Cognitive restructuring is an effective tool for anger management

Cognitive Restructuring
Cognitive restructuring is part of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and is helpful as an anger management tool. It is a technique where you learn to identify and dispute irrational or defective thoughts or distortions, such as all or nothing thinking and over-generalisations. It has long been understood that distorted thoughts fuel anger, and by understanding them and changing them you can soften the anger. According to Albert Ellis, one of the founders of cognitive theory, there are four irrational core beliefs or thoughts that lead to anger. Ellis obviously had a sense of humour, and the first type of thought he labelled ‘awfulising’ or ‘catastrophising’. So, for example, if someone crashes into your car you might say ‘this is awful, this is a catastrophe.’ The next thought that arises is what he calls ‘I can’t stand it itis’. That might sound something like this, ‘I can’t put up with this. This is simply intolerable.’ This is generally followed by a ‘should’ or an ‘ought’, which Ellis calls ‘musturbation’. The thought here might be ‘that driver should have been more careful, he ought to have concentrated more.’ The next thought is a labelling one. ‘That guy is a right idiot.’
So how do you restructure these anger provoking thoughts? You might say something like this. ‘This is very unfortunate, but it could be worse. I might have been hurt. I can get the car fixed on his insurance. It would have saved a lot of hassle if that driver had been paying attention, but I suppose we all make mistakes.’ If you manage to do this you will slow down your anger and replace it by mild irritation or annoyance. It is also compatible with the five steps for managing anger mentioned later on.
Cognitive restructuring also includes challenging what psychologists call overestimation and underestimation. What this means is that angry people tend to anticipate the worst outcomes and underestimate their own abilities to deal with problems. It is about standing back and making a more balanced, accurate and optimistic estimation of what is going on and what realistically might happen. It prevents personalised conclusions and reasoning, which stoke anger. It also helps you to communicate better and in a calmer manner.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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ANGER MANAMEMENT IS IMPORTANT BUT IT DOES NOT DEAL WITH THE ROOT CAUSES OF ANGER

Anger Management for Adults
You are now aware of the nature and types of anger, and the destructive impact it can have on your health. This can be avoided if you learn how to manage it properly. Anger management is not about healing, but management and healing work in tandem and are closely interlinked. Some techniques for anger management also lead to healing.
Anger management is what it says – a way of helping people to control the anger, process it safely and acquire communication skills. Those who have learned that aggression is the only way to communicate have to be re-educated on communication skills and how to handle the various crises they will meet during their life. Crucially, the person in an anger management programme or with a counsellor must be willing to change. It is my experience that people who are sent by the courts to do anger management only come because they are forced to, and it is more likely that this intervention will fail. There are two types of anger management. One is consistent and frequent management using a wide variety of techniques to soothe and soften the anger, the other is the immediate application of techniques in any situation where anger arises.
Anger management is an ongoing process that brings temporary relief, giving you space to work on your anger and ultimately to heal it. There are some problematic issues in the context of anger management. If the anger is toxic reflecting childhood trauma, it may be compounded by other complaints such as addiction, drug abuse, depression, anxiety, and a whole host of debilitating issues outlined in Appendix 1. Anger management, therefore, is a temporary technique until the sources of the anger have been dealt with and it is no longer needed.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Bitterness can take you over

