Anger is linked to a perception of damage or hurt and a belief that important rules have been violated. We become angry if we think that we have been unfairly treated, unnecessarily hurt or prevented from obtaining something we expected to achieve.
It is important in trying to gain control over anger to recognise angry thoughts.
“Hot thoughts” are thoughts that flash into your mind and make you feel worse. People tend to have similar thoughts happening again and again. For example:
- He is so stupid
- He is making a fool of me
- You’re selfish
- I hate this place
- He never listens to me
Sometimes patterns in our thinking can make us feel more angry. For example:
- Taking things personally: people who are angry often take things personally and feel hurt from it. They look for and expect criticism. If, for example, someone doesn’t speak to them in a shop, they may feel that person dislikes them, when in fact it may be because that person is shy or worried.
- Ignoring the positive: people who get angry tend to focus their thinking on negative or bad events and ignore positive or good events. For example, remembering one negative event but not the rest of the time when things were going ok.
- Perfectionism: people who become angry often expect too much from themselves or those around them. If these standards are not met, then they may feel badly let down and this hurt can become anger. For example, someone cancelling an event may lead to strong anger when on most occasions the person is a good friend.
- Black and white thinking: thinking in very all or nothing or black and white ways is very common when people are angry.
It is useful to notice such patterns in your thoughts and consider if there are alternative ways of viewing the situation. This could involve writing two columns – one for angry thoughts and one for balanced thoughts:
E.g., Angry Thoughts Balanced Thoughts
They always let me down They sometimes behave badly but at times they are really ok
It can also be useful to ask yourself what are the costs and benefits of your original angry thought. Is it a huge personal failing to disregard someone’s behaviour? Are there situations where the transgression is not worth reacting strongly to and continuing to think about?
Beliefs about anger can also make it harder to control anger. These beliefs sometimes excuse anger or make it seem like the only response. These beliefs are sometimes held because of life experiences or personal values. People may have lived with these beliefs for so long that they accept them without question, but it is important to question them to help overcome anger.
Here are some examples of unhelpful beliefs and ideas on how to question them:
I can’t control my anger, my father was angry and it is something I got from him
This is the idea that anger is something you can't change - it's in your make up, something you were born with. It is an excuse that lets you off the hook in terms of controlling your anger. We know that some people are born with tendencies to be more emotional, fearful, angry or sad. The way we react to these emotions however is learned, and we can tackle our own angry behaviour by changing the way we respond to events and people.
If I don't let my anger out I'll explode
It has long been a popular belief that some emotions and drives build up, like
steam in a pressure cooker and need some way out or else they become harmful.
If you hold this point of view losing your temper could be seen as something
healthy. But we know from research that people are often left feeling much worse
after losing control of anger. Shouting, hitting, slamming doors can all increase
and strengthen feelings of anger.
If you don't show anger you're either a saint or a wimp
This is an example of black and white thinking. You think that if you're not angry
and aggressive then you're a hopeless wimp. But the best way to deal with situations, both for yourself and those around you, is not to be angry and out of control, but to be firm, sure and in control - to be assertive.
My anger is something people fear and it stops them taking advantage of me
This belief sees anger as a protector and other people as dangerous. It may be
that this belief was correct at a particular time of your life, but if you continue to
think this way, it can cause problems. Good friendships are not formed on fear
and you will be unlikely to have good friendships and relationships because of your
angry behaviour. It is also likely to backfire, where others with problems of anger
will see you as threatening and possibly pick fights with you.
If I get angry it takes my anxiety away
This belief is often found in people who have been the victims of violence or
aggression. It is better to try and tackle your anxiety by other ways rather than
exchanging one unpleasant emotion for another. Anxiety can only be overcome by
facing what you fear and finding ways of overcoming it.
I have good reason to be angry because of things other people have done to me
Anger is a natural reaction when we are mistreated or taken advantage of. But if
this anger continues into all areas of your life then it will cause difficulties for you.
If the mistreatment took place a long time ago and the people who did it are no
longer in your life it may help to ask: "where does this anger get me now?".
Other unhelpful beliefs include:
- Things should be exactly how I want them to be. It is awful if they are not.
- People don’t take any notice of you unless you show that you are irritated or angry. It is the only way of making your point.
- Other people are basically selfish, self-centred and unhelpful. If you want them to help, you have to make them.
- Other people are basically hostile. You have to be on the alert, otherwise they will take the opportunity to put you down.
- If people do things wrong, they must be punished. You can’t let them get away with things.
Here are some examples of alternative, more flexible beliefs which may lead you to feel less anger:
- It’s nice if things are just the way I like it, but it’s not the end of the world if they are not
- Although you can sometimes get people to do what you want by being irritable and angry with them, you never really get them on your side. So it’s better to talk and persuade. Even then people wont always do what you want, but that isn’t the end of the world
- Although there are some people who are very selfish indeed, most people will help each other out if asked
- Although there are a few people who can be quite hostile, most people basically support each other and take a good view of each other.
- It is better to persuade than to punish, to look to the future rather than to the past. Sometimes you can’t even persuade and people do get away with things. So I’ll just keep up my own standards.
- < > are real people, just like everyone else. It’s no more reasonable to hit them than to hit anyone else
- < > is just like anyone else- they have their good points and bad points. It’s no use getting hung up on their bad points.