“Anger:  The Change” (Part 3 of 4)
        “I've always had an anger problem. How do I change?”

That’s a great question, one that merits our careful consideration. The topic of “change” is the primary issue for this Part 3 in our series on Anger Management. In Part 1 we explored the high cost of anger, and we found that our inner Anger Beast is indeed a high-priced passenger to maintain in our travels along the Anger Highway of life. The price tag is extremely high in terms of the impact of anger upon physical, emotional, and relationship health. In Part 2 we examined the issue of choice and concluded that anger is indeed a personal choice. If we have no choice, then positive change is extremely limited. However, since we do have a choice to make, we are certainly capable of significant change. Choice provides the potential for change, and choice allows us to begin and complete the anger management process. 

Reviewing the Anger Process
The first key step toward change is the development of new beliefs about the cause of anger and the choice we possess. As described in Part 2, the events around us (what people say and do or what circumstances may occur) do NOT automatically and directly make us angry. Instead, we get angry when we choose to assign specific meanings, primarily a sense of “unfairness,” to those events. For example, an event occurs and my brain processes the raw data obtained through my five senses. The processing of that data leads me to form a conclusion about the event. That conclusion (or the meaning I assign to the event) is actually what causes my resulting emotion. This understanding of emotions could be thought of as the “A-B-C” approach in which “A” represents the event, “B” represents the meaning my brain assigns to the event, and “C” represents the specific emotion I experience as a result of the “B” action. It’s the “B” (and NOT the “A”) that determines my emotion.
To use the “button” analogy that we explored in a prior article, we understand that other people and circumstances do not have the power to “push our anger button.” Oh, the button can be pushed, but there’s only one person on Planet Earth who has the power to push my anger button—and that’s me! I’m the only one who can push my button, and you’re the only one who can push your button.  Thankfully, I can learn not to push my anger button by changing my underlying beliefs (the “B” part of the “A-B-C Model”). My accurate understanding of button-pushing places me in control; I’m the one who decides whether or not to push the anger button. That’s more “good news” for me!
Having reviewed the “A-B-C” process, let’s use the model to explore the key area that is vital to changing and improving our anger management, that is, the revision of our self-talk.

Revising our Self-talk

The term “self-talk” refers to the messages we say to ourselves or how we talk to ourselves as we process information. Suppose that you make a comment to me about my behavior or my appearance. And suppose that my first inner self-talk is, “That’s so unfair! How dare you say that to me!” The initial meaning (“B”) I chose to assign to the event (the “A”, that is, your comment) focused on unfairness.  If I accept that self-talk as the truth, it becomes my inner reality—the “B” that will cause me to feel angry toward you. What made me angry? Not your comment itself, but rather my assignment of unfairness. Thus, I made myself angry. That’s how the “A-B-C” model works. My self-talk determines what type of emotion I will experience in reference to an event.
However, I didn’t have to assign that particular meaning of “unfairness.” My first interpretation could have been that you were teasing me in a joking, good-natured fashion. Had that been the “B” I chose, then my emotional reaction would have been some type of joy, and I may have laughed with you about myself. Or, I could have thought “unfairness” initially but chose to keep it tentative until I had time think it through or until I could get more information. I could ask you to explain the comment to me in terms of what you meant. That new information could help me to assign a new meaning to your comment. In other words, I change the initial “B” to a new “B” and, as a result, I don’t feel angry because another emotion would replace any anger I’m already feeling.
The key question centers in self-talk:  “How else could I think about an event? What else could it mean? Maybe it’s not as unfair as I initially thought.” Any change I am able to make in regard to the assigned meaning will bring about a change in my emotional reaction. The “C” (the emotion) always changes when the “B” (the meaning) is changed. So, we need to become very skilled at doing our “A-B-C’s.”
The revision of our self-talk also involves change in regard to certain negative tendencies most of us have developed over a number of years. These tendencies unfortunately have promoted the creation of unnecessary anger.  Since effective anger management requires healthy thinking, let’s explore briefly three such tendencies and consider possible solutions.
(1)  The “Jumping-to-Conclusions” Tendency . . .


