To understand the real cause of anger, it is important to note that the basic survival behaviour that humans display in the face of imminent danger is Flight, Freeze or Fight.
The emotion of anxiety motivates flight.
The emotion of depression motivates freeze.
The emotion of anger motivates fight.
Frustration and self control are factors that need to be considered in understanding anger.
However, self control determines how anger is expressed. A lack of self control is not the cause of anger.
The cause of anger is our instinct for survival
Anger is a feeling you dont have any choice about because it is an instinct hardwired into all of us just waiting for some event to set it off.
In an event where there is a physical threat and action is required, anger has survival value.
However, in an event where there is no actual threat and talk is required, anger dumbs us down.
When we are angry we can't be creative or strategic; we don't think straight; we don't communicate well. We can easily hurt others (emotionally or physically) when we are angry.
The Role of Frustration
Frustration so often accompanies anger that it often appears as if frustration is the cause of anger.
Hence much of the advice given to people who are angry is to "calm down!".
The fact that high frustration and anger often go together does not mean that high frustration (intense physical sensation) is the cause of anger.
If high frustration is not the cause, then anger management programs focusing on reducing frustration are missing the bus.
Steps to Anger
A traditional psychological view from a Cognitive-Behavioural perspective is that an emotion is the product of mixing a thought with a physical sensation.
Hence it is believed that an angry emotion is caused by angry thought ("I hate him!") combined with intense physical sensations - feeling tense, irritated, agitated. Evolutionary psychology adds the perspective that anger is caused by unconscious life threatening assumptions.
Hence the thoughts that come before angry thinking are mostly anxious survival thoughts. Anxious thoughts are thoughts of loss; of missing out; of being disrespected; of being taken advantage of; of being ignored.
So here is an example to illustrate the steps that lead to anger.
Step 1. (He is always late) ---- physical sensation is experienced (tense, agitated) ---- assumption occurs unconsciously and consciously (he didn't care enough to ring) leads to anxious emotion of unimportance (loss of self worth value).
Step 2. (Loss of self worth or value) ---- physical sensation (increased tension, agitation) ----- assumption (both unconscious and conscious) occurs (he is a user and thinks only about himself) and leads to angry emotion (loss of self control).
To effectively work with anger, we need to work on reducing anxiety (Step 1). Fact is, angry people are anxious. Reduce the anxiety and the anger will reduce as well.
Managing anger in children, teenagers and adults is not only about teaching skills to calm down and to better self control. It also needs to be about reducing the anxious perceptions that occur during events that lead to the instinctive need for anger.