Anger Management: Leveraging Cognitive Dissonance for Behavior Change
Saunders, Wilkinson and Allsop wrote a while back about “motivational squirms.” A motivational squirm is a moment of cognitive dissonance. It places the client in a kind of corner in which he or she is face to face with his or her ego. The only way out of that corner is change. Case in point: I’ve spent a good bit of time in the Anger Management Jumpstart book talking about how anger is basically fear. There is a motivational squirm in this: It just needs to be amplified a bit. In addition to educating the client about the flight-or-fight interplay of anger and fear, you can let fly the following idea: “Any reasonably psychologically savvy person, when he or she sees anger, understands that the angry person is actually afraid and threatened.”
After this kind of announcement you have pretty much painted your client’s ego into a corner of cognitive dissonance. You’ve as good as told the client that he or she is a lot more psychologically transparent than he or she thought and that many, if not most, people see the client not as fearless but as afraid whenever he or she gets angry. The only way out of this image crisis for the client is to embrace the idea of anger management.
For a more roundabout way to get to the same place, you can ask the client what he or she thinks when he or she sees somebody really angry. Chances are, the client will articulate the idea that when seeing a really angry person, he or she sees someone out of control, someone who “really lost it.” Work with this assessment a bit to help the client see that this kind of loss of control is unattractive and seems emotionally unbalanced or even immature. Let the client realize that whenever he or she “loses it,” others might see him or her as having a kind of tantrum and being immature. Once again, this creates an image management crisis for the client, a state of cognitive dissonance that prompts him or her to buy into the goals of anger management, if only for image management purposes.
Adapted from Anger Management Jumpstart: a 4-Session Mindfulness Path to Compassion and Change (S0mov, PESI/PPM, 2013)
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Somov, P. (2014). Anger Management: Leveraging Cognitive Dissonance for Behavior Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 13, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2014/01/anger-management-leveraging-cognitive-dissonance-for-behavior-change/