Andrew McNaughton, LCSW, CADC

Many of us believe that we are controlled by our anger and that we cannot manage it. It may feel very real in the moment, but our anger can certainly be managed. This is accomplished by identifying, disputing, and improving our self-talk from irrational to rational in five simple steps:

Identify Your Anger

It may seem obvious, but the first step to managing our anger is recognizing when we are angry. Physical symptoms of anger can be experienced with tightening in our chests, pressure in our heads, clenching of our jaws, feeling flushed, and even sweating. Mental symptoms can include racing thoughts with ruminations, and an inability to concentrate or focus. These may sound familiar as tell-tale signs, yet it is important to be in touch with our minds and bodies to help us identify when we are getting angry.

Identify Your Activating Event

What is our anger in response to? Notice I did not say, “What is making us angry?” Activating events do not make us angry, rather we make ourselves angry through our beliefs about the activating events. Activating events can be events in the world or inferences we make about them. They can also be our own thoughts and emotions. Our anger is almost always in response to an activating event. These are commonly referred to as “triggers,” however I prefer to use the terminology of the ABC’s of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).

Identify Your Self-Talk

It may seem like our anger is caused by the activating event, but in reality, we cause our own anger because of our irrational beliefs we hold. The self-talk of anger may sound like this: “How dare they do this to me! I can’t stand this. It’s just horrible!” This may sound extreme and somewhat silly, but this is our self-talk when we ask ourselves, “What am I REALLY telling myself about the activating event, not just when I am annoyed or frustrated, but really angry and full of rage?” We make ourselves angry when we make demands on things outside of our control, specifically the actions and words of other people.

Dispute Your Self-Talk

Next, dispute whether our self-talk is true and if our beliefs benefit us. “How dare they!” is easily disputable because we cannot prove that anyone must do the things we want them to do. “I can’t stand it! It’s horrible!” We are feeling uncomfortable, but is the activating event truly unbearable? Of course not. Dispute the self-talk to not let it dictate our emotions. What is the worst that can happen? Would that make life not worth living? How do we benefit from this self-talk? When angry, these are important questions to ask ourselves.

Develop and Practice New Rational Self-Talk

The key to managing anger is developing and practicing rational coping statements through which we acknowledge our negative response to the activating events but accept that reacting angrily is disproportionate and irrational. We can tell ourselves, “I don’t like this, but I can tolerate it. It is unpleasant but it won’t last forever. It is frustrating and annoying, but it does not make me less of a person nor does it make my life not worth living.” Through our new self-talk, we will significantly reduce the intensity, frequency, and duration of our anger responses.

This rational approach to anger can be learned by anyone, but it takes time and practice to develop skills to manage irrational beliefs and emotions. If you would like to learn how to manage your anger, contact Symmetry Counseling today to get connected to one of our thought and behavior change specialists.