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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Cognitive restructuring is an effective tool for anger management