Simply put, “Cognitive Restructuring” means changing
the way you think. Here are some specific techniques that help
to manage anger.
Use cold hard logic on yourself. Logic defeats anger, because
anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational.
Remind yourself that the world is “not out to get you.” You’re just
experiencing some of the rough spots of daily life. Do this each
time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it’ll help you get
a more balanced perspective. Angry people tend to demand things:
fairness, appreciation, agreement, and willingness to do things
their way. Everyone wants these things, and we are all hurt and
disappointed when we don’t get them, but angry people demand them,
and when their demands aren’t met, their disappointment becomes
anger. As part of their cognitive restructuring, angry people need
to become aware of their demanding nature and translate their
expectations into desires. In other words, saying, “I would like”
something is healthier than saying, “I demand” or “I must have”
something. When you’re unable to get what you want, you will
experience the normal reactions—frustration, disappointment,
hurt—but not anger.
If this is hard for you, try something paradoxical.
Paradoxical techniques are tactics that superficially appear to be
the opposite of what you expect, yet produce results, often
resolving feeling states. If you are stuck feeling very demanding
when angry, try imagining you, in fact, get your demands met.
Picture yourself as a god or goddess, a supreme ruler, who owns
the streets and stores and office space, striding alone and having
your way in all situations while others defer to you. The more
detail you can put into your imaginary scenes, the more you can
create a fantasy of just what you and your anger want. It
channels unreasonable anger into self-created, productive fantasies
that hurt no one. As the anger is expressed paradoxically, it
diffuses. In short order you’ll also realize how unimportant the
things you’re angry about really are and you will realize that maybe
you are being unreasonable.
Angry people tend to curse, swear, or speak in highly colorful
terms that reflect their inner thoughts. When you’re angry, your
thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing
these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of
telling yourself, “Oh, it’s awful, it’s terrible, everything’s
ruined,” tell yourself, “It’s frustrating and it’s understandable
that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and
getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow.” Not only will anger
not likely fix the problem, it likely will burn your energy and
quickly make you feel worse. What these techniques have in
common is a refusal to take yourself too seriously. Anger is a
serious emotion, but it’s often accompanied by ideas that, if
examined, can make you laugh.
Stay away from things that undermine your awareness or weaken
your physical integrity. These are things like alcohol, drugs, or
extreme fatigue. Any kind of mind-altering substance will
compromise your awareness and your will power. Alcohol is in this
category. (Think of it as a liquid drug.) Marijuana may lower
the likelihood of acting out aggressively, but the next day, your
“system” will be compromised. How much? It depends upon lots of
factors—age, dosage, the kind of pot, whether or not it was added to
other substances. The more “popular” drugs, as of this writing, are
“E” (formerly “X”), crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, even heroin,
“shrooms,” and more prescription drugs that have hit the street than
I can name. All of these are bad for your nervous system and will
in some way cause you to malfunction, during the “high” or after.
(The exception to prescription drugs are ones your doctor prescribes.
Keep taking those unless your doctor advises otherwise.)
In marital therapy, I use the “Nine o’clock Rule.” Simply put,
after nine o’clock, say only compliments to your partner, or anyone
else in your vicinity. Why? After nine, most people are getting
tired and experience a reduction in lucidity, awareness and control.
If you get up at 5:00 a.m. this will become the Seven o’clock Rule,
because you’ll be tired sooner than most. Adjust according to your
schedule. This rule is especially important on workdays, but even
younger folks who are out on the town on a weekend are more likely to
get into disagreements or even fights after this hour, again,
especially if there are substances involved. If you are pooped,
beware. One of the best tonics for just about every problem is
sleep. Get plenty.
Use a power phrase. This is something like, “No matter what
happens, I will survive.” Another is the Serenity Prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
I’m not touting religion, just the psychology embedded in this
simple saying (giving up control, which is about expectations and
not being attached so much…).
In self-esteem work, I use what I call the “Anchor Concept.”
This is a very powerful positