Most of us are quick to blame others for our anger. “If you hadn’t done that thing you did, then I wouldn’t be angry!”
But the latest research shows that anger might just not be real. Instead it may be a way to cover up the real issue – our pain.
Researcher and best-selling author, Brene Brown explains,
“As our fear, uncertainty, and feelings of vulnerability increase, cruelty becomes an acceptable way for us to discharge our pain and discomfort. Rather than doing the difficult work of embracing our own vulnerabilities and imperfections, we expose, attack, or ridicule what is vulnerable and imperfect about others.”
So, how do we undertake the “difficult work of embracing our own vulnerabilities” rather than discharging our pain and insecurity through anger?
In a previous post, I explained that negative feelings, such as anger, can be healthy or unhealthy.
If you determine that your anger is healthy, you have the option of accepting the feeling or expressing your anger in a respectful way. However, if you determine that your anger is unhealthy, you can change the way you feel by changing your negative thoughts. Here’s how it works.
Research shows that almost every upsetting feeling is caused by specific negative thoughts.
Anger, for example, typically results from thoughts that that we are being treated badly. Some thoughts underlying anger might be:
They should have given me a bigger tip.
I should have received the award.
He should have shown me more respect.
Once you identify the negative thoughts that underlie your anger, you can then change your angry, upsetting thoughts to more balanced, realistic ones.
Here’s how my client, John, learned to change his angry thoughts and stay calm.
John came to see me after his wife refused to go out with him in public! The last straw was when he lost his temper after a sales clerk couldn’t answer his question.
John admitted to me that he overreacted, but was convinced that his anger was justified. To get his marriage back on track, though, he reluctantly agreed to examine his angry thoughts.
To begin, I had John use my Mood Switch form to identify the feelings he had experienced during his outburst. In addition to feeling angry, he admitted to feeling frustrated, powerless, and overwhelmed.
For the first time, he wondered whether his anger was a way to cover up other upsetting feelings.
Next, I had John list the negative thoughts he had when the sales clerk didn’t meet his expectations. Here are a few of the thoughts John recalled having.
- What a stupid jerk!
- He doesn’t care that he’s wasting my time.
- He thinks my question is stupid.
- He probably likes getting me all riled up.
We then examined John’s thoughts for “Thought Traps” or distortions.
John noticed that he was engaging in “Mental Telepathy.” When the clerk was unable to help him, he imagined that he knew exactly what the clerk was thinking.
He also realized that he was engaging in “Name Calling” and “Negative Focus.” He viewed the clerk in a totally negative way and discounted any positive qualities he might have.
After uncovering his negative thoughts and distortions, John was ready to create more balanced, realistic thoughts to counteract each negative thought.
Here are just a few of the more realistic thoughts he came up with:
- He was just a kid trying to earn some money. It’s unlikely he was trying to upset me.
- I could have asked to speak to his supervisor rather than taking it out on him.
- It’s unlikely he would risk his job by purposely irritating a customer.
- If I hadn’t made him so nervous, he might have been able to figure out the answer.
After reading over his logical thoughts, John reminisced about his own first job at Sears.
He was able to share how nervous and embarrassed he felt when he wasn’t able to help customers. He also recalled how much he hated being yelled at by customers, and how powerless he felt.
The Mood Switch helped John make the connection between past experiences and current behavior. He also realized he was tired of letting anger control his life.
Over the next few months, John practiced using the Mood Switch to counteract his angry thoughts.
He noticed that people were much more willing to help him out when he wasn’t so angry. His wife also appreciated his efforts and even started going out with him again!
If you’re struggling with anger, here are some guidelines to help you handle your feelings.
- Determine whether your anger is healthy vs. unhealthy.
- If your anger is healthy, decide whether to simply accept your anger or express it in a respectful, constructive way.
- If your anger is unhealthy, use the Mood Switch to change your negative thoughts so you can feel and act better.
If you or someone you care about struggles with anger, I invite you to contact me by phone (630-960-2887), text (630-202-3909), or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I offer a variety of options, from on-line home study courses to phone and in-person sessions, to help you experience long-lasting relief from emotional upset.