By Spencer D Gear
Kathy went bananas with anger when she told her 13-year-old, Danny, for the umpteenth time (well, the 5th time) to pick up his clothes on the floor of his bedroom and to make his bed. When he hadn’t done it at the 5th nag, she screamed her head off at him – with a few added swear words. Danny gave her the finger and swore back at her several times. This got into a screaming match with accusations flying back and forth.
How can Kathy learn to control her anger so that there is at least a reasonable relationship with Danny and he picks up his clothes and makes the bed without a rage from Kathy? Kathy needs to learn that she makes herself angry, Danny does not make her angry, stinkin’ thinkin’ is the cause of Kathy’s anger and she can change her self-talk and thus control her anger.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself in this explanation of anger management.
To control your anger, you need to get rid of the idea that many have been taught throughout their lives – that other people make you angry. Let’s get it straight! YOU cause your own anger. If you don’t believe that, please read further. If you did not think catastrophic thoughts you would not make yourself angry. It’s that simple to explain, but it takes effort and discipline to change it – but it is not all that difficult.
Let’s do an exercise to see if this is really the case.
2. Now, immediately make yourself sad. Tell me how to do that!
3. Now, change your mood by making yourself feel angry. What would you tell somebody else to help make him/her angry?
4. Make yourself contented. Teach me how you made yourself calm.
Notice what you can do. You can move from feeling happy, to feeling sad, to feeling angry, to
feeling calm, by the way you think about life. The principle is:
|As you think, you feel, you act.|
The key to changing your anger is to change the way to think about events. This is not a mind-control technique, but learning to control your anger by the way you think about life. Change your stinkin’ thinkin’ (irrational self-talk) and you will learn to control your anger. It works. Nobody makes you angry. You make yourself angry.
But there are a few myths we need to uncover before we get into the real thing of teaching you to control your own anger.
Myth No. 1: People always learn from their experiences.
If this is true, why do parents of teens come for counselling? Johnny may have been disobedient, acting out, taking drugs, abusing teachers, for years, but the parents continue to scream back at him, ground him for months, and he still keeps doing it.
Myth No. 2: Old habits always require long periods of time to change.
If you have been in counselling for years and have seen no remarkable change, I’d recommend you quit such counselling. This approach to controlling anger is simple, effective and quick for many people – if you will put the principles into practice every day.
Myth No. 3: You cannot be calm & undisturbed in a stressful environment.
Julie was living with a very difficult defacto partner, Peter. She thought it was impossible to live a normal life with him. She failed to realise that Julie made Julie disturbed and that Julie could make Julie undisturbed if she would put into place some fundamental principles. Peter had done many things over the years and Julie became frustrated. But Peter never disturbed Julie. She did that herself.
Myth No. 4: Everyone has a breaking point.
That might be the case if you get cane trash pushed under your fingernails, but for most situations there is generally no breaking point. Some people can endure crisis after crisis in a week and not fall in a heap or go into an obnoxious rage.
Myth No. 5: Anger cannot be prevented, it can only be suppressed.
You can learn to prevent anger if you engage in correct self-talk. Another way to put it is: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” This is not pretending not to be angry, but changing your thinking so that you control your anger. No matter what the issue or the person, it is possible to forgive your son who does outrageous things and stop getting angry.
Myth No. 6: Fight fire with fire.
Max stood up to his son, Brian, eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose, every time Brian swore at him. This had been going on since he was 12. He’s now 17. How long does it take for Dad to realise that fighting fire with fire doesn’t work?
Myth No. 7: Both parents and teens must be seen in counselling with a rebellious teen.
Many parents struggling with youth problems in the family, think that the teens need to be fixed and parents need not be involved. Parents can be seen alone; youth can be counselled solo. However, it would be desirable to have both parents and youth working together on the change process, but parents alone or youth alone can begin the change process – as long as they want to change.
Myth No. 8: The “real reasons” behind a problem – the hidden causes from childhood – must
be understood before personality changes can be made.
In most circumstances, it is not necessary to delve into a person’s past. What is important is to show how, for example, Dad is getting himself worked up today, with this teenager, over this issue!
