Dealing with anger

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anthony

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How do we really deal with anger? Traditionally we have dealt with anger in one of two ways, being to turn anger inwards or outwards. The former is considered the 'sick' method that you internalise your aggression, absorb resentment like a sponge, that ultimately corrodes your ability to function. That latter is said to be the 'healthy' method, to vent your feelings and you presumably feel better. The problem with the latter is that if you go around venting your feelings, people tend to read you as hostile and disturbed. The worse part is that you aren't learning how to deal with people in society without getting angry.

So what if there is a third option? Dr David Burns (M.D. Psychiatry) believes there is, and I tend to agree whole heartedly with him. It's simply called, stop creating your anger. Both the above options of holding it in, or letting out, become mute, because it won't exist.

-- This is somewhere between an interesting discussion, and an article --

Does this apply to everyone? Well, you have to isolate whether your anger is a negative in your life, or whether you only experience anger at opportune times, but otherwise does not rule your life. Trying to apply distortions to singular events that happen randomly in which you usually handle quite fine, but happen to snap irregularly to, is not really what this discussion is about. For those lives who are ruled by anger, who find themselves anger prone, then this does apply to you.

So who, or what, makes you angry? This is the question you have to ask yourself when angry.

Example, "Well, the noisy woman neighbour in our apartment building can't be quiet when I'm trying to sleep."

Is it her stupid, self centred actions that make you angry? It's normal to believe that external events upset you, especially when you get mad and make x person the reason for your feelings.

"You're getting on my nerves; you're annoying me." When you think this way, what you're actually doing is fooling yourself into believing that another person is making you angry, which is false.

Now... before you start to confuse your situation with this threads content, don't. This is not about blame or fault, this is about a distortion in your thinking and the reality of who is truly responsible for how you feel, being angry. I introduced this logic in the recent thread https://www.myptsd.com/threads/criticism-is-it-them-or-you.49588

So... back to who is really making you angry... being you. So what if the pushy teenager cuts in line in front of you at the supermarket. You got conned into buying a fake ticket. A friend screwed you over. Your partner did something you don't like. Name your subject, it doesn't matter. No matter what another does to you, they did not, and never will, upset you.

The ugly truth is that you are the one who is creating every ounce of anger, frustration and other such emotion, that you feel.

Does that sound like stupidity to you? Anger, like all your emotions, are created by you, and you alone, all based on your cognitions (thoughts). Your feelings result from the meaning you assign to an event, not from the event itself.

So here is the tough pill for many upon this community. If you're angry about being raped, you actually create the anger, not the rapist. Remember what I said previously about fault and blame, you being angry does not make you at fault or to blame for being raped, abused or traumatised, they are different things by definition. Being angry is all you... you actually own everything in relation to how you feel, because nobody controls your thoughts that result in a negative reaction, except you.

Does this mean that you're never going to be angry at someone? No, certainly not. We are after all human, which makes every one of us flawed and imperfect.

I get in the car some days and swear and curse the entire time driving, idiot drivers doing silly things. They're not angry though, I'm angry, which means I control whether I continue to be angry or whether I choose to look at things a different way.

Its a very tough thing to say to a person who's been raped and beaten, to not be angry at their abuser. Well... you can be angry all you want... but at the end of the day you have to look at what that anger is doing to you. Your abuser isn't angry, they're not affected by your anger, only you are, and only you created your anger.

You can apply this to anything in life, the outcome doesn't change. You are responsible and in control of your anger, nobody else.

If you put your child to sleep and just want to relax, yet they climb over their crib two hours later and show-up beside your bed giggling and wanting your attention, depending on your mood you could a) be angry and frustrated that you aren't getting to relax as you've hoped, being already irritated, or b) be in a pleasant mood and think to yourself, "wow, they're really becoming quite independent and growing, being able to climb their crib."

How you view the situation depends on your emotional status prior to the event happening.

You may be thinking that this doesn't apply to you, and you have some justifiable provocation. There is no doubt a whole lot of cruelty and unfairness in this world... this community is full of what life dishes out. Every event though is based on how you view it and interpret it, which derives whether you get angry or not.

Now I'm certainly not saying, or telling you, that you can't feel angry. You make your own choices. What I'm saying is whether or not your anger is negatively affecting your life, relationship, social status, employment and other areas of functioning. If it is... then maybe this discussion is of more relevance to you than you think.

