We go through life thinking that other people and situations make us angry. Our emotions are susceptible to the winds of events, and we get blown like a flag on a tall pole. This is exhausting. So, what do we do? We try to control other people and situations. And as you know that is not an effective strategy. But you can learn powerful skills and gain tools through cognitive behavioral therapy. Add in mindfulness meditation techniques and you will experience a rapid and dramatic drop in anger.
“Overcome your own anger and you overcome all of your enemies.” – Shantideva
Anger stems from egocentric thinking. Thinking such as “I think the world should operate the way I think it should.” A simple way to look at this destructive emotion is that we think that other people should or shouldn’t behave in a certain way. That guy in the car in front of me should pull over. Or she shouldn’t be so bossy. Sound familiar?
The good news is since anger stems from our thinking we can have control over it. If anger was really caused by other people’s behaviors or situations, we would have no control over the emotion. Don’t believe me? Let me prove it to you.
There are 7.7 billion people on this planet. For an event to be causal every person who experiences what makes you angry would have to have the same anger response. Do you think it is possible that there are people who would have a different response to yours? I hope your answer was yes. If even one person responds in a different way than you that proves that the event or situation cannot be causal.
So, what is causing your anger? Your belief system. That is just a fancy way of saying you’re thinking. Specific types of thoughts are the culprit. Thoughts of should and thoughts of shouldn’t. The next thing I’m going to say is quite humbling. Anytime you hear yourself say “should or shouldn’t” you are wrong. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, most of us would rather be “right” and feel miserable than be “wrong” and feel good.
Now that you know the cause of anger you are probably wondering what you can do about it. Mindfulness therapy combined with cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation has the highest success rate in helping clients reduce anger. When I do online therapy with clients I have them do specific written exercises that help to form new neural pathways to bypass old anger responses. I teach clients that they have three choices:
- You can choose to maintain the thought that “they should or shouldn’t.” This choice will ensure that you maintain the anger along with the breath, body and mind response.
- You can choose to suffer a whole lot more. You can do this by ruminating, yelling or avoiding. Go ahead and plug in your favorite anger behavior pattern.
- You can choose to create a new thought with a positive emotional and physiological consequence. This can be done by acknowledging you have a preference along with a behavior change.
If we use the car driving too slow in front of us as an example the choices would look like this:
- You can maintain the thought along with the anger: “I think they should drive faster or pull over.”
- You can make the anger worse by tailgating, beeping, hitting the steering wheel, giving them the finger, yell out the window and/or ruminate on it long after they turn off the road.
- You can choose to stop suffering and see your demand as a preference. I’d prefer they drove faster, but I’m going to focus on my breathing and use this as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Start and practice with small “activating” events that you “falsely” think cause irritation. This will begin to build a new neural pathway. With diligence you will see a shift in your thinking and a resultant reduction in anger. Guaranteed.
Go Mindful Counseling offers compassionate and effective phone therapy and online therapy for anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger and addictive behaviors. We provide cognitive behavioral therapy near me, in person, and online video conferencing and phone. Contact us for a free 20-minute consultation.
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