In looking at anger and its ancillary feelings, you should distinguish between anger and bitterness. There are many differences between normal anger and bitterness. There are, however, many common characteristics between toxic anger and bitterness. They are both long lasting, although toxic anger lasts a lifetime, while you can let go of bitterness and resentment. Both also carry an element of vengeance, although it is stronger in bitterness. They are both harmful and constant silent companions. As you will see in the following section anger, even toxic anger can be managed, but bitterness can be all- consuming. Unlike toxic anger, bitterness is not bred in you as a child, but arises because of some real or imagined injustice done to you as an adult, where it is akin to resentment, a feeling that shares some of the characteristics of anger. Resentment can be the vehicle of anger, but has the core of bitterness. Those who have toxic anger are more vulnerable to bitterness, because they are sensitive and never forget a slight.
Unless you let go of the memory of the injustice, bitterness will persist and become like a second skin to you. If you are bitter you feel like a victim, whereas toxic anger makes you feel powerful, although it is bred from being a victim of childhood neglect. Both are bad for your health, so you should try and find empathy for yourself and let your bitterness go. Forgiveness is the best antidote for bitterness, but it is not easy to access, because, as shown above, it is a feeling that may or may not arrive, in which case you may have to rely on some type of cognitive forgiveness. In practice this would mean letting go of vengeance.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Impatience is self-defeating

Type A personalities also seem to share another unwanted trait – impatience, which is related to anger (and anxiety). Generally people are unaware of the latent hostility which drives impatience and the damage it does to their mental and probably physical health. Unfortunately, it was once one of my main characteristics. I always rushed whenever I was doing a task and normally had to redo it several times before I got it right. That was all very well until I became a Principal, responsible for a big school, when my impatience sometimes landed me in trouble because of my mistakes. My writing was illegible because of my haste. When, as a young man, I worked in an oil company, I could code twice as many sales dockets as my colleagues. But, I made twice as many mistakes. When I learned to type I became a very fast and inaccurate typist because I rushed when learning.
Impatience, which drives us to achieve a goal, is actually self-defeating because patient practice and behaviour enables us to be more efficient, to think things out and find the best solution to a problem. This exasperating trait also keeps anxiety levels consistently high and feeds a low level of anger on the treadmill of constant pressure. If you are impatient you probably have set very high standards and unrealistic expectations. Impatient people can be like spoiled children, needing instant gratification and suffering frustration if thwarted. One of the biggest issues with impatience is that it interferes with good listening and understanding of others, because impatient individuals are constantly distracted thinking about what is next on their to-do list. On the other hand impatient people can also be sensitive about themselves and find it difficult to process feedback.
There are other theories about impatience. One is that it is based on fear, such as fear of missing out or a fear based craving to get something done. Professors Chen-Bo Zhong and Sanford DeVoe of Toronto University came up with novel research, claiming that fast food promotes impatience. Their research proposes that even thinking about fast food increases our desire for time-saving products and their actual consumption allows people to fill their stomach quickly and move on to other things.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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toxic shame is utterly painful

Those who carry the burden of toxic anger and are driven by the controlling impulse are also inclined to have a poor view of their victims. As narcissists, they occupy a very high perch in their own eyes and tend to look down on others and therefore assume that others are deserving targets of their anger. There is an inherent irony in this, because anger is often driven by shame, a burning feeling that is about the self and about feeling flawed or defective. So the reality is that a shamed person who does not feel good enough makes himself feel better by spraying it on others. Shame is chronic and permeates all other feelings, utterly preventing any type of happiness. It has been described as the annihilation of the self. Shame and anger are, however, very different. Shame is debilitating and anger energising, but they are comfortable bedfellows. The greater the shame the greater the anger it generates. It is possible to fully experience rage, but shame is so burning that it is impossible to feel it fully. John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame That Binds You is worth reading for an insightful exploration of toxic shame.
Anger is also associated with other types of personality, which, unlike personality disorders, are not pathological, but they might help you to make better sense of yourself. The theory of Type A and Type B personalities was first proposed by two cardiologists, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, and aroused much debate among psychologists. While there is plenty of scope for disagreement, there is much to be said in support of their theory in the context of anger. We need not be concerned about Type B personalities, who are less stressed and less inclined to anger than Type A. The Type A personality is not necessarily a narcissistic disorder although many narcissists are type A. Neither is it a psychological disorder, but simply points to particular characteristics some people have. In my clinical experience, they have one common factor in that they have childhood attachment problems. Type As are probably over organised, task orientated, and obsessed with time management. They are always in a hurry and always feeling that time is running out. They are generally high achievers and addicted to work and busyness. They are driven and always have deadlines and hate delays or obstructions. They face challenges head on and are creative in finding solutions. Above all, Type A personalities are very competitive and hate losing. They are often pessimistic, hostile and aggressive. They are continuously on a treadmill that brings constant stress and is a serious threat to health.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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I don’t think anger is genetic.

