Why Do We Get Angry over Small Things?

an angry-looking cat to represent people get angry over small things
We've all been there before — fuming over something that, in retrospect, seems completely trivial. Why do we get angry over small things? And what can we do about it?

We’ve all been there before — fuming over something that, in retrospect, seems completely trivial. Why do we get angry over small things? And what can we do about it?

 

Some time ago, the following scenario made me seethe with anger hours after the incident. I’m not an angry person, so the outburst shocked me. After discussing it with my therapist, I realized anger is only the tip of the iceberg of hidden emotions. Since then, I’ve learned to understand and control my anger. As a result, I find it much easier to handle triggering situations. In this post, I’ll share my learning with you.

 

Say you’re driving home on a freeway exit. A driver cuts in front of you at the last minute, and immediately slows down. You hurriedly step on the brake. Your heart leaps and your palms turn sweaty. You stare at the back of the driver, wondering how anyone could behave so recklessly. You might even swear or yell, how dare you!

 

The anger boils inside you long after the offending driver disappears from sight. You can’t think. You replay the scene over and over in your mind. The white-hot explosive energy won’t dissipate.

 

Picture an iceberg floating in the ocean, jagged and unyielding. That’s the white-hot anger you feel. If you flip that iceberg over, you’ll see the underside of anger. They’re the root cause of your angry outburst.

an iceberg flipped over showing its underside
From smithsonianmag.com

The psychology behind why we get angry over small things

 

Let’s use the example above to examine the iceberg of anger.

 

What happens?

 

A reckless driver cuts in front of you. No one is hurt. And likely, you’ll never see that driver again. End of story, except for the fact you can’t let it go.

 

Why do you get so angry?

 

You may have multiple thoughts race through your head:

 

I have so much on my plate that I can’t deal with random threats.

 

It could lead to a road accident where I get injured badly.

 

The driver cuts in front of me, not anyone else in my lane. Am I an easy target?

 

These thoughts reflect the reasons for your angry outburst. Take a look at this anger iceberg illustration. Notice sadness, anxiety, disappointment, guilt, and other hidden emotions often give rise to the white-hot anger we experience.

The Anger Iceberg showing that anger is the tip of the iceberg of hidden emotions
From TherapistAid.com

Considering the reckless driver example, what do your thoughts tell you about the hidden emotions?

 

I have so much on my plate that I can’t deal with random threats.

 

When we’re already stressed or overwhelmed, even the smallest thing can feel too much to handle. This can be especially true if we’re already feeling like we are losing control of our lives.

 

It could lead to a road accident where I get injured badly.

 

Our anger can be a way of protecting ourselves from feeling hurt. If we get angry at someone, it can be a way of deflecting the pain that we would otherwise feel if we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. As illustrated in the anger iceberg, fear can be a powerful source of anger.

 

The driver cuts in front of me, not anyone else in my lane. Am I an easy target?

 

Another reason we get angry over small things is that we personalize everything that happens to us. So even if something has nothing to do with us, we can’t help but take it personally. This can lead to feeling like we’re constantly under attack, making us angry.

 

Sometimes, we might get angry because we feel we’re being mistreated. Feeling like we’re constantly being taken advantage of can lead to resentment and simmering anger.

 

How to deal with getting angry over small things

 

The good news is we can learn to control our anger instead of letting anger control us. Once out of the fight and flight response mode, we can understand our anger and take steps to work through the root causes of our anger. This helps us resolve the issues causing us to get angry in the first place.

 

If you find that you’re regularly getting angry over small things, there are a few things you can do to get your anger under control.

 

First, be aware of what triggers your anger. If you can identify the situations or types of people that tend to make you angry, you can try to avoid them or at least be prepared for them.

 

Second, have a plan for how to deal with your anger when it comes up. This might involve taking some time to cool down before responding to the situation, or it could mean walking away from the situation altogether.

 

Finally, remember you always have a choice in how you respond to anger-inducing situations. Just because you feel angry doesn’t mean you have to act on that anger. Manage your anger and not let it control you, you’ll be much better off in the long run.

 

Regarding strategies to cope with anger, Healthline suggests counting down (or up) to 10. If you’re really mad, start at 100. In the time it takes you to count, your heart rate will slow, and your anger will likely subside.

 

In an article titled I Was a Road Rager. Here’s How I Got It Under Control, the author recommends taking five long, deep breaths while relaxing your arms and face. This calms the angry mind and allows logical thinking to function again.

an image of a pufferfish representing people who go round poking others as a way to protect their vulnerable hearts
By Proton123 from Getty Images

Takeaway points on getting anger under control

 

It’s easy to get angry over small things, especially when we’re already stressed or overwhelmed. But why do we do this? The answer lies in the anger iceberg.

 

On the surface, we see the small things that trigger our anger. But if we dig deeper, we’ll find that there are usually deeper issues at play. Whatever the reason, it’s important to understand why we get angry and to find strategies to deal with that anger.

 

If you’re regularly angry over small things, try these strategies to control your anger:

 

Be aware of what triggers your anger. If you can identify the situations or types of people that tend to make you angry, you can try to avoid them or at least be prepared for them.

 

Have a plan for how to deal with your anger when it comes up. This might involve taking some time to cool down before responding to the situation, or it could mean walking away from the situation altogether.

 

-Remember that you always have a choice in how you respond to anger-inducing situations. Just because you feel angry doesn’t mean you have to act on that anger.

 

So next time you get angry over something small, take a step back and see if you can understand what might be driving that anger. Chances are, it’s not really about what set you off in the first place. And once you realize that, it will be much easier to let go of that anger and move on.

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Dr. Ivy Ge

Dr. Ivy Ge

Doctor of Pharmacy, author of The Art of Good Enough. She writes to inspire women to design their own fate. Her writings and interviews have been featured on MSNBC, Thrive Global, Working Mother magazine, Parentology, and The Times of India.

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