If you are interested in preventing your anger, learning how to cool down, and giving up blaming others for your anger – READ ON!
A. Anger almost always increases your frustrations.
B. Getting angry prevents your solving problems.
C. You are a poor example of mental health.
D. Anger can make you physically sick.
E. Anger is the greatest single cause for divorce.
F. Anger can be responsible for one of the most depraved of human behaviours – child abuse.
From beginning to end, there are either 5 or 6 steps in getting angry. If you end the sequence merely feeling angry and wanting to kill someone, you will stop at step 5. If you wind up punishing rather than penalising someone, you’ve gone all the way to the 6th and the final step.
Step 1: “I want something.”
Step 2: “I didn’t get what I wanted and I’m frustrated.”
Step 3: “It is awful and terrible not to get what I want and not to be treated as a person.”
If you define your frustration as a catastrophe, you’ve had it. Depending on what you tell yourself about your frustrations, you can develop several problems such as depression, anxiety or anger. The hateful emotional reactions of anger, rage, revenge and spitefulness are produced by the sentences you tell yourself (your self-talk). Briefly, they are:
(a) I must have my way and it is awful not to get everything I want, and
(b) You are wicked for frustrating me and you deserve to be punished.
If you follow step 4, it mostly leads specifically to anger.
Step 4: “You shouldn’t frustrate me! I must have my way.”
At this point you have changed the wish into a demand.
Step 5: “You’re bad for frustrating me.”
You have made the unfortunate evaluation that someone was bad because he or she frustrated you. His/her actions might be objectionable, but that never means you are compelled to reject the person because you reject the behaviour.
Step 6: “Bad people ought to be punished.”
These 6 steps are easily condensed into only two steps:
(1) I want my own way, and
(2) I must, therefore, have it.
IV. How do you learn to control your anger?
Most of us can make BIG things out of LITTLE things. “The next time you get upset over positively anything ask yourself as soon as possible thereafter, and preferably before you get upset, if you aren’t really being only annoyed rather than tortured.” Could it be that you are experiencing “only a sad event rather than a tragic event”? Is it possible to “live through the frustration without it killing you”? If it is only annoying instead of being like the end of the world, you will suffer from annoyances and disappointments. BUT if you “think you’re suffering catastrophes, earth-shattering events, and deadly issues,” you will make yourself angry.
This gets to the core of how to control your anger. Most events are not like the end of the world (catastrophic). Most things in our lives are not as serious as we think they are. Even those that are serious can be made worse by making ourselves upset over them.
So, how do we control anger? We need to practice this way of thinking:
1. Frustrations are not disturbances.
“A frustration is the condition of wanting something and not getting it, or not wanting something and having it forced on you.” Even if somebody does something aggressive towards you or treats you like a nerd, you may become frustrated but you do not need to become disturbed (angry) by it. How come?
2. Most frustrations are quite tolerable
Here’s the challenge to control your anger. Learn to see less events in your life as frustrations.
Or, learn to see your frustrations as not as serious as you think they are. If you could do this, you would learn to control your anger. To do this, you will need to evaluate your frustrations and think more carefully about them than you have in the past. For example:
- If somebody never loved you dearly, you would not die.
- Being rejected is not the end of the world.
- If your children leave clothes, books and toys all over their rooms, it is not a catastrophic frustration but a challenge to find a way to encourage them to tidy the room.
- A person cutting you off in traffic is not reason to shout a string of swear words.
Even if frustrations are severe, there is no reason for them to lead to an outburst of anger, unless you choose for that to happen.
3. Why distinguish between frustrations [annoyances] and catastrophes?
This is to help you to control your anger. Here’s the issue:
“If you think that what is happening to you is going to kill you, then you surely aren’t going to sit still and let people run all over you. But if you do not think something is the end of the world, you’re going to take it calmly and not get angry over it.”
Here’s how it happens. You make yourself angry when you say that things are awful in your thinking. When you make catastrophes out of frustrations, you will make yourself angry. It is not the end of the world to be treated unfairly by your teenager or mother. Prove to yourself and to me that it is absolutely terrible! If she accuses you of being a bitch, please show me how that must hurt you!
