“Speak when you’re angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret” Dr. Laurence J. Peter
Over the years I worked with different clients struggling with angry reactions related to interpersonal conflict, trauma, and life issues in general. The biggest challenge I found is that most people don’t recognize that their response to anger could be extremely damaging to them and their relationships until it’s too late.
Anger is a natural emotional experience but could easily become problematic when it’s characterized by high frequency, long duration (various hours and sometimes days), and an intense behavioral response. In other words, anger is troublesome when it happens “too often, too much, and for too long.”
Problematic anger typically involves:
(a) High levels of physiological arousal like accelerated heart rate, agitation, feeling on edge, hot sensations, etc.
(b) Strong emotionality such as feelings of being pissed off, enraged, furious, etc.
(c) Agressive behaviors like loud verbal outburst, yelling, screaming, etc.
And finally, (d) specific thinking traps that simultaneoulsy trigger and exacerbate the angry episode. I found that most clients are really caughted by this way of thinking because it feels as they have the absolute truth. Nevertheless, this is a very important component of an effective treatment for anger because of how people “think of” a situation could easily make it escalate or not into an angry episode. Treatments that recommend you to “count until 10 when feeling angry, vent your anger, scream at a pillow” are simple ineffective and unhelpful in the long-term. An effective treatment for anger will target all components of anger: its emotional response, hyperarousal, behavioral elements, and in particular, the cognitive aspects of it.
Below are the most common thinking traps that I encounter in my clinical work:
Perfectionistic thoughts: These types of thoughts are characterized by a core belief of holding the “truth” about a situation, how things “are supposed to be,” or finally, a sense of how people “should behave.” Perfectionistic thoughts manifest in the form of “rules.” For instance, individuals that have perfectionistic thoughts will make statements like “he should know better how to interact with others; she ought to know how to behave when spending time with my parents, etc.”
Blaming thoughts: An angry person believes that he/she is experiencing anger or responding in a particular way because of others’ behaviors. For instance, they say things like “If you didn’t do “x” I wouldn’t be telling you this or even screaming at you.”
Mind-reading thoughts: These type of thoughts are single explanations of other’s behaviors. An angry individual will quickly jump to interpretations about the motives and intentions of others’ behaviors without even checking with them. In fact, they will make the assumption that they fully understand why a person behave one way or another.
Overgeneralizing thoughts: When a person encounters a situation that triggers anger, he or she will draw general conclusions based on a single or low frequent event. Overgeneralizing thoughts include words such as “always, everybody, all of them, etc.” which in turns makes the angry episode to feel bigger than what it is.
The combination of perfectionistic, blaming, overgeneralizing, and mind-reading thoughts leads individuals to develop a frame to understand all situations and interpersonal ones in particular. This cognitive frame is rigid, inflexible, pervasive, and ultimately leads to aggressive behaviors that are alienating to others.
If you’re a person prone to anger, it’s extremely important to pay attention to how your angry behaviors are affecting others. Anger is a very debilitating condition that could easily destroy relationships, and in particular if it’s accompanied by a sense of entitlement. If your desire is to build a life full of healthy relationships then it’s important to do something about your angry behaviors. Otherwise, be aware that you may ended up alone in the near future or developing relationships that are based on fear and intimidation.
You can start by thinking about how to be account-able and response-able for your behavior.
Being account-able means that despite being exposed to anger triggers due to a particular situation or others’ behaviors, you are still 100% accountable of your behavior. It’s not the other person’s fault that you behave the way you do.
Being response-able translates into recognizing that when experiencing anger you can still make a choice of how to respond to it; it’s not up to anyone else to make that decision but to you.
If you’re interested in learning about whether your angry behaviors are problematic or not click on the link below. You will be asked to complete 22 questions from the “Novaco Anger Scale” and you can score it immediately.
Based on the results of the above questionnaire, what you learned from this post, and an evaluation of your behaviors, you can make an informed decision about what to do next in regard to your anger.
Based on: Deffenbacher, J.L. and McKay, M. (2000). Overcoming Situational and General Anger. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. Written by: Patricia E. Zurita Ona, Psy.D. is a psychologist at the East Bay Behavior Therapy Center. Dr. Zurita Ona can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.