Major themes, thinking, and behaviors associated with unhealthy anger (Identified by Windy Dryden in his book “Dealing with Emotional Problems,” 2012).
- You have been frustrated or a goal has been obstructed in some way.
- Someone or something has threatened your self-esteem.
- Someone has shown you disrespect.
- Someone has transgressed one of your personal rules.
- You overestimate the extent to which others acted deliberately
- You see malicious intent in the motives of others
- You see yourself as definitely right and the others as definitely wrong
- You are unable to see the point of view of others
- You plot to exact revenge
- You ruminate about the other’s behavior and imagine coming out on top*
- You attack others physically
- You attack others verbally
- You attack others passive-aggressively
- You displace the attack on to another person, animal or object
- You withdraw aggressively
- You recruit allies against the other
Setting Goals For Anger Management
The RE-CBT approach helps clients develop realistic goals for changing the thinking and behaviors associated with their unhealthy anger. Often, angry thinking and aggressive behavior are self-disturbing and self-defeating responses to unmet desires and personal goals. Clients may think that their anger is necessary to enforce rules or to not appear weak to others. Clients may feel powerful over others when angry, and at other times may feel inadequate and powerless. It may take some work for clients to see that many of the perceived benefits of anger are short-term, but the pain and destruction of anger are debilitating and long-term. The REBT/cbt therapist helps clients discovers if and how this pattern has been true in their life, and then agree on specific goals to change and reshape their ingrained patterns of angry thinking, feeling, and responding.
Changing Angry Thinking
The core irrational beliefs that typically contribute to unhealthy anger are: demanding that others or life “should,” “ought-to,” “has-to,” “must,” give them what they need and desire when and how they require it; unconditionally deserving what they demand from others and life; low-frustration tolerance in the form of “I can’t take this;” labeling and globally rating others as bad or conniving or dishonest, while rating themselves as a victim; and awfulizing and catastrophizing. Clients’ inferences or assumptions about others and events often include exaggerations and misperceiving. However, clients can learn less upsetting ways of construing and interpreting events. Even during the initial sessions, negative automatic thoughts, inferences, and core beliefs associated with unhealthy emotions are identified . Once pinpointed, these thinking errors and irrational beliefs are challenged and replaced with more effective, tolerant ways of thinking.
Learning Alternatives To Angry Thinking and Aggression
Teaching new skills is an essential part of anger management. Anger often results when clients do not have the adaptive skill-set to get what they want from their environment. Consequently, they might respond with aggression, passive-aggression, or even passivity that results in an eventual blow-up. It is important to teach assertiveness, effective communication, problem-solving, boundary-setting and other skills to help clients respond appropriately to realistic obstacles and transgressions by others.
Changing Angry and Aggressive Behavior
It is often necessary for therapist and clients to establish a plan to decrease and/or eliminate aggressive and destructive behaviors. This plan should involve a specific, detailed definition of the behaviors that clients want to change. The REBT/cbt therapist helps clients identify situations that trigger angry thinking and aggressive behaviors, and then arrange consequences in their environment to decrease the likelihood and severity of aggressive behaviors. Client are encouraged to persevere in their efforts to modify their aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors. This persistence also has a positive influence on self-discipline and frustration tolerance. Positive behavior changes in one area can lead to other adaptive behaviors that have a positive impact on relationships and overall functioning.
Final Thoughts About Unhealthy Anger
The main goal of REBT/cbt anger management is for clients to properly assert themselves, make requests instead of demands, and remain calm and non-aggressive during and after unsatisfactory situations. This requires both learning new skills and rehearsing alternative ways of thinking and behaving. Anger is a normal and often healthy response to unfairness and provocation. However, it does not have to damage homes and friendships, hinder careers and life-goals, or destroy peace of mind. Clients can learn to let go of their grievances and get on with living their lives productively and peacefully. A properly trained and experienced REBT/cbt therapist can help.
Boyd Eustace, LCPC
August 21, 2018