If you think, “What a b-b-so-and-so my mother is when she doesn’t allow me to do that, you will become angry because you are making it sound like a catastrophe in your thinking. Once you think something is horrible or unbearable, you will make yourself angry – even very angry.
4. Anger can cover up your fear.
Some angry people have fears of failure or fears of being inadequate, so they cover up with anger.
5. Do you ever have to have your own way?
a. Anger says, “I don’t deserve this kind of treatment, so it must stop immediately.”
Whenever your self-talk is saying something must or must not, should or should not be done or happen, you will most likely be building up a steam of anger. “This is an imperfect world and sometimes it stinks, so you’d better get used to the smell.”
b. If you are ever to learn self-control of your anger, you need to understand these basic principles:
(2) It is uncomfortable when you are treated unfairly by anybody, but it is not catastrophic (like the end of the world).
(3) If somebody treats you unfairly, there’s no point in labelling that person as wicked. That person simply does unfair things.
(4) If you try to punish severely that person, it does not help the situation at all.
You become angry because you confuse the desire for fair treatment with thinking that you must have fair treatment.
6. When you catastrophise in your thoughts, you are a dictator.
“The one type of person most people do not want to be close to is a dictator, someone telling them to do this or that without any regard to their own wishes. Has it ever occurred to you, however, that when you’re angry you are always a dictator? It’s easy enough to see this when you recall what it is that makes you sore in the first place: your demands. And what is a dictator but a walking demand?”
a. Mum in control
Think of a Mum whose son, Bill, does not obey her most of the time! Instead of going into a rage just about every time, she could behave more sensibly if she would realise that:
(1) It would be very nice if Bill would become an obedient son;
(2) About the only way that this will happen is by telling Bill that guaranteed consequences will be put into place for him;
(3) To motivate Bill to obedience, these consequences will be stated in a written contract and take effect from next week. Of course, he never has to experience these consequences. All he has to do is obey Mum’s instructions every time.
(4) If these consequences don’t motivate Bill to obedience, Mum will not feel angry with Bill, but will calmly accept that fact that Bill does not want to change – YET!
b. Mum the dictator!
If Mum takes the other road of being a dictator (catastrophises), she will follow an irrational process:
(1) Bill’s disobedience is unbearable;
(2) Mum will have to work harder to get Bill to obey;
(3) If Bill does not obey, Mum will scream, slap him, let him know how bad he is for defying his mother, and insist angrily that he must do as his mother says;
(4) Keep this up until Bill sees how right Mum is and Bill obeys.
You don’t have to be a genius to see that Mum the dictator will probably not succeed. Yet millions of well-meaning parents around the world are dictators in their talk and self-talk, thinking that children have to do what’s good for them because the parents are right and the kids are facing a life-and-death issue. If Bill attacked Mum, I would hope that Mum would protect herself and others, even calling on others for assistance
If you are angry for any reason (unless there is a physical cause), you become a dictator in your thoughts: “I must get my way and he should not treat me that way.” This is irrational thinking that makes you angry.
7. Self-pity and Anger
Often depression goes hand in glove with anger. This often happens with people who are into self-pity. The self-pitier lets others have their own way, becomes bitter, but one day there is an explosion.
For example, Ann has allowed her 16-year-old daughter, Sally, to hit her around for years. Sally is taller and heavier than Ann. Ann has developed the bad habit of making a catastrophe in her thinking about stopping Sally from hitting her around.
Beware of those who engage in self-pity. The day of reckoning will come when they explode in anger. They may have been fearful, long-suffering and passive for years, while they catastrophise all inside their heads. Eventually it may lead to bitterness, anxiety and depression – and then the explosion!
B. Quit the Blame Game
1. “Blame is the central issue of anger.” Suppose I call you a nerd, shit or bastard and you rage at me, calling me a blankety blank b. . . When you get angry with me, you are trying to convince others and me that I am a damnable person who is good-for-nothing. You have turned my obnoxious behaviour into a personal assassination of me as a person. To overcome your anger, you need to separate the person from his or her actions. To control anger, you need to become problem-oriented and not blame-oriented. When you damn people in your thinking, it will come out of your mouth in anger towards them.