Most of us tend to jump-to-conclusions about what a situation means or what a person’s intention is. We become very skilled at quickly imputing a negative intention to another person’s behavior. Like some of the hot-headed cowboys in the Old West we’re “too quick on the trigger,” and in our hastiness to react we verbally shoot someone who is not a “bad guy” at all. To our chagrin we find out that some cowboys wearing black hats are the “good guys.” We will get in a lot less trouble by slowing things down, postponing conclusions, and checking things out before firing our Colt-45 mouths. We inquire about intentions simply by asking the person, “what was your intention in saying or doing that?” The new information we gain could lead to a very different interpretation and a correspondingly different emotion. This clarification of intentionality works much better than the risky pattern of jumping-to-conclusions.
(2) The “Shoulds” Tendency . . .
Additionally, we tend to think too much in terms of “should.” Admittedly, there are some “shoulds” or standards in life that deserve to remain in place, and we simply need to adjust our behavior to fulfill them. However, the majority of our “shoulds” are actually our arbitrary standards that we impose on people around us. In other words, “They should do what I want” or “They should make me happy,” based upon my self-prescribed standards. When the other person violates my “should,” I’m likely to assign a meaning (or a “B”) of unfairness, and, as a result, I’ll get angry with that person. What difference will occur if I choose to change the “should” to a “could” in regard to the person’s behavior? It’s not that they “should” do this or that, but rather they “could” do this or that. The usage of “could” eliminates the issue of a standard that is open to violation and instead opens the door to increased flexibility. Anger management works better when we apply the old beatitude, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
(3) The “Demands” Tendency . . .
Another tendency is “demanding” instead of “preferring.” When I demand that you behave or respond in a certain way toward me, I set myself up for anger. If you choose not to cooperate with my demand, I get frustrated, I label you as unfair, and presto!—I get angry. But what happens when I stop demanding and start preferring? Instead of thinking “I demand that you like my appearance,” I choose to think “I prefer that you like my appearance.” My inability to fulfill a preference may hurt some, but nothing like the pain caused by an unfulfilled demand. The change from “demand” to “preference” usually results in reduced anger simply because less is violated or left unfulfilled.
We’ve identified three important changes we need to make about our belief tendencies.
                *Changing “jumping-to-conclusions” into “clarifying intentions”
                *Changing “should” into “could”
                *Changing “demand” into “preference”

Understandably, these changes will probably go against-the-grain of your past beliefs and will be difficult to ingrain in your future thinking patterns. However, the long-term benefits will make you glad that you exerted the effort.
By now you may be wondering about the implication of these changes on personal gratification. If we’re determined to be self-centered and self-serving, we’ll probably continue to jump to conclusions about unfairness, insist on “should” rather than “could,” and “demand” instead of “prefer.” The selfish person will soon discover that anger management is an extremely difficult goal to achieve. The path to anger management lies in unselfishness. We need to get past our personal selfishness and become more interested in the other person’s wants and needs. As we grow and mature in our unselfishness we also grow in our ability to practice effective anger management.

Concluding thoughts . . .
So, what have we learned thus far about changing our anger pattern? Positive change begins by accepting and using the belief that “anger is a choice.” That choice opens the door for us to explore our inner beliefs and our thinking patterns to determine how they generate anger. The change of emotion (that is, less anger) occurs as we change our thinking (that is, toward healthier beliefs). We learn to stop thinking in unhealthy, negative, self-defeating ways that promote anger and to begin thinking in healthier ways that prevent anger. Since anger is a choice and since we are capable of changing our self-talk patterns, we know that we can develop workable anger management skills.
Generally speaking, we struggle harder to manage our anger during those times in life when our inner stress is at a high level. In the next article (Part 4) we’ll explore how “stress overload” presents a huge challenge to our anger management, and we’ll examine several potential solutions.
I appreciate your desire to learn more about Anger Management. I wish you the best as you work at managing your personal anger.

And, I wish you the best in all of your relationship journeys.

Note:  There are other resources about Anger Management available on this website. One related blog published during 2010 is entitled “Traveling the Tension Highway.” Our ability to manage our personal tension will help us grow in our effectiveness to manage our anger. This blog can be located in the Blogs section or just click here.
The effective management of anger and tension involves the usage of relaxation skills. Dr. Baker has made available on this website his relaxation program called “Your Relaxation Journey.” The audio program can be located in Audio Travel Guides. You can access the Audio Travel Guides by going to Home/Resources/ListofCategories/AudioTravelGuides, or just click here

Also, if you’re looking for good books that deal with anger, check out the list of books under Home/Resources/ListofCategories/AngerManagement, or just click here.

To see a three-minute television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses the taming of the Anger Beast, please click on the image to the right, or simply click here.

(To listen to an audio version of this blog entry, click the Play button below.)


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