I always tell clients that they can tell me any story about something that “made” them angry and that, when we peel back enough layers, we will find that they perceived that there was some sort of threat in that event.
For us humans, threats are more than just threats to life and limb. Threats are found in boundary violations, injustices, and unmet expectations. As human beings, with more sophisticated brains than animals, we perceive more subtle threats than animals do.
However, to understand impulsive, angry behavior, we must understand that our intelligent brain is connected to the primitive portion of our brain that tells our body how to react. In that primitive portion of our brain, losing our girlfriend, or our job, or our standing in the community is just as threatening as losing our lives…and we get just as wound up.
So, part of anger management training is to accept that “My body is wound up, and even so, I must stay connected to the portion of my brain that is able to decipher what I am telling myself.” In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), I have clients write down as much of their self-talk as possible.
The process is:
- Log self-talk
- Find the cognitive distortions or mental mistakes
- Dispute the distortions
- Replace the distortions with a more rational self-statement
We, of course, start out with events that have already happened. But the goal is to get better at doing it in the moment. This takes practice.