal (around 98 degrees F for most people), a person is calm with no traces of anger. As the temperature rises a little--even just one degree to 99 degrees F--you could say that the person's anger thermometer is at a level of mild annoyance. But, if the temperature shoots up to 105 degrees F, a person's anger thermometer would be at a level of being enraged or livid.

Many people get the levels of anger confused with the stages of anger. The levels of anger denote the intensity of the feelings. The stages of anger, on the other hand, represent the lifespan of an angry emotional reaction.

Stages of Anger

Just like a person moves from the newborn baby stage to being a child, adult, and senior, anger has a beginning, middle, and end stage as well. Dr. Timothy Murphy, a psychologist, wrote a book about these stages. When someone gets angry, that person's anger goes through a series of steps. You might be wondering why this would be important - well, for starters, if someone is able to notice the first stage of anger, they might be able to intervene and prevent things from getting a lot worse.

The four stages that we will look at more closely are the buildup, the spark, the explosion, and the aftermath.

The Buildup

The buildup is the foundation for the anger outburst. If an angry reaction was a house, the buildup would be the cement on which the house is built. The buildup is made up of many factors that affect how one person will react, including:

  • Self-esteem
  • Expectations
  • Coping skills
  • Stressors
  • Past experiences
  • Past reactions
  • Attitude

The buildup stage has implications in anger management with children because parents, teachers, counselors, and other caregivers can look at all of the above contributing factors and have a better understanding of why a child may have a certain angry reaction to a situation or event.

The Spark

Seven-year-old Sonya is self-conscious about her thick, curly hair (she'll love it when she is older!) and every time another child says something about her hair, she reacts with anger. Sonya's spark, or anger trigger, is when people talk about her hair.

Sparks can also be thoughts. Ronald was sitting in class and started thinking about this morning when his mother harshly spanked him. Just thinking about his mom makes him angry, and the teacher does not understand what has caused this sudden reaction.

The spark also has implications for anger management, especially with children. If a child's angry reaction to something seems to come way out of left field, it's important to look beyond the trigger or spark to the buildup as well. In the example with Sonya, her buildup was poor self-esteem and past experiences of being made fun of for her hair. In the example with Ronald, his buildup was past experiences of being abused by his mother, stressors at home, and poor self-esteem.

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