Distortions Related To Anger

There are a few. Labelling is one. When you call someone a "piece of shit" "garbage" "trash" "a jerk" and so forth, you have created a negative method of viewing that person within your mind, thus the distortion. I doubt very much you could prove a person is a piece of shit, a jerk, trash or whatever name you have convinced yourself of at the time, regardless how evil they have been to you. Labelling is an extreme form of overgeneralisation. To put it simply, you're directing anger towards what that person "is" and not processing the emotion of what the person may have done.

When you write a person off like this from your life, you catalogue everything you don't like about them (mental filter) and ignore or discard anything positive about this person (discount the positives).

When you label, you're basically creating a self-fulfilling prophecy to bring about a state of interpersonal warfare. What's the battle really about though? Well... really it often comes down to trying to protect your self-esteem, as though it has been fractured. The problem with this is that you can't enhance your own self-esteem if denigrating another, even if it does feel good temporarily, you've still created a negative distortion in your mind which will affect you negatively. This comes back to the thread mentioned previously about who's in control of your mind, and that is you. The only person who can threaten your self-esteem, is you.

I can already envisage the argument forming in your mind about finding anything positive about an abuser. Again, this is not about fault or blame, please keep the logic out to the side as I am certainly not robbing you of any right to blame an abuser for their actions. Shit, be angry with them if you want... but the point here is that your anger is only affecting you negatively, not your abuser. Please isolate the distinction. This is also only relevant IF you're angry, and when you're angry. Trying to keep focused on present tense is the best method for resolving anger, and not trying to apply it within the past. If you feel angry, you feel that present tense, not past tense.

Another distortion of anger is mind reading. You literally create motives that explain to your satisfaction why the other person did what they did. The problem is that you cannot know what the other person was thinking, therefore you're mind reading and creating outcomes to sustain your distorted thoughts.

The next is magnification. When you exaggerate the importance of the negative event, the intensity and duration of your reaction gets blown out of proportion. You can apply this from, missing a bus for an appointment, concluding that you "just can't take this;" to being raped and concluding "I can't live any longer." Well, you can take it and you are still living after being raped.

Another is should, and shouldn't statements. Now this one is going to pose some interesting responses, IMHO. When you find anothers actions are not to your liking, you tell yourself someone should, or shouldn't have done something. Should statements rest on the foundation that you're entitled to instant gratification. So when you don't get what you want, you shift into panic or rage, you believe you will die or be deprived somehow. Has the deprivation cause your anger? No... the deprivation only creates a sense of loss, disappointment or inconvenience. Before you feel anger, you interpret that sense of entitlement in these cases. Are people perfect? No, they're not.

An anger prone person often formulates their interactions in moralistic terms, such as "If I'm nice to someone, they should be appreciative." The problem with this is this little thing called, free will. Everyone has it, and what one thinks or acts, is different to another, is different to you. When you try and force someone into your belief system, usually the opposite will occur. Why? Because people don't want to be dominated or controlled, they have their own free will going on.

The perception of unfairness or injustice is ultimately the cause of most anger. Which brings me to a point that will create a divide, you will either accept it or reject it. There is no such thing as a universally accepted concept of fairness and justice. Fairness is relative to the person, and what is fair to one person, may not be viewed as fair to another. Whilst we like to tell ourselves we have moralistic codes of right and wrong, the simple fact is that even right and wrong is relative to each person. You can insist all you want that your moral system is universal, but it just isn't factual. Your moralistic code extends no further than you.

Lets argue these values. A lion kills and eats a sheep. Is that fair? From the sheep point of view, its unfair, as the sheep is being viciously and intentionally murdered with no provocation. But the lions view, its all good and fair, especially as the lion is hungry and feels entitled to eat the sheep. Who is right? There is no universal answer to this question, as both have different views and there is no absolute fairness to this question. In fact, fairness is a self-created concept, an abstraction and perpetual interpretation.

How about when you eat a hamburger? To you, it is fair that you eat the cow that was killed to make the meat. To the cow, it is completely unjust.

As humans we use personal and social moral codes to try and stop anarchy. These codes are typically agreed upon sets of values that we choose to live by, yet not all do. Who is right? Neither, because there is no universal answer to fairness, regardless of social or personal codes of conduct. A system of fairness is really a sliding scale based on how many agree with the rules in place.

