“Anger:  The Choice” (Part 2 of 4)
                                 “But I didn’t choose to get angry—it just happened.”

The man’s explanation for his outburst sounded familiar, reminding me of anger stories I’d heard before. Unfortunately, his repetitive anger behavior had done considerable harm to his relationship. Now, in his effort to figure out “how to fix the damage” he had done, the man verbalized his personal belief about anger. He was basically declaring that anger was not something he had chosen to experience; instead, anger was something that had happened to him. No wonder he felt stuck in his anger pattern. If in fact his anger was controlled by outside forces he did lack personal control.  He was a man at the mercy of his environment.
 Perhaps you can connect with this man’s anger pattern. It could be that you’ve said the same thing about your anger: “it just happened.” Does it seem as if you’re also at the mercy of your environment, and you get angry any time people and circumstances push your buttons? Do you feel frustrated in your anger management?


What kind of experience have you had with the Anger Beast? For most of us the experience has brought us to an important conclusion:  the Anger Beast does not make a good traveling companion as we travel the highway of life. As discussed in Part 1, the cost of maintaining the Anger Beast is extremely high. His appetite continues to grow, and his messes continue to multiply.
Simply put, we cannot afford to keep the Anger Beast on board with us. The cost is too high. So we reach a decision:  it’s time for surgery, perhaps a “Beastectomy.”  But is such a procedure even possible? Can we remove the Beast from his self-crowned kingship? Can we evict him from his self-serving throne?

The Choice of Anger . . .

The crucial question is simply, “Do we have a choice about anger?” If you respond from the perspective of prevailing culture, you would say, “No, we don’t. Our anger is not a choice. People and things make us mad. We can’t help it.” Such a view does fit with common comments like “He made me mad” and “She pushed my buttons.” Admittedly, the anger response can be quick, so fast that it seems as if nothing else happens except “she said that” and “I was mad,” leading me to conclude “she made me mad.” The speed of the process feeds the notion that the environment does it to me.
What are the implications of this notion that “you make me angry”? First, if you are the one who makes me angry, then my anger is really your choice, not mine. Essentially, I’m just a robot waiting for you to choose to push my anger button—and I respond with anger. I’m a marionette and you’re the one pulling my strings—and I react with anger, just as you want. I have no control; I’m literally at the mercy of my environment. Indeed, I am a helpless victim who is pushed around with buttons and yanked around with strings.

