“I can’t believe I got so angry, again.”
Do you say this to yourself?
Anger is easy to slip into because it feels powerful.
But we pay a high price for displaying anger.
Our friends and family may get scared of us.
Anger can freak out your coworkers.
We can start to melt away our anger by identifying when we get angry and what makes us angry.
Then we can restructure our thoughts by becoming aware of what we tell ourselves.
How to stop the anger habit
1. Identify what triggers your anger. Ask yourself:
- When do you get angry? Does bad traffic trigger your anger?
- What makes you angry? How about waiting in a long line?
Becoming aware of a habit is the first step to changing it.
2. What are you telling yourself?
We all tell ourselves things that make us angry, don't we?
Let’s figure out what you are saying to yourself that’s sparking your anger.
Here are two categories of self-talk:
1. Labeling people
When we label people we call them a name or categorize them.
It sounds something like this:
“That guy is an idiot for taking so long to pay for his coffee! He's super selfish for taking up my time.”
Labeling someone an idiot or other name heats up our tempers and makes us overreact. “When you label other people, you invariably generate hostility (Burns, 40).”
Instead, try telling yourself something like this:
“He might have been woken up by the garbage trucks. And he’s probably got two kids to take care of. He’s probably overwhelmed. I’d prefer that he move more quickly but it’s not the end of the world if he takes his time paying for his coffee. I’m not fast 100% of the time.”
2. Should - we tell ourselves things should be different.
We often get angry when we think things should be going our way and follow our rules.
“Why is that person eating with her mouth open? It’s disgusting.”
Behind that thought is that the idea that the person should not be eating with her mouth open. She is not following your rules - and you may be right. But we are not finding out whether you are right or wrong - let's melt your rage so you can be happier.
Sometimes, you know the person very well and you can say, “I can’t concentrate on what you’re saying so if you could chew with your mouth closed that’d be awesome.” You want to make sure your tone is friendly and nonjudgemental.
But what if you can’t say something like that because you don’t know the person well?
Try saying something to yourself like this:
“I’d prefer that she stop eating with her mouth open but it’s not the end of the world if I see her mashed up food in her mouth once in a while. It’s unpleasant, but I’ll live.”
Let’s sum up these strategies:
Avoid labeling someone an idiot, jerk, or describing them as a certain kind of person: selfish, rude, etc.
Replace “should” thoughts with PREFER:
She should stop talking with food in her mouth.
“I’d prefer that she stop talking with food in her mouth.”
Instead of labeling the behavior:
“It’s not the end of the world if she spews food all over the table.”
These strategies are powerful and they work, but they take practice.
You’ll want to write down the habitual thing you say to yourself and then the new response to make a true change.
According to Dr. Burns, MD, “It’s crucial to write down your automatic thoughts and rational responses. Do not try to do this in your head. Writing down your thoughts forces you to develop much more objectivity than you could ever achieve by letting responses swirl through your mind.”
How do you deal with your anger? Tell us on the COAC Facebook page.
About the author
Jessica Santascoy coaches people to become happier. She loves to show people how to use their mindset, movement and breath to perform, get out of pain, and enjoy life. Connect with Jessica at habitspecialist.com.
Joann Buttaro, Director of the Family Circle of Support program at COAC reviewed this article. She loves traveling, the beach and spending time with her family.
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References: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D.