So here's what's really happening when you say, "that isn't being fair." Your interpretation of what is happening is different from the other persons view of fairness. Murder is one such thing. We have a majority of society who deem murder to be unfair, and thus a person becomes angry when it occurs, yet from the murderers view point, they find it fair to kill another. Who is right? Again... neither. Unless you want to introduce majority agreed codes, yet if you did that, you can't agree with some and not with others, as that in itself is a contradiction and favours the exact issue, being there is no universal fairness.

So when you think another is acting unfairly, and even convinced yourself of such, in actuality they're only acting unfairly relative to your moral system, not their moral system. So for the others point of view, they're acting quite fairly, even though you do not agree, because they only have their moral code of fairness to work by.

So when you tell yourself that another is acting unfairly, in essence you're chasing a mirage, as fairness is relative to the individual.

You could now be angry about reading this! Does this means you toss away your values and belief systems? Well... no... because they are your beliefs, your values, but when you apply them to another and come out frustrated and angry, think about the other persons values and belief systems, and do they align with your own? Chances are, they do not. You may agree with several things of another, but most you will not.

So I guess the ultimate question is not, should I or should I not feel anger? But, where will I draw the line?

So when you get angry, here are two questions to ask yourself to establish your own meaningful philosophy about anger:
  1. Is my anger directed toward someone who has knowingly, intentionally, and unnecessarily acted in a hurtful manner, and
  2. Is my anger useful? Does it help me achieve a desired goal or does it simply defeat me?
Nearly everyone on this community can answer yes to 1, but is it helping you achieve a goal, is the ultimate question to answer. That will define your decision to keep your anger, or to try and work through it to find other reasoning, thus letting go of it.

How To Overcome Anger

Not an easy answer, and one that will normally take brute force in opposition to your current belief system that self-justifies your right to be hostile and aggressive.
  1. Use the double column technique to list the advantages and disadvantages of feeling angry and acting in a retaliatory manner. Consider both short and long-term consequences. Review the list and ask yourself which is the greater, the cost or the benefits.
  2. Now give yourself the same test, ask yourself if the upsetting situation that provoked you doesn't change immediately, would you be willing to cope with it instead? If you answer yes, then you're clearly motivated to change. If no, you are going to be angry and that's all there is to it.
  3. Cool down the hot thoughts by writing them down as they pop into your head, then counter them with cool thoughts, more objective thoughts. Double column method again. Write without a filter, enjoy the language and profanities you have in your head when writing them down, then substitute into less inflammatory language and cool them right down.
  4. Imagery techniques can help when you have vivid images in your head about an event or what you want to do with a person. These images keep alive your anger. Change them. For example, use humour to cool down the intensity; when you have an image of choking someone, change it to them running down the street in a clown costume, or nappy, or something that makes you laugh.
  5. Distraction has a place in reducing anger. When you have a negative image or feeling to something / someone, do something that brings you peace and harmony. Exercise, call and talk with a friend or family member, read a book, whatever your hobby or enjoyment, go do that and push the anger out with the positives of the task at hand.
  6. Rewrite the rules. You may frustrate yourself needlessly about an unrealistic rule you have, maybe expectations or such. So rewrite it and reframe your expectation in a positive manner to try and reduce the emotion that causes your anger.
  7. Learn to expect craziness. Teenagers is one such example, in that instead of expecting them to be adult like and mature, to make rational decisions and such, it is unrealistic for this to occur, so expect there to be craziness within their daily life. Kids do silly things, so accept it and take each moment on its merits and believe they will grow out of it with time, support and love.
  8. Enlightened manipulation. You may fear being a pushover if you change your expectations or give up your anger. You may sense others will take advantage of you. This apprehension though reflects your inadequacies and that you have not been trained in going after what you want. In other words, reward the desired behaviour instead of punishing the undesired behaviour. Punishment causes resentment, reward causes positive emotions and often reciprocity.
  9. Should reduction. As many thoughts that create anger comprise "should" statements, using the double column method, make a list of all the reasons the other person "shouldn't" have acted as they did. Then challenge these reasons until you can see why they are unrealistic and don't make good sense.
  10. Negotiating strategies. This uses calm, firm, and an assertive approach to communicating with another when something is not to your liking. Moralistic "shouldering" or such will likely only aggravate or polarise another, often resulting in a counterattack. Remember, fighting is a form of intimacy... so do you really want to be intimate with the person you're angry with? Compliment a person on what was done right. Agree with them and disarm any arguments they may present. Clarify your viewpoint calmly.
  11. Accurate empathy. Empathy is the ultimate anger antidote. Empathy is not to feel the same way as another, as that is sympathy. Nor is empathy acting in a tender, understanding manner. That is support. Empathy is the ability to comprehend with accuracy the precise thoughts and motivations of another in a way they would say, "yes, that is exactly were I'm coming from!"
  12. Practice. Anger is eruptive, rapid and well... can get you by surprise. So the best thing for you is to rehearse responses to common problems that make you angry, then go and put them into action and measure you results. Write down how you normally react, how you want to react that you believe will disarm your anger, then put it into action. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. This way you learn how to thwart your anger ahead of time, thus removing it from the equation.
10 Things To Remember About Your Anger
  1. The events of this world do not make you angry. Your hot thoughts create your anger.
  2. Anger will not help you most of the time, it will immobilise you with no productive purpose.
  3. The thoughts that create anger will majority of the time contain cognitive distortions.
  4. Your anger is ultimately caused by your belief someone is acting unfairly or unjust.
  5. Learning to view the world from others eyes will often open you to their actions as not necessarily being unfair from their view.
  6. Other people rarely believe they deserve your punishment, thus retaliation is unlikely to achieve a positive outcome.
  7. Much of your anger involves the feeling of lost self-esteem, thus you defend, when only you can cause yourself to lose self-esteem.
  8. Frustration often is met from unmet, unrealistic expectations.
  9. It is childish pouting to insist you have the right to be angry.
  10. You rarely need your anger to exist within society and be human.
 
