There is anger – the here-and-now anger about something that is happening now, the live anger, as I call it. And then there is angry rumination on something that is in the past, or the dead anger, as I call it.
Angry folks don’t just flare up; they also fume long after the fire has been technically put out, like those lingering campfire coals that might kindle up into a new fire that will burn down the entire forest.
A fellow Pennsylvania psychologist, Steven Pashko, says:
More often than not, single thoughts are unnecessary for living well. By single thoughts, I mean those that pop into your consciousness at seemingly random times, such as a thought that you need to buy milk or want to call someone before the day is out. This mental reminder system is the reason some of us believe we need our thoughts. They seem to serve as the necessary mental notepad of our life…. Although people believe otherwise, our actions don’t usually originate from our thoughts, but occur independent of our thought processes. We don’t hit a tennis ball while thought streams are running through our mind, nor do we type or pull the covers up at night when we’re cold because thought streaming tells us to do so. We just know what to do and then do it. (2005, p. 4)
Here’s how I usually express a similar idea to my anger management clients: “Never mind the mind.” We all know how not to mind somebody else’s mind, or at least we have a rudimentary idea of how to do it, which is why we often offer it as advice to someone we know or care about. We say, “Never mind so-and-so!” We mean it as an invitation to not worry, not mind what so-and-so might be thinking about our friends or about us. When it comes to rumination control—particularly anger rumination control—the idea is to ignore your own mind. It’s not just enough to say “Never mind your mind,” of course. You have to learn some form of meta-cognitive distancing to do that.
In sum, anger management is not just about anger management, it is also about rumination control.
Rethink anger and rethink anger management!
Adapted from Anger Management Jumpstart (Pavel Somov, 2013)