Some people feel that anger is somehow genetic and point to anger in the wider family. The old saying ‘Like father like son’ may be true, but can be misinterpreted. An angry father may create an angry son, but the angry father will have been formed by an angry, neglectful parent, and so on back through generations. Creating a loving bond with our children will have major implications for society. If you look at the violence that is perpetrated on others by violent people you will invariably find that such perpetrators never experienced love or affection in their childhood. This can become a vicious circle as they abuse their children who may in turn become adult abusers. It is more likely that anger is either learned or generated in the core, but it may be part of temperament which is inherited. I am not altogether convinced of this, however.
Toxic anger may be seen as part of a personality disorder, which is a broad term for personality types who are emotionally unstable, impulsive and who find it difficult to relate to other people and who find it difficult to control their emotions. Some personality disorders are labelled as paranoid, schizoid, anti-social, borderline and narcissistic. Anger is viewed as only a small part of the larger personality problem, but it is easy to see that narcissistic people with a blaming mind-set, who see themselves as superior to others, could easily be aroused to anger. A small trigger can provoke a strong angry outburst. Such people tend to be rigid, inflexible and have black and white thinking and find it difficult to deal with the changes and challenges of life. They are dysfunctional and see anger as outside of themselves, so it is unlikely that they will make much of an effort to change. Their irrational and irresponsible mantra is ‘you made me angry’ or ‘only for you I would not be angry’.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Aggression can pass from generation to generation

It is easy to see that aggression is almost a way of living for some criminals in their mutual relationships. It is part of a subculture with the ‘strongest’ at the top of the hierarchy retaining control over others. Unfortunately, they must maintain their aggression to remain there and to ‘prove’ themselves. Violent ways of resolving conflict through aggression are probably valued and respected in such a subculture, where expressions of anger and aggression are constantly reinforced. But, we don’t even have to go to a criminal subculture to witness this. There are families where aggression is the main way to resolve conflict and where the physically strongest may be the most admired. In such families aggression may be passed down and learned for generations, each generation breeding a new set of violent individuals, so that aggression becomes inbuilt. It is ineffably sad to imagine that innocent children from a very young age are brainwashed and go on to live a life of violence in their teenage and adult years. Firstly it becomes a habit, then a way of being, a way of self-definition and finally an addiction. If we really want to see aggression and anger as an addiction, we only have to consider serial killers. Research has shown that aggressive behaviour helps them meet a basic need. They may put forward reasons for killing others, such as sex workers, as protecting society from immorality, but the killing gives them relief from whatever inner stresses that torment them. When the relief wears off they kill again and again.
Many people confuse the feeling of anger with angry behaviour. We are not responsible for our feelings, but we must own our behaviour. Yet, some people see angry behaviour as an advantage and refuse to give it up. This is seen in the household, in the workplace and in society. Parents may see angry behaviour as necessary to discipline their children. They feel that anger ‘persuades’ their children to do as they are told and to obey household rules. Unfortunately this is a very misplaced and irrational belief. All that they are doing is teaching their children that anger is the best way to communicate and to have control. Such a belief can then be carried on for generations within a family system.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Anger and aggression are not the same, but aggressive people have core anger

