|The Rational Management of Anger
By Wayne Froggatt
Anger is one of the most difficult emotions for human beings to change. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) [a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that may often be self-taught], which focuses on the underlying belief system that creates dysfunctional emotions and behaviors, is able to help people move from hostile, destructive rage to a more constructive type of anger, and maintain their change in the long term.
What causes anger?
First let us dispose of a common misconception. People do not become angry just because they are frustrated. Frustration is a normal reaction to unwanted events and circumstances, and will result when a person fails to get something they want or ends up with something they don’t want.
Extreme anger, on the other hand, is what people experience when they fail to get what they think they need or must have. It is an emotional response to a frustrated demand.
Events and circumstance alone do not cause anger. Anger results from how people view what happens to them. (Ellis, 1977; Novaco, 1975)
There are four types of thinking that typically create dysfunctional anger:
What does cause anger? People with anger problems often have a simple answer: - they believe that other people cause their emotional upsets. But this raises two questions.
-How can an external event create an internal reaction?
-And why is it that one person can be disappointed but calm in the face of a circumstance to which another reacts with rage?
1. Inferential distortions such as mind-reading, fortune-telling, filtering, and emotional reasoning (Burns, 1980) lead people to misinterpret what is happening around and to them. More important, misinterpretations are followed by self-defeating evaluations.
2. Awfulising and low frustration-intolerance about unwanted events (often called 'cant-stand-it-it-is’). Anger frequently results from anxiety, and violence often represents an attempt to ward off perceived threats. REBT suggests that such threats may be of two types:
--perceived threats to well-being (discomfort anxiety);
--perceived threats to self-image (ego anxiety).
3. Expectations that are held as demands.
Demands typically lead to low-frustration tolerance - a key cause of dysfunctional anger:
--moralising about how people 'should’ or 'should not’ behave;
--believing that the world or one’s circumstances 'have’ to or 'need’ to be a certain way.
4. Global rating of other people:
--labelling a person as a 'bitch’, 'bastard’, or some other all-encompassing label makes it easier to be angry with them.
The role of cognitions in creating anger can be illustrated with the 'ABC’ model developed by the founder of REBT, Albert Ellis.
Following is an example:
A: Activating event (experience, event, or situation that started things off):
Children playing noisily, could not hear television program.
B: Beliefs (self-talk that led from 'A’ to 'C’) Thoughts specific to the situation:
-I can’t stand their noise.
They shouldn’t be so noisy when I am trying to relax.
-I have to make them behave.
--Underlying rules (the thoughts above then lead to the thoughts below)--
I can’t stand to feel frustrated.
Others should never do things that frustrate or upset me, and when they do, I must get them under control.
C: Consequence (reaction to the 'A’--the activating event):
-Emotions: Felt angry.
-Behaviors: Went into street, shouted at children and called them abusive names.
Other causal factors
Although anger results primarily from thinking processes, physiological causes (such as tension, agitation, or ill-humor) can exacerbate the emotion, along with behavioral deficits (like unassertiveness and poor problem-solving methods).
An effective approach to anger management will take all such factors into account.
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To learn more about REBT, go to www.rebt.org, home of the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City. Another free resource to learn about REBT methodology is www.smartrecovery.org, which has excellent REBT resources for substance abuse.
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