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Seasounds

MyPTSD Pro
Terrific! Your writing is clear, thorough, helpful, and supportive of building a community that uses anger constructively; to inform us of ourselves, and to use that learning to clarify and communicate our needs effectively.

Besides an emotion of loss, or loss of control, I was taught to think of anger as a force, like the wind, to let it blow through me, without damaging myself or another, to discover the emotions and needs below my anger.

I was one of those people, who walked out of a group that suggested I was the creator of my anger. Two months later, after going back and attending the group, which included learning about the CBT points you presented, my life radically changed. I'm still doing the work. I'm noticing anger sooner, and transforming it, into actions that move me towards getting my needs met.

I'll practice managing my reactions, while reading threads, so I can empathize with others.
 
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intothelight

Sponsor
Anger management is an especially critical tool for those with PTSD to develop, as the "fight" response seems to become "automatic" and there is a sense of lacking control in that regard. I know that for myself, that "fight" kicks in and the response is disproportionate to the event.

One area that can also help with anger management is learning to recognize the underlying emotion. Anger may be what is expressed, but underlying the anger can be disappointment, frustration, fear, etc. For myself I found that fear was the driving factor and when my security or safety "felt" threatened, then my response was/is anger. However, it is critical as suggested in the management techniques to have a realistic view of the perceived threat.

Another aspect to anger management is knowing yourself and knowing your limitations. Hyperarousal also feeds the anger response so it is important to control the stress that you can and to develop the skills necessary to become more resilient. My personal threshold is lower than others, but that doesn't mean that I am somehow deficient it just is, and to maintain a positive emotional state I take a proactive approach to minimize the potential for an "angry response".

Some things are as simple as avoiding stimulants (too much caffeine) and depressants (alcohol) and making sure you get enough sleep, as sleep deficits lead to emotional instability. Actively using exercise, mindfulness, meditation and other tools to maintain equilibrium throughout the day. Minimize the stress that you can, and if crowds, loud noises, aggressive people, etc. increase the state of arousal, make different choices to minimize your exposure to these throughout the day.
 

Seagreen

MyPTSD Pro
I am dealing with an excess of anger at the moment, which is new to me. I feel that, at the moment, it is important to allow and process some of this anger. But I do accept that it is my choice to do this. There have defiantly been times when my anger has been based on perceptions which have been distorted. It may be time to draw the line on some of these perceptions.. I'm really glad I read this thread.
 

shell

MyPTSD Pro
@anthony thanks for a really helpful thought provoking post on anger, I copied it for my husband to help him with his anger issues, he really appreciated it.

I think sometimes it's hard for anyone to face they are responsible for how they feel or react to situations, because it's so much easier to blame others.

I had been internalizing my anger for over 40 years, I have come to realize now it was a form of self protection, that had become very self destructive and needed to stop to address my self esteem issues.

I struggle to help my son express his anger in a healthy way, as I have never had it modelled in a non-threatening and destructive way, I hope I can take something from this to build on what I have already been working on.
 

Chosen

MyPTSD Pro
There's a huge difference between righteous anger that motivates and compels people to make a positive change for themselves or others and the anger that rises due to road rage or stubbing your toe.

