The vast majority of chains of angry behavior never proceed past the first link. For example, someone in the family will tease or insult another and then stop. Since no one reacts aggressively to the provocation, it lasts only a few seconds. Three- or four-step sequences last less than half a minute and occur even in “normal” families.

But when aversive chains last longer than half a minute, yelling, threatening, or hitting may occur. Sequences like these are frequently observed in dysfunctional families. The longer the chain lasts, the more likely it is that violence will occur.

The last link in an anger chain is often called a “trigger behavior.” These behaviors usually precede and precipitate a violent outburst. Triggers are often verbal or nonverbal behaviors that bring up feelings of abandonment or rejection. The following list offers a representative sample of possible “links” that may be used to build an aversive chain.

Verbal Behaviors

1. Giving advice (“Ask your boss for a raise, you know we need more money.”) 2. Global labeling (“All you women are alike…”) 3. Criticism (“That’s not a good parking job, you almost hit that car.”) 4. Blaming (“If it weren’t for you, we’d be on easy street right now.”) 5. Abrupt limit setting (“That’s it, I’ve had it.” “Forget it.” “Stop this instant!”) 6. Threatening (“If you don’t shut up right now…”) 7. Using expletives (“Dammit!” “Shit!”) 8. Complaining (“My life is empty.” “All I do is work.” “You never help me with the laundry.”) 9. Stonewalling (“There is nothing to talk about.”) 10. Mind reading or assuming (“I know what you’re really trying to do: drive me crazy.”) 11. “Innocent” observations (“I notice that the dishes haven’t been done for the past two days.”) 12. Teasing (“Those slacks must have shrunk in the wash, you’re having a hard time closing that zipper.”) 13. Humiliating statements (“You used to look good, now I’m embarrassed to be seen with you.”) 14. Dismissing comments (“Get out here, I’m tired of looking at your ugly face.”) 15. Put downs (“Is this what you call a grub at the greasy spoon?”) 16. Profanity (“You son of a …”) 17. Sarcasm (“Sure you’re going to fix it… we had to call the plumber after you.”) 18. Accusations (“You went out and didn’t you?”) 19. Guilt (“You should know better…”) 20. Ultimatums (“This is your last chance: shape up, or I’m leaving.”)

Nonverbal Sounds

1. Groaning (“Oh no, not that again.”) 2. Sighing (“I’m tired of this crap.”) 3. Clucking sound (“Do you have to bring that up right now?”) 4. “Tsk, tsk” (“You’ve done it again.”)

Voice Quality, Tone, and Volume

1. Whining (trying to irritate) 2. Flatness (suggesting “I’m not here.”) 3. Cold, frosty tone (suggesting “I’m here, but you’ll never be able to reach me.”) 4. Throaty, constricted (suggesting controlled fury) 5. Loud, harsh quality (attempting to intimidate) 6. Mocking, contemptuous tone (trying to get your goat) 7. Mumbling under your breath (making him guess what you said) 8. Snickering (demeaning, putting down) 9. Snarling (“Back off!”)

Gestures Using Hands and Arms

1. Pointing a finger (accusation) 2. Shaking a fist (intimidation) 3. “Flipping the bird” (obscenity) 4. Folded arms (“You can’t get to me.”) 5. Waving away (dismissal) 6. Chopping motion (cutting off)

Facial Expressions

1. Looking away, looking at the floor (abandonment) 2. Rolling eyes (“Not that again.”) 3. Narrowing eyes (threatening) 4. Eyes wide (incredulous disbelief) 5. Grimacing (“I don’t like that.”) 6. Sneering (disparaging) 7. Frowning (disapproving) 8. Tightening lips (suppressed anger) 9. Raising an eyebrow (“Watch it, buster.”) 10. Scowling (annoyance)

Body Movements

1. Shaking head (“No, no, no!”) 2. Shrugging shoulders (“I give up.”) 3. Tapping a foot or a finger (annoyance) 4. Moving or leaning toward (intimidating) 5. Moving or turning away (abandonment) 6. Hands on hips (exasperation) 7. Quick movements or pacing (increased agitation) 8. Kicking or throwing objects (anger getting out of control) 9. Pushing or grabbing (angry physical contact)

From the book, “When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within” by Mathew McKay, Ph.D., Peter D. Rogers, Ph.D., Judith McKay, R.N. Reprinted here with permission.