by Monica Ross
I was trying to deal the other day with some unwanted anger. Who wants to be angry ultimately with someone you love? And with this topic of anger I’ve had awhile to reflect. Because people come into my office angry all the time about a wide variety of things.
I can remember working at the clinic in back in Lufkin and actually one of the things I worked on time and again with people is anger management. Anger management as a psychosocial skill to be worked through is really important when it comes to stopping things like the cycle of domestic violence.
We talk about physical cues, behavioral cues, emotional cues, cognitive cues that trigger anger like the physical sensation of a heart racing, the behavior of pacing, the emotion of feeling disrespected, and the cognition “I’ve been mistreated here.”
How do we get rid of these feelings and behaviors? We offer suggestions like exercise, talk to a friend, take a timeout, take a deep breath, look the underlying feelings behind the anger. We go through things like the A-B-C-D-E model explaining that there is often an Activating event or situation that taps into a Belief about that situation that leads to the feeling we experience of it which then leads to Consequences in the form of our actions based on those feelings, etc.
So the goal becomes to Dispute that belief which hopefully leads to a new Emotional consequence. Albert Ellis the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) came up with this model. I think where people get trapped is in bypassing the thinking part.
People tell me they don’t know what they are thinking or that it’s just a feeling they experience that they cannot overcome. To say that is to throw up a defense mechanism in a way, it’s a kind of a “look I can’t help this” response. It just is.
That kind of thinking will definitely sustain a behavior for sure. What people don’t realize is that they are demonstrating the effectiveness of this model even in their defensiveness. In other words, it’s the thought that there is nothing that I can do about this that sustains the feeling of hopelessness that leads to the act of doing nothing about it.
I came across this pretty powerful article recently by Leon Seltzer, PhD. Here in a Psychology Today article he explains a two part process to stopping unwanted anger. The first he explains is to relax and dispel the energy to want to fight.
The many benefits of working on our emotional and cognitive states via the body have been enumerated in many other places and reinforced by other modalities like somatic experiencing. So that's definitely a good starting point. Then he talks about reassessment. He proposes asking oneself the following questions. I'm listing them out verbatim here:
Did he (or she) really mean what I think I heard them say? Am I assuming something that needs to be verified?
Is this situation as terrible as it feels right now? Am I possibly exaggerating its significance? taking it too seriously?
Is my notion of this person’s being unfair to me more a reflection of my self-interested bias than the other person’s trying to take advantage of me? Are their interests or concerns maybe just as important, and legitimate, to them as mine are to me [i.e., do all you can to challenge your possible self-righteousness in the matter]?
Can I re-focus my attention on what I actually like about this person—and stop focusing exclusively on this particular behavior, which clearly I don’t like?
What’s the concrete evidence that he (or she) intentionally wanted to antagonize, hurt, or humiliate me? Am I taking this more personally than warranted?
Can I see this situation from the other person’s point of view (i.e., try to understand their motives more empathically)?
Might this person’s hard-to-take criticism have some rational basis to it? Is there something I can learn from it that, ultimately, might help me?
Is it possible I was misunderstood? Is it maybe my fault that the person failed to “get” what I was trying to communicate, and so reacted negatively to me? And if they’re just “dense,” do I really want to blame them for this?
Am I maybe taking what this person said too literally? Might they simply be kidding around—and it’s really my own insecurities or self-doubt that’s making me upset?
If this person really is being inconsiderate, mean, or nasty to me, have I also seen them act this way toward others? Can I remind myself that basically this is their problem, not mine—and that I’m much better off simply not taking what they say to heart?
This line of questioning or self-examination again would fall under the rubric of time honored cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. These are great questions to be asking oneself the next time we find ourselves angry at someone.