Basically, you advocate Buddhist philosophy as being somehow scientific and valuable while at the same time denigrating others' faith & belief systems as irrelevant to this sort of discussion. All this "acceptance" and "anger is just thoughts" has come from Buddhism, which seeks people to not exist so that they can achieve a higher plane of consciousness. That's achieved in how they view suffering and other sorts of human experiences. The same thing has seeped its way into psychology through mindfulness, DBT, and CBT to some extent. Denying one's humanity will solve nothing. Anger is a normal human emotion that can be reflexively felt at times. Yes, we can control what we do with our anger, but it's what we do with it--not that anger is a problem by itself. Furthermore, the ability to have righteous anger was created within ourselves so we can stand up to injustice and oppression. There is redemptive, righteous anger that has a very important role, especially for people who've suffered through trauma.

“Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging.”― Toni Morrison
“One of the first signs that you’re beginning to develop boundaries is a sense of resentment, frustration, or anger at the subtle and not-so-subtle violations in your life. Just as radar signals the approach of a foreign missile, your anger can alert you to boundary violations in your life.”
― Henry Cloud

Through anger, I have awakened to realizing that I didn't deserve to be treated the way I was. Because of anger increasing my strength and willpower, I was able to make the changes necessary to get myself out of the cult.
Through anger, I am better able to recognize when my boundaries are being trampled on. I notice it and can make the appropriate changes.

Anger is a vital human emotion. It has constructive and destructive abilities. Anger can be turned into bitterness; so forgiveness should be worked towards.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
The only person who can threaten your self-esteem, is you.
This might be true for an adult, who has already learned some sort of self esteem.

I'm not sure how this works. Are baby's BORN with self esteem and then taught otherwise? Or do they have to learn that they have some kind of value? I really don't know. What I DO know is that it seems to be very difficult, as an adult who has NOT learned that you have any particular value, to have an unshakeable sense of self esteem.

Is the opposite true? That no one can HELP your sense of self esteem, since it's all up to you? There's an element of choice in all this, to be sure. But, the first step is to be aware that there IS a choice, maybe?
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
This is so long, I'm reading and considering it in chunks, because it's easier.

If I were a sheep, it is also possible that I might find the idea of being eaten OBJECTIONABLE without thinking it to be unfair. Personally, I don't use "fair/unfair" very often except when talking about the rules of a game. I have ideas about what they might be, but I know full well my ideas have very little to do with how the universe operates. Many who die "deserve" to live. Many who live "deserve" to die. But, that does NOT mean that it's unreasonable to object to being eaten. Or to object to an attempt at rape. And, maybe I can even decide to kill my rapist without anger..... Which MIGHT put a person in line for some kind of diagnosis.
 

scout86

MyPTSD Pro
So here is the tough pill for many upon this community. If you're angry about being raped, you actually create the anger, not the rapist. Remember what I said previously about fault and blame, you being angry does not make you at fault or to blame for being raped, abused or traumatised, they are different things by definition. Being angry is all you... you actually own everything in relation to how you feel, because nobody controls your thoughts that result in a negative reaction, except you.
I agree, the anger is mine and comes from my side of the equation. The anger is a response to the attack. It might be a pretty useful response too, if I object to being attacked. (Which I can absolutely promise that I would!) One might hope that the rapist isn't angered my my decision to fight back and I certainly hope he doesn't think it's unfair if I kill him in the process.

There is a lot of value in this way of looking at things, I agree. It seems like it would be possible to go too far down this road and get to the point where "everything is ok". I'm not sure I want to live in that world.
 

sun seeker

MyPTSD Pro
I have trouble concentrating long enough to get through large amounts of text on the computer, so I only skimmed this. There are some things I wholeheartedly agree with and others I don't so much, but I wanted to chime in with hearty agreement with your sixth point at the bottom of the post. It's such a good point and should be a mantra for every parent.
 

ghotiff

MyPTSD Pro
What I'm saying is whether or not your anger is negatively affecting your life, relationship, social status, employment and other areas of functioning. If it is... then maybe this discussion is of more relevance to you than you think.
To me this is the point if the thread. Some anger is helpful but some anger is not. If your anger is on average more unhelpful than helpful, then I believe that Anthony's comments hold a lot of value.

Personally I don't "do" anger and I think my extreme lack of anger is likely unhelpful for me. Like almost everything in life there is an elusive optimum to find.
 
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