Dave gets home from work and snaps at his wife. Then he picks up a book that his two-year-old had left on the floor and tosses it across the room.
His head is pounding and he can feel the tension coursing throughout his body. He looks in the mirror and punches the wall.
Dave is experiencing a raging storm of intense emotions. His fists tighten, his heart races, and his jaw in clenched. He finds it difficult to focus, to think. His emotions seem to paralyze him. Dave’s experience is common.
What can any of us do in such moments? Do we just have to let the emotions run their course? Do we try to get a moment’s relief by guzzling down a can of beer, or by retreating into restless sleep? Do we call a friend and complain about how trapped and unhappy we feel, adding there is nothing we can do about it? But is that really true? Is there nothing we can do?
Is anger outside our control? In one sense yes. But in a more important sense, no! Anger is an automatic, physiological response. In that sense, it is outside our immediate control, like our eyes blinking. But we can become aware of our blinking and similarly we can become mindful of what triggers our angry thoughts. If we can take control over our automatic reactions like blinking, breathing and memory, it is also possible to take control of our angry thoughts.
We need to look carefully at our angry thoughts, to see if we are making errors in the way we interpret situations.
Distorted thinking involves angry thoughts that flash into our mind and make us feel worse. People tend to have reoccurring thoughts that arise again and again when angry.
For example, 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 us in a shop, we may think that person dislikes us, when in fact it may be that he or she is just shy or worried.
If someone looks over at us, we 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 us, he/she may be having a bad day and not handling his/her anger well. It may have nothing to do with us.