2. To control your anger,
- Always separate the person from his or her actions;
- Remember that most “people behave badly for three very good reasons: stupidity, ignorance, and disturbance.”
- Forgive everyone, but learn from the things people do to you. Forgiveness means you lay aside your right to get even with another person.
- The more you blame others in your thinking and speech, the more angry you become.
- The more you treat people like garbage, the more likely they are to treat you the same way.
3. The next time things don’t go your way, think about how much damage you could do to yourself by becoming angry. Of course it takes time to master new ways of thinking and doing. You can learn,
- You don’t need to have your own way;
- It is not for you to decide that this world should not be filled with selfish and cruel people, all because you demand it to be that way;
- That people are not labelled by you as bad because they behave badly; and
- That people should be treated badly because they treat others badly.
4. You need to stop and think that it is false to say that you can’t take insults calmly and to sit down quietly and talk through things with others who are doing or saying crappy things to you. Your “natural” way of doing things (blaming them and exploding in anger) is nothing more than a habit of reacting that you have learned over the years. “You can unlearn to be that way.”
5. “You get angry today not because you’ve been a sorehead all your life but because you are still telling yourself that you can’t stand not getting your way and that others have no right to be wrong. Should you question the notions the very next time you are frustrated, you will also not get angry the very next time you are frustrated. Try it and see!”
V. If you don’t get angry, what else can you do?
By now you will have learned that you will function better if you do not blame, keep your cool, and do something else. What is that something else?
A. Control your own anger by using the principles you have learned here.
B. Keep on believing that people can control their own anger, unless they have brain damage from an accident or disease.
C. Imagine what you can do when another person tries to push your buttons and instead of flying into a rage you respond calmly and reasonably.
D. Behaviour and words matter, but actions speak louder than words. It is what you do and say about frustration that matters, not how much you scream at another person.
E. Watch out for the ways that children and spouses can be amazingly creative in getting around frustrations. Stand your ground, even if the other tries many techniques to get his or her own way.
F. If somebody accuses you, you have two options: (1) It is true. If so, admit it. You are a fallible human being with lots of faults. (2) It is false. Give the other person the right to his/her opinion and don’t enter into arguments. Let it rest. You can say to yourself (and not to him): “He has the right to be wrong.” “In this way it is possible never to become upset over any accusation or to make insults out of unkind remarks.”
G. Practise logical consequences:
“Unless you suffer for your mistakes, you’re likely to continue making them. If others let you get off scot-free when you have behaved badly, you will act badly again in the belief that nothing uncomfortable will happen to you.”
(1) If your teenager will not obey the curfew time at night (or any other time), the teen is told that she may be picked up by the police and you will not bail her out if she makes choices to disobey in this way.
(2) If your youth will not turn off his desk lamp in the morning before going to school, after he has gone to school you as parent go in and pull the lamp apart, unplug it from the power point. Warn him ahead of time that you will do this if he leaves the light on when he goes to school. The same can be done with a radio, CD or stereo left blaring in a room when a child is not there.
(3) If there are fights by the children over washing or drying the dishes, tell them that they do not need to eat at your table if they refuse to clean the dishes. You don’t care either way. The choice is hers. Do the dishes and enjoy cooked food, or get the boring alternative of looking through the refrigerator for food, but you will not be able to cook any food.
(4) The child refuses to put on his seat belt while the car is moving. Don’t yell, just pull up beside the road and stop. When the belt is buckled, the journey continues. Without a word, the driver is back into the flow of traffic again.
(5) If a child will not eat with knife, fork and spoon, give her a choice. Eat with knife and fork or eat with the fingers. That becomes difficult with mashed potatoes (she sits there until the potatoes are all eaten. She’ll see quickly the advantage of eating with knife and fork.
(6) If a child leaves toys and clothes lying on the floor and furniture (he doesn’t put things away), you as a parent pick up the items and lock them away for a week. Make sure tht you warn him that this will happen.
(7) If there is fighting among brothers and sisters when they are watching TV, switch off the TV without saying a word.
(8) You have asked the children to put their clothes in the dirty clothes-basket and they refuse or “forget.” Don’t go to their rooms to pick up the clothes. Let them use up all of their clothes until one day they want a particular piece of clothing and realise that it is not clean. I can assure you that they will run to the dirty clothes basket with an arm full of dirty clothes.
