Personal provocation


The feeling when someone did something bad that harmed or offended you. You want to go against this person to stop them or prevent them from doing it again.

You experience anger when you think that someone else has done something bad to you. For example, someone spreads rumors about you, someone intentionally pushes you on the subway, or someone talks to you in a condescending way. Clearly, the word ‘bad’ in this sentence can mean a number of things, respectively, hurting your reputation, hurting you physically, or insulting your intelligence. One factor is always present: you blame the other person for what has happened. In most cases, this is because they deliberately meant to harm, insult or hurt you. However, in some cases you can also get angry if the other person’s bad action was not deliberate: you can get mad if someone accidentally backs their car into yours. In that case you need to feel that they are still somehow to blame – that they acted out of clumsiness, incompetence, ignorance, or in the case of the car, negligence. Only if you feel that the action is completely outside of their fault, for example, if their brakes suddenly malfunctioned, then you would not experience anger.

Not all cases of harm are necessarily bad: the dentist may hurt you, but if you believe that her actions are for your own good in the long run, you would not get angry with her. A child, on the other hand, may not be able to understand this and get mad with the dentist.

People who get angry have a desire to retaliate or punish the other person. On a more physical level, people get the urge to hurt or insult the other person back. Oftentimes this may seem like a primitive response – an eye for an eye – however, several reasons for this response are still relevant in the today’s world. Other people need to know what your boundaries are, to prevent that you become an easy target. In some contexts this may be played out physically, but it can work just as well verbally. If someone finds out that a colleague has been criticizing him behind his back, he may retaliate by giving him a stern warning. Secondly, punishing may have a social function. Most people generally agree which kind of behavior is acceptable and which is not. If someone gets punished, this may prevent them from doing it again, to you or someone else. Even if you are not likely to meet that person ever again, you may go out of your way to punish them. This is sometimes called ‘altruistic punishment’.

In the comic, Murphy is negotiating with the representatives of the company who cleans his company’s offices. Neil accidentally lets slip that the other company was offering a worse deal, which is not the best strategy in a negotiation.

Movie clips

Typical expressions

“What did you say to me?!”

“Now you’re going to get it!”

Murphy's bad day

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Comparisons with other emotions

Anger & Frustration

Frustration and anger can both occur when something stands in the way of achieving your goals. For example, if you are trying to put a child to bed but she refuses and makes a big scene, you can feel both frustrated and angry. In this situation, the frustration is evoked because your goal is being blocked (finishing the bed ritual) and the anger is evoked because you blame this one someone (the child for throwing a tantrum). However, there are numerous situations in which there is someone to blame for something bad that happens, without a goal being blocked. For example, when someone insults or hits you. Similarly, there are situations in which a goal is being blocked, but there is no one to blame: for example, when you can’t convince your colleagues to adopt one of your ideas. Sometimes people’s frustration irrationally turns to anger, for instance when they blame and punish objects for the inability to reach a goal, such as when someone hits the computer monitor when a program is not working well.

Anger & Annoyance

Anger and annoyance can both occur when someone does something that you didn’t want. However, whereas annoyance is reaction against an action that is against your current wishes, you can only become angry when you think there is a bad motivation behind it. For example, when students are talking in class, a teacher may just be annoyed. However, if she believes that they are purposefully trying to undermine her, she would become angry. People can be annoyed if something disturbs them, even if they see it in general as something positive. For example, a mother may be annoyed when her son is practicing violin at home, even if she support his efforts to learn to play it, but not angry. She could only get angry if she would see his playing as something ‘bad’, for instance, if she had earlier forbidden him from playing because it distracts from his schoolwork. This shows that anger has a certain moral dimension that annoyance lacks. In anger, you feel that the other person should not do things like this, because they are bad. In annoyance, you simply feel that the other person should not do this, because it disturbs you.

Anger & Indignation

Anger and indignation both include a moral dimension – someone did something bad. The difference is that for anger the action is personal (you did something bad to me), whereas indignation is bad in a more general sense, for instance, for society. Often, indignation is about violating a social rule or harming standard (e.g., you should not steal). For instance, if you read a story about a manager who stole millions from his company, you could experience indignation, but not anger, because it had nothing to do with you. On the other hand, if someone is not paying attention and smashes their car into yours, you can become angry, but probably not indignant, because there was no social rule violated.

Anger & Hate

When you hate a person, you are likely to also be angry with them. However, the opposite is often not true. For example, a father can often be angry with his children, but this does not mean that he hates them. An important difference is that anger evaluates someone’s action (you did something bad), whereas hate evaluates and entire person (you are bad). This also means that anger is usually temporary, if the person has apologized, or if they have changed their behavior, there is no need to get angry anymore. Hate, on the other hand, will be more lasting. If you hate a person you are convinced that they are beyond improvement, so it will likely last a long time.

Anger & Humiliation

The experience and response of humiliation and anger are quite distinct: humiliation causes a person to retreat or submit, whereas anger makes a person antagonistic. However, the conditions that cause both emotion can be similar: a person intentionally wrongs you or puts you down. The main determinant that causes someone to feel (primarily) anger or humiliation is the amount of power or control they feel they have over the other person or the situation. To give a simplified example: Adam publicly makes a demeaning comment about Bill. If Bill feels he is higher in status than Adam, he is more likely to get angry and retaliate. If, however, he feels lower in status than Adam, he is more likely to feel humiliated and swallows his objections.

Anger & Sadness

Although not often confused, it is insightful to compare sadness and anger. On the most general level, they are evaluations of something bad that has happened. If your car is stolen, you will likely be both sad (about the car) and angry (with the thief). However, if someone insults you, you are probably only angry, and if you lose your grandfather, you are probably just sad. The most important difference between the emotions is that anger is triggered by bad things for which you can blame someone, whereas sadness is evoked by bad things that are the result of circumstance or bad luck.