Secondly, the idea that “you make me angry” leads to the conclusion that my anger is actually your responsibility, not mine. So don’t blame me for any behavioral reaction toward you. You caused it, so you should bear the consequences, whatever they are. Let’s go with that conclusion for a moment. I can just hear the Judge saying, “Oh, Dr. Baker, so Mr. Jones said such-and-such and made you mad. Well, if he’s the one who made you angry, I can’t blame you for assaulting him in response. You’re really the victim here.  Mr. Jones, I hold you accountable for causing the problem. Please stand as I pronounce judgment on you.” Honestly, I rather like that part of the deal. If you make me mad, then I’m not held responsible for my angry reaction. But I don’t think you would release me so easily from my responsibility. Certainly, the judge would not let me off the hook. Maybe there’s something faulty about the “you-make-me-angry” logic.AngerChoicesAC
Let’s consider emotions in general, anger included. There are two basic approaches to understanding my emotions:  the “A-C Model” and the “A-B-C Model.”
The descriptions already given about “you make me angry” fit the “A-C Model.” That is, some external event (“A”) automatically and directly causes a specific emotion (“C”) within me. The speed of emotional reactions seems to support this theory. However, this approach means that I’m not in control of my emotions; I’m at the mercy of my environment (really bad news!). It also means that the only way I can change any of my emotions is to change the environment, which may or may not be possible. Too often other people and circumstances don’t change, leaving me stuck in my anger. I have no alternative then but to continue feeling angry.
If the “A-C Model” is correct, then it would seem to me that everyone who experiences the same “A” (or event) should react with the same “C” (identical emotion). But reality has shown us that five people witnessing the exact same event will probably experience a wide variety of emotional responses, the opposite of what the "A-C Model” should produce. Thus, the conclusion is clear. A key piece is missing from the “A-C” puzzle.
AngerChoiceABCThe missing piece is the “B” which when added yields the “A-B-C Model.” Think of the “B” as the “Brain” that gives meaning to events. In other words, the raw data gained through our five senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste) goes to our brains. There in the brain the raw data is quickly realized, analyzed, and synthesized, leading to a conclusion—an interpretation of what the event means. That “meaning” or interpretation is what actually causes the emotion. After processing the raw data my mind assigns a personal meaning or belief to the event. For example, if I interpret the data to mean a personal loss, my resulting emotion will be sadness. If my brain assigns a meaning of “harm or danger,” my resulting emotion will be fear and anxiety. Suppose I interpret the event to represent some type of unfairness and it’s thwarting me in getting what I want or what I think should happen. The result is very predictable—anger! My emotions do not and cannot result directly from the events or circumstances to which I’m exposed. Instead, they are produced by the particular interpretation or specific meaning that my brain assigns to the event.
This knowledge brings both bad news and good news. What’s the “bad” news? This understanding about emotions meAngerChoiceMyAngerans that I bear personal responsibility for my anger and the behavior it produces; I can no longer put the blame on you. Ouch! It has been rather nice having a scapegoat for my anger, someone to blame besides myself. Now that the “blame-game option” is off the table, I must grow up and accept personal responsibility. So what’s the good news? Simply, I AM IN CONTROL! Believe it or not, YOU do not and cannot make me angry. If I get angry, I’m angry because my brain assigned a meaning of “unfair!” or a similar interpretation to some event, resulting in my experiencing the emotion of anger. That fact means that I am the only one who has the power to make me angry. I do it to myself. That’s not just good news—it’s GREAT NEWS! This truth means that I am NOT at your mercy or at the mercy of my environment. I do have a choice. The bottom line is clear:  MY ANGER IS MY CHOICE!
No doubt you’ve heard—and perhaps even used—the statement “He really pushed my button!” By that comment we usually mean that we get excessively angry in response to the other person’s words or behavior. The statement is basically equivalent to the idea “He made me really mad.” If the “A-B-C Model” is correct (and it is), then other people or circumstances CANNOT push my anger button. Oh, it can get pushed all right, but I am the only one who can push it. Let’s explore this “button-pushing” problem more closely. Specifically, what can I do to stop pushing my own anger button?
AngerChoiceLifeFolderAllow me to share my concept of my emotional buttons. I picture a folder that I call my “life folder.”  On the front of the folder are several buttons, including my anger button. Inside the folder are all of the beliefs I maintain regarding everything in my life, including how I expect other people to treat me as well as my specific beliefs about anger. For example, suppose that one belief is, “When someone comes into my house, I demand that he should totally respect my property and never damage anything. Any intentional or accidental mistreatment of my stuff means that he does not respect me at all and that he should be reprimanded severely and told to leave my house immediately.” This belief will determine when and where I push my anger button. You’re probably predicting a lot of button-pushing, no douAngerChoiceMyBeliefsbt every time I entertain company. And you’d be correct in your prediction.
Effective anger management means that I would not push my anger button and have an excessive anger response. How can I prevent the button-pushing? Suppose I just worked on the “outside” of my life folder. In other words, I try to reduce the outward symptoms of the anger (counting to ten, taking a deep breath, using a time-out, etc.). While these techniques may help to some degree, I stay stuck in my anger pattern because I am maintaining the underlying belief about how people “should” behave when in my house. Until that belief is modified I will continue to push my anger button. So, I need to examine carefully my personal beliefs and revise the ones that are unhealthy and inappropriate. For example, I might revise the example in the following manner.
AngerChoiceRevisingBeliefs“I now choose to believe that I prefer (not demand) that my visitors show respect for my property. However, I understand that accidents will occur and that property may be damaged. I choose to value relationships over physical stuff. If I conclude that a visitor is mistreating my property, I will assertively request that he change his behavior and I could insist that he leave my property. I will exercise my right not to invite him to my house again. But I will not respond by pushing my anger button.”
This revision may not be perfect but it is a healthier belief in that it is less rigid and more flexible. I will need to work hard on a daily basis to instill this “new” belief into my “life folder.” As I rehearse and review the belief and as I try to practice it, I will believe the revised belief more and more until it becomes integrated in my personal “operating system.” This revision of personal beliefs is a key ingredient in the process of managing my anger button.
In conclusion, the first key step in anger management is the belief that anger is a choice. You choose whether to get angry or not. No one or no thing is doing it to you; whatever happens, you’re doing it to yourself. So, since this belief is a key, what’s the next step? How can I change my choices? The issue of change is the main point of the follow-up article, Part 3.
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.

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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