These are some of the benefits of natural or logical consequences. Use them. They work.
H. Teach others what you are learning.
Most won’t learn in the heat of the argument. Wait until they have cooled down. Explain how their thinking affects how they act. Also, blowing their tops with anger is not the most healthy way to deal with anger.
I. Accept the fact that most people can become disturbed (neurotic).
J. Count to 10 before you react. As corny as this sounds, it can give you time to consider your thoughts and not make yourself angry.
VI. To control your anger
We’ve learned that you upset yourself by the irrational self-talk you use in your thoughts. You need to identify this stinkin’ thinkin’ and change it. You can learn new ways of thinking. If you get frustrated and angry, it simply means that you have learned one lot of stinkin’ thinkin.’
A. Be encouraged
You can learn new ways, but there is no guarantee how long it will take you to unlearn thoughts that lead to anger. Don’t blame yourself for those early failures of angry outbursts. Previously you did not know what caused them and how to control them. Now you know differently. You can unlearn bad habits.
B. Discipline yourself
Consider this: It is easier to shut your mouth, quit blaming others, and change your stinkin’thinkin’ (that causes anger), than to live with the regrets of jail from an outburst of anger.
“To acquire self-discipline requires the realization that difficult tasks are better handled by facing them (regardless of how ugly and difficult they may be) than by avoiding them. Controlling your anger is sometimes among the most difficult acts you can perform. Be that as it may, do it!”
C. Don’t make matters worse.
If somebody commits an injustice against you, the last thing in the world that you need is to create a greater injustice by getting frustrated or by letting fly in a rage. There are two ways to keep your cool when you are tempted to blow your top. Say to yourself:
1. I am not God and am disturbed if I think that I can always have my own way.
2. I must “be smart, someone is trying to shaft me. That’s bad enough, old boy. Surely you’re not going to be dumb now and do to yourself what that fellow is trying to do. No, sir! Maybe he doesn’t give a hoot about my feelings, but I sure do. Therefore, I’m going to forcibly talk myself out of the angry mood which is beginning to come over me. Having trouble is one thing, and it’s often unavoidable. But making double trouble for myself is another matter entirely.”
D. “But it feels phoney.”
Sometimes people put it bluntly, “I feel as though I have to fake it. It seems phoney when I change my self-talk (stinkin’ thinkin’).” These people fail to realise that we engage in self-talk in our thinking much of the time. “What we must always remember about Self-Talk is that we do not create Self-Talk; we simply recognize that it is already there. . . Whenever we attempt to change patterns of thinking it is hard work. We would rather stay as we are than make the effort required to change. And basically, we really don’t like to change.”
Some will say, “But it doesn’t work for me.” It takes a lot of practice to learn to be a reasonable swing bowler in cricket. Women who do crochet tell me that it takes quite a bit of practice to become competent in this art form. It’s much the same with changing your thinking about anything. When people say that “it doesn’t work,” ask them what they are doing to stop it from working? There are generally three reasons:
1. They are not taking the time to identify the demands they are making on themselves and others in their thinking;
2. They enjoy the stinkin’ thinkin’ (irrational beliefs) and don’t want to leave them go;
Let’s face it. It takes time to change stinkin’ thinking’ and bring them into control by thinking on what is good, pure and lovely. Positive self-talk will lead to control of your anger.
“If you are still struggling with identifying the problems in your present Self-Talk, try this. Ask what you were telling yourself just as you got angry. Or ask yourself what you were saying in your mind just before you felt those pangs of guilt, or that panicky feeling of fear and anxiety. Identify what you said in your Self-Talk as you began to worry.”
E. How it worked out for Kathy
Remember we met Kathy at the beginning of this article? She went off the deep end with anger when Danny her 13-year-old wouldn’t pick up his clothes and make his bed before going off to school.
