Our thoughts can make us feel angry, but often people who have a problem with anger do not notice these angry thoughts. It is important in trying to gain control over anger, that we begin to recognize and challenge those thoughts.
You need to look carefully at your angry thoughts and try to see if you are making errors in the way your interpret situations. It can help to examine long held beliefs about anger and challenge those, which are unhelpful. Distorted thinking involves angry thoughts that flash into your mind and make you feel worse. People tend to have reoccurring thoughts that arise again and again when angry.
• “He is looking over here at me and thinks I’m stupid”
• “They always let me down”
• “She just doesn’t care about me, she is selfish”
• “He is looking over here but I don’t know what he is really thinking”
• “They sometimes behave badly but at times they are really OK”
• “I know she let me down, but she does care, she usually tries to be kind”
People who are angry often take things personally and feel hurt by it. They look for and expect criticism from other people. If someone doesn’t speak to you in a shop, you may think that person dislikes you, when in fact it may be that he or she is just shy or worried. If someone looks over at you, you may think “he thinks I’m stupid”, when in fact the person is just glancing over without any such thought. Sometimes things are just “not about you.” If someone is cranky and snappy with you, he/she may be having a bad day and not handling his/her anger well. It may have nothing to do with you.
To manage your anger, it is important to recognize and challenge these thoughts. Here are four steps to identify your distorted thinking:
Step 1: Think of a situation that may make you angry
(Example: A car pulls out without indicating)
Step 2: Write down what makes you angry about this situation
(Example: It could have caused an accident)
Step 3: Notice your self-talk and write the thoughts down
(Example: ‘This sort of thing always happen to me’ or ‘Drivers nowadays are stupid’)
Step 4: Answer the question, “Does it really make a difference?” Most of the time, the answer is no, that these things don’t amount to a hill of beans. It is quite reasonable to feel angry about things you do not like. It makes no sense to lash out when you do not get what you desire, or things are not as you want them to be. However, you can use this anger constructively to energize you to change situations you are unhappy with. In this way, you can choose to see anger as being neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ just human.
Write down some of your angry thoughts and then write as many answers or balanced thoughts as you can. The aim is to get faster at catching these “angry thoughts” when they come into your head and refuting them straight away. It takes practice, but it really does work.