Reducing Your Anger in Addiction Recovery

People often think that other people create their anger. “They make me angry” is a common statement. If that were the case, there would be little you could do about your anger except to stay away from most people!

Fortunately, others don’t create your anger.

Why Do I Get So Angry?

Your own thinking corresponds with your anger more than the actions of others.  To discover your thinking that creates your anger, we suggest that you look for the event about which you are angry and then look for your belief about that event.

Think, what happened that I’m angry about?

You may recall an event such as someone cut you off in traffic, failed to follow through on an agreement, or treated you with disrespect. Next, ask yourself, what am I telling myself about (name the event) that gets me to feel angry? Many people answer, “Why’d they do that?” with an intense and frustrated tone of voice. That response, however, is a question, and questions do not create anger.

You’re probably telling yourself I don’t like their behavior. They’re mistaken for acting that way. But, that too doesn’t get you bent out of shape with anger. That gets you annoyed or disappointed.

Look to see if you can find something like “They should not act that way” or “They’re no damn good for doing what they did.”

Statements that contain these shoulds and damnations are of the sort of thinking that creates emotional upsets, and when you are going from wanting others to treat you nicely to believing they should, then you can easily upset yourself with anger.

Most anger is an emotional disturbance that can defeat you, and the actions of others do not create this state within you.  Instead of making yourself angry, you can merely feel irritated and dislike the actions of others. And, while disliking their behavior, you may occasionally deal with it effectively, and when you don’t, you can carry on without being overly upset.

Recognize the Costs of Anger

A good first step in eliminating your anger is to recognize that it is often an emotional disturbance: it defeats you. One way to discover for yourself how anger defeats you is to do a cost-benefit analysis, such as the one that follows:

Costs and Benefits of Anger

Take a closer look on what anger can cost you, as well as the benefits (yes, benefits) you may gain from anger. These are some of the things that happen to you while habitually generate anger. When you look through your own list of costs and benefits, you can gain a clearer picture of what you’re doing to yourself.

Costs of Anger:

  • You may develop high blood pressure.
  • You may ruin relationships with others.
  • You may lose a job or a mate.
  • You spend less time in achieving happiness for yourself.
  • You spend time thinking of the unpleasant acts of others. (This, of course, is the opposite of happiness.)
  • You may commit violent acts while enraged.

Benefits of Anger:

  • Commiserating with other angry people gives you something to do and a purpose for living.
  • When you are depressed, your anger can feel better than your depression.
  • You may feel good in your belief that you’re better than someone else, i.e., the person at whom you’re angry. – It may work for you in the short-run – like addictive behaviors.
  • People may stop behaving in a way that bothers you. (But in the medium and long run they avoid you or, worse, they may wait to take their revenge when they get a chance.)

Note that the benefits are often short-term, for instance and rarely, if ever, give you much happiness. By repeatedly reading through the list, such as daily readings, you can get more motivated to change.

Discovering the Irrational Beliefs Creating Your Anger

How do you discover your anger? Focus on the event about which you are angry. Then, look for the shoulds and damnations in your head that accompany your anger. When you do, you’ll discover a significant belief that you can begin to deal with.

Try this exercise: Repeat several times “They should not act that way. They’re no damn good for doing what they did.”  Notice how you feel.

One of the main procedures taught in REBT for diminishing anger is Disputing Irrational Beliefs (DIBs). Let’s do it now.

Irrational Belief: They should not act as they did. They’re no damn good for doing what they did.

Disputing question: Is there any evidence that my belief is true?

Answer: No. I definitely do not like their actions. But, I cannot prove that they absolutely should not do it. And, they’re definitely mistaken, but that doesn’t prove them to be no good.

Disputing question: What good can happen to me if I give up my belief?

Answer: I’ll diminish my anger. I will not like their behavior, but I will not be irrational about it. I may also be able to think of their more positive qualities, if any, and decide how I will go about relating to them even with their faults. When you do the above analysis and therapeutic excise, you may begin chipping away at your anger. Doing it many times may help you eliminate it almost completely.

Anger in a Chain of Upsets

Anger can set off a “chain of upsets”, which is being angry about being angry. It works like this:

Primary Disturbance

First, you make yourself angry at people by telling yourself “People must treat me nicely and kindly, and just the way I want. When they don’t, they’re no damn good and should be punished.”

Another irrational belief creating anger is “People should help create a rational, sensible world, preferably one that accommodates my preferences about fairness, my biases about how people should act, and my beliefs about how the world should operate.”

Your anger may be precipitated by Low Frustration Tolerance, such as “Others must not frustrate me. I can’t stand it when they do. When others frustrate me, they should be punished.”

Then comes the next upset…

Secondary Disturbance

You rationally notice that your anger defeats you. Then you irrationally make yourself disturbed about your anger by thinking something like “I must not be disturbed; it makes me inferior and worthless.” You may add “Everybody knows I’m a nut case and that makes me worthless. I don’t stand a chance at gaining their approval, and I need their approval.”

With your secondary disturbance, you become more disturbed and find it even more difficult to reduce your anger.

Other Secondary Disturbances:

You Quit While Trying to Eliminate Your Anger

  • You try to help yourself; you fail. You get disturbed at the difficulty of change; you decide to quit trying.
  • “It’s too hard to change. I can’t stand the hard work. I’d prefer to stay as I am than to do the hard work of change.”
  • “I’m so bad, nobody can help me.”

You may make excuses and rationalizations for your behavior.

Some Examples are:

  • “It’s normal to feel this way. Anyone would get upset at the things I get upset about.”
  • “Because someone really did harm me, my anger is justified.”
  • “All I did was express my feelings. Anyone would, and those who get upset at me for this obviously have a worse problem.”
  • “Others make me angry. If they wouldn’t treat me so badly, I wouldn’t be this way.”

Developing Social Relationships—Both Cooperative and Hostile—Based on Anger

  • You may encourage and teach other people to express anger at those with whom you are angry ; you may join hate groups, and spread messages of hatred to others.
  • You develop methods of hurting others, and you pride in yourself at the ways you develop to hurt them. You work at being “the best of the bad.”
  • You look for opportunities to hurt others. For instance, someone makes a mistake, and you pounce on him or her.

Vicious Circle

You express hatred for others; they respond by treating you badly; then you think they’re out to get you, and they think the same about you. You both continue your hostilities until someone backs out of the fray or a completely different understanding of the problem eliminates the anger.

The Better News

We believe you can greatly reduce and possibly eliminate your anger.

Your goal in doing so is to have greater tolerance of others and greater acceptance of their behavior while also reducing (or eliminating) the costs of anger from your life.

This article is a compilation of articles written by Philip Tate, Ph.D., which originally appeared in the Three Minute REBT column of News & Views.


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