While normally quiet, well-adjusted, people can behave aggressively if sufficiently provoked, aggression can be expected from those with toxic anger. It is also part of domestic violence. In the criminal world aggression is used inspire fear. Even the elderly are not spared in violent burglaries and the results are seen in the wounds and bruises of these unfortunate victims. Researchers call this instrumental aggression as against emotional aggression, and some suggest that such violence can be done without anger. Perhaps so, but there is little doubt that such criminals are by and large angry people. We sometimes read about families being held prisoner as a way of robbing an institution. These tiger kidnappings are well planned and seem cold and calculated without any anger. We can portray them as motivated by greed for money and a determination to get it, but I have little doubt that these perpetrators are angry individuals, because they show little compassion in their behaviour and are willing to hurt and terrify others. We may not always see the anger in such criminals, but, surely it would be a contradiction for a non-angry person to deliberately inflict pain on another, even under serious provocation. If we look at people who behave in a criminal and violent way, and if we look at their background we will generally see the seeds from which the anger and the aggression were bred. Childhood!
Frequently, prior to the aggressive act of injuring another the culprit indulges in verbal aggression or loud threats. Emotional aggression is a different subtype and can also be part of the criminal outlook. It normally occurs when anger reaches such a level that the individual will react aggressively, irrespective of the cost in terms of prosecution. Again, some researchers suggest that this subtype can occur without anger, and may be perpetrated from boredom or for a thrill or from a sense of adventure. My belief is that aggression is always cushioned in anger.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Chronic (continuous and long standing) anger damages your physical as well as mental healh

It is easy to see that anger can degenerate into hatred. There is no satisfactory explanation of the difference between anger and hatred. Hatred is depicted as an intense, long lasting and overwhelming anger. Some researchers maintain that anger does not last as long as hatred, but chronic anger lasts for a lifetime and may never degenerate into hatred. Neurobiologists have discovered that part of the hate neuro-circuit is connected to aggression and the desire to destroy. This is clearly an unwanted and dangerous trait, and applies as much to women as to men, although aggression by males is generally more lethal. Psychologists tend to differentiate between anger and aggression. Some argue that aggression is a behaviour in response to anger. Research shows that anger is only followed by aggression about ten percent of the time. It is probably more true to say that being really angry brings on thoughts of aggression and violence, but that these thoughts are not generally followed through. One of the similarities between toxic anger and aggression is that they exclude empathy, which has been stifled at a very young age through neglect.
Not all aggression is direct (striking or attacking another person). Indirect aggression might include damaging a person’s property. This would, for example, include breaking the windows of someone’s house, stealing property in retaliation for some slight or insult, or perhaps, stealing and deliberately crashing someone’s car. There are many examples of indirect aggression, which should also be distinguished from verbal anger.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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Passive Aggressive Anger Wounds Others and Creates Anxiety in them

If those who are on the receiving end of passive aggression understand how it operates they can somehow distance themselves from the person who is causing them discomfort, perhaps even feel sadness for them, although this is not easily done. I find that some people who are subjected to passive aggressive behaviour often step into the child’s shoes and operate from there, becoming fearful or angry, confused and uncomfortable.
You can imagine how this type of insidious anger can be very damaging to employees. It creates a very unpleasant environment where co-operation and friendliness are damaged. Communication becomes hostile and the atmosphere is soured. One of my clients, Olive, wrote an unsent letter to her boss who was guilty of explosive and passive aggressive anger. This letter is in my book on abuse in the chapter on workplace bullying and is worth reading to see how a passive aggressive individual operates. This girl, who was college educated, had to ask permission to go to the toilet, and was fearful of taking her lunch break. She was afraid to take sick days and her life was a misery until she wisely decided to leave. It was a question of her health or her job. The office where she worked was filled with fear, favouritism, hypocrisy, and unspoken resentment. Friendliness, when it was shown, was false and soon turned to hostility. Psychologists argue that hostility is not necessarily the same as anger. Anger is an emotion, but hostility is a frame of mind, a rational or thinking concept that harbours enmity, blame, a desire to punish, and ill-will. Psychologists make the point that hostile people are capable of torturing others in a cold calculated way without any apparent feeling of anger. But, Olive’s boss was deeply angry, yet his hostile intention of getting rid of her to make way for a friend was cold and calculated.
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