In counselling, Kathy learned these principles and practised a thought-stopping exercise. Whenever she felt the adrenalin rising and she was about to scream at Danny, she slapped the fleshy part of her upper leg. (She could just as easily have shouted, “Stop,” in her head. Or, as some prefer, put a rubber band around your wrist and sting your arm to alert you to change your stinkin’ thinkin.’) This was her cue to stop to examine her irrational thinking. She was living out the typical sequence of stinkin’ thinkin’. In her head she said, “I must get what I want and it’s terrible and like the end-of-the-world when Danny doesn’t obey me. He’s a b . . . for not obeying me immediately. More than that, I’m his mother and he does not have the right to treat me like this. I must have my way. The little b.b. so-and-so.”
Notice the shoulds, musts and demands in her thinking. As long as she continued to think that way. She made herself angry. Danny did not make her angry.
In counselling, Kathy worked on quitting the demands she was making in her thinking. It seemed strange at first, but it became easier with daily practice. These were some of her thought changes:
1. Yep! It’s a bit frustrating when Danny won’t pick up his clothes at the first ask, but he’s not a b-b-so-and-so.
2. He’s a pretty normal teen. I chose to give him my lip, over and over. I’ve been acting like Mum the dictator. I will stop this talking in chapters to him. He’s a pretty normal teen.
3. Yes, I am his Mum, but I will ask twice – max. – and if he doesn’t pick up his clothes, they go into the locked Saturday Box which I open once a week on Saturday morning. I’ll give him one week’s notice that this is what will be happening.
4. If he insults me and swears at me when he is without clean clothes, I’ll sit down with him and calmly say what I have put into a written contract, “The Saturday Box will be used every week if clothes are left lying on your bedroom floor. I’ll pick them up after you go to school. It’s up to you, Danny, to decide if you want to go to school with a clean uniform or with clean regular clothes. If necessary, I’ll let the deputy principal of the high school know what I am doing.”
Kathy learned these anger management principles by thinking and saying things that controlled her anger with Danny. It took only a short time to do it (about a couple of months of learning), but in the span of life that is a short time-frame. She was able to apply the same principles with her other children.
VII. This is simple, but not easy.
The principles for controlling your anger are simple to explain and simple to practice: Nobody makes you angry. You can’t blame anybody else for your anger. (It would be nice if people treated you nicely, but you can’t make them do that.) You make yourself angry by the way you think about people and life. Change the shoulds, musts and other demands in your thinking and you control your anger. It is simple to explain but it is a challenge to practise it daily. There will be times when you forget some of what you learned here. At those times, if you have less frequent episodes of anger, your anger is less intense, and you are angry for shorter periods of time – you are making progress. If you have severe anger and now it only lasts for an hour instead of all day – you have improved.
To help you analyse your thoughts that lead to anger, use the “Self-Talk Analysis for Anger” below.
The principles are simple. The practice of self-control of your anger takes a short time to learn, but the benefits are lifetime. How committed are you to controlling your anger?
Self-Talk Analysis for Anger (Example)
Shoulds/Musts or Demands
Restated as desires or wants
|Danny lost his text book||
He should know better.He should have taken care of it sooner.
I shouldn’t have to tell (lecture) him.
I wish he would be more responsible.One of these days he will understand that he only hurts himself.
I sure will be glad when he takes care of these things without my help.
 This is a cognitive-behavioural approach to anger management, based on Rational-Emotive Therapy.
 Kathy is not her real name and enough details have been changed so that you would not recognise her. However, Kathy’s anger is typical of a lot of mothers of teenage children and how she learned to control it.
 Note: Most people say that they thought on something that made them happy, sad, angry and calm. When I want to make myself sad, I think of the day my father dropped dead at the age of 57. I enjoy Baskin & Robbins (USA) ice-cream. I can make myself very happy by thinking on some of the delightful B & R flavours I have enjoyed over the years. I can become angry by remembering that abusive woman I met when I returned those clothes that were too small. She screamed at me as if I had stolen $500.00 out of her handbag. What a b-b-so-and-so she was! I can make myself feel calm as I look across the calm waters of Hervey Bay when I visit on a gently warm Spring day.
 Based on Paul A. Hauck, Overcoming Frustration and Anger. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974, pp. 15-24. This artoc;e is a cognitive-behavioural (Rational Emotive Therapy) approach to anger self-control.
Copyright © 2009 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 January 2018