Lesson Two

LESSON 2: Events and Cues – A Conceptual Framework for Understanding Anger

Events That Trigger Anger

When you get angry, it is because an event has provoked your anger. For example, you may get angry when the bus is late, when you have to wait in line at the grocery store, or when a neighbor plays his stereo too loud. Everyday events such as these can provoke your anger.

Many times, specific events touch on sensitive areas in your life. These sensitive areas or red flags usually refer to long-standing issues that can easily lead to anger. For example, some of us may have been slow readers as children and may have been sensitive about our reading ability. Although we may read well now as adults, we may continue to be sensitive about this issue. This sensitivity may be revealed when someone rushes us while we are completing an application or reviewing a memorandum and may trigger anger because we may feel that we are being criticized or judged as we were when we were children. This sensitivity may also show itself in a more direct way, such as when someone calls us slow or stupid.

In addition to events experienced in the here-and-now, you may also recall an event from your past that made you angry. You might remember, for example, how the bus always seemed to be late before you left home for an important appointment. Just thinking about how late the bus was in the past can make you angry in the present. Another example may be when you recall a situation involving a family member who betrayed or hurt you in some way. Remembering this situation, or this family member, can raise your number on the anger meter. Here are examples of events or issues that can trigger anger:

  • Long waits to see your doctor
  • Traffic congestion
  • Crowded buses
  • A friend joking about a sensitive topic
  • A friend not paying back money owed to you
  • Being wrongly accused
  • Having to clean up someone else’s mess
  • Having an untidy roommate
  • Having a neighbor who plays the stereo too loud
  • Being placed on hold for long periods of time while on the telephone
  • Being given wrong directions
  • Rumors being spread about your relapse that are not true
  • Having money or property stolen from you

What are some of the general events and situations that trigger anger for you?





What are some of the red-flag events and situations that trigger anger for you?





Cues to Anger

A second important aspect of anger monitoring is to identify the cues that occur in response to the anger-provoking event. These cues serve as warning signs that you have become angry and that your anger is continuing to escalate. They can be broken down into four cue categories:

physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive (or thought) cues.

– Physical Cues.

Physical cues involve the way our bodies respond when we become angry. For example, our heart rates may increase, we may feel tightness in our chests, or we may feel hot and flushed. These physical cues can also warn us that our anger is escalating out of control or approaching a 10 on the anger meter. We can learn to identify these cues when they occur in response to an anger-provoking event.

Can you identify some of the physical cues that you have experienced when you have become angry? (how your body responds; for example, with an increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, feeling hot or flushed)





– Behavioral Cues.

Behavioral cues involve the behaviors we display when we get angry, which are observed by other people around us. For example, we may clench our fists, pace back and forth, slam a door, or raise our voices. These behavioral responses are the second cue of our anger. As with physical cues, they are warning signs that we may be approaching a 10 on the anger meter.

What are some of the behavioral cues that you have experienced when you have become angry? (what you do; for example, clench your fists, raise your voice, stare at others)





– Emotional Cues.

Emotional cues involve other feelings that may occur concurrently with our anger. For example, we may become angry when we feel abandoned, afraid, discounted, disrespected, guilty, humiliated, impatient, insecure, jealous, or rejected. These kinds of feelings are the core or primary feelings that underlie our anger. It is easy to discount these primary feelings because they often make us feel vulnerable. An important component of anger management is to become aware of, and to recognize, the primary feelings that underlie our anger. In this group, we will view anger as a secondary emotion to these more primary feelings.

Can you identify some of the primary feelings that you have experienced during an episode of anger? (other feelings that may occur along with anger; e.g., fear, hurt, jealousy, disrespect)





– Cognitive Cues.

Cognitive cues refer to the thoughts that occur in response to the anger provoking event. When people become angry, they may interpret events in certain ways. For example, we may interpret a friend’s comments as criticism, or we may interpret the actions of others as demeaning, humiliating, or controlling. Some people call these thoughts self-talk because they resemble a conversation we are having with ourselves. For people with an problems, this self-talk is usually very critical and hostile in tone and content. It reflects beliefs about the way they think the world should be; beliefs about people, places, and things.

Closely related to thoughts and self-talk are fantasies and images. We view fantasies and images as other types of cognitive cues that can indicate an escalation of anger. For example, we might fantasize about seeking revenge on a perceived enemy or imagine or visualize our spouse having an affair. When we have these fantasies and images, our anger can escalate even more rapidly.

Can you think of other examples of cognitive or thought cues? (what you think about in response to the event; e.g., hostile self-talk, images of aggression and revenge)





Weekly Homework

Starting this week, you will now start to monitor your anger and identify anger-provoking events and situations.

At the end of each week, you are encouraged to monitor and record the highest number you reach on the anger meter for each day of the upcoming week after each lesson.

For the day with the highest number, identify the event that triggered your anger, the cues that were associated with your anger, and the strategies you used to manage your anger in response to the event.

Use the following questions for your weekly review before completing the next lesson:

  1. What was the highest number you reached on the anger meter during the past week?

  2. What was the event that triggered your anger?




  3. What cues were associated with the anger-provoking event?

    Physical cues


    Behavioral cues


    Emotional cues


    Cognitive cues


  4. What strategies did you use to avoid reaching 10 on the anger meter?




For each day of the upcoming week, monitor and record the highest number you reach on the anger meter.

_____ M _____ T _____ W _____ Th _____ F _____ Sat _____ Sun


Review – Four Cue Categories

1. Physical (examples: rapid heartbeat, tightness in chest, feeling hot or flushed)

2. Behavioral (examples: pacing, clenching fists, raising voice, staring)

3. Emotional (examples: fear, hurt, jealousy, guilt)

4. Cognitive/Thoughts (examples: hostile self-talk, images of aggression and revenge)