How to Deal with Anger
A few years ago I did a websearch on Anger for patients that I worked with in an inpatient psychiatric hospital. I came across The SAP Model ™ by Dr. Andrew Gottlieb.
As Dr. Gottlieb has pointed out
“Anger is probably the most cognitive of all of the emotions. We can’t get angry without thinking. And most anger directly stems from our distorted thoughts.”
Dr. Gottlieb has identified 3 cognitive steps to getting angry. What this means is that we go through 3 steps in our thinking, with 3 identifiable thinking errors. But the good news is there’s also 3 solutions.
Step 1: a “Should” is probably involved. Please see the previous blog post on “should.” Should is a verb and according to the Google Dictionary
1.used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions. “He should have been careful.”
- Used to indicate what is probable.
“Shouldy thinking” is usually when one thinks an idea with the verb – should – included.
In groups in a hospital setting, when I have covered the SAP Model ™ of anger, I have frequently gone around the room and asked each of my patients “Tell me the last time you were angry. Recount it in context of a ‘should’.” One by one my group members would share something like “My husband shouldn’t cheat on me, Harry should pay me the money he owes me. I should be further along in life, I shouldn’t feel depressed.”
Dr. Gottlieb initially uses a driving example. Here in Los Angeles we have the worst traffic in the world and being cut off is a common occurrence. Normally we say something like “That SOB shouldn’t have cut me off.” Yes, in reality they really shouldn’t have cut you off, but when put into context in this fashion it makes this an immutable law.
Solution: We want to change our “should” to “prefer.” I have seen time and time again that there is a softening in attitudes when this takes place. A lady who said “My husband shouldn’t go out with his girlfriend on Saturday night,” takes a step back mentally when she changes it to “I would prefer that my husband doesn’t go out on me.” The reason why is that she now owns her thought and what she is expressing. As Dr. Gottlieb has so aptly pointed out
“You are owning your beliefs, instead of putting them into some imaginary universal law. If they are your beliefs, then you can choose to alter them.”
STEP 2 – we “Awfulize” the situation. What this means is that we consider how terrible this event could be. In the driving example, we usually think something analogous to “That could have been really bad! They could have killed me!!”
In this context the distortion is that this awfulizing blows the event out of proportion. There was no accident. There “could have been” one, but in fact there was none. The solution to this step is that context is everything. Will you remember this in 5 years time? Is this a really big issue that needs addressing? In the context of driving on the 405 in LA for example, it becomes a minor occurrence. An actual accident is different.
Consider any event where you get angry. Is this issue worth getting into it about? There are issues in life that warrant getting angry about, child pornography, nuclear war, terrorism, egregious violation of human rights. Most people in the West would agree that these are serious issues. However is getting miffed at the clerk at DMV worth it? Arguing with your spouse over what to watch on TV, or how he/she cooked (or didn’t cook) dinner? Is it worth getting upset about some bone head cutting you off on the 405? See the point? If you won’t remember this in 37 years is it really worth the energy and the time?
Step 3 we Personalize the issue. In the traffic example we’re using when we think “That SOB looked at me and cut me off,” we’re usually headed for real trouble.
The Step 3 Antidote – DE-Personalize the event. To quote Michael Corleone, “ It’s business Sonny, it’s not personal.”
Is the DMV clerk doing it to me personally? Is your spouse screwing up dinner just to spite you? Is your boss being a putz because he hates you or is he/she being pressured? When we do this we are not considering the other person’s perspective, we are Assuming we know what they are thinking. It’s an old adage but “don’t assume because you make an ASS out of U and ME.”
As Dr. Gottlieb has pointed out, “The trick here is to realize that most of the time, when people don’t meet your shoulds or expectations; they are not doing it to harm you.”
People often respond to situations and events in pre-programmed ways. They were taught patterns of behavior early on, usually in early childhood, and they maintain those into adulthood. Often we never seem to get past our “programming.”
Again from Dr. Gottlieb, “But what about people we love. Don’t they purposely hurt us? Probably not. Most of the time, when loved ones do things that we are frustrated by, it is because that’s their nature. Everyone is trying to do the best they can, and pretty much doesn’t worry about you, or plan to hurt you.”
As one of my previous clients has pointed out, ‘we have to lower the bar on our expectations.’ Sometimes people take great pride in having “high expectations of people.” As the Scripture says, “Pride goeth before the fall.” It also means that we are imposing a standard upon the world, people and circumstances, which is very personal and allows us to be easily piqued. Recognize that most people are just running a meta program that they learned early on, their lousy behavior/attitude/words are not directed at us personally. It’s just their own BS coming to the fore. Why give them the power to pull us into the cesspool with them? Step back and don’t take it personally.
If you are in Burbank, the San Fernando Valley, Rosemead or the San Gabriel Valley and are dealing with this feel free to reach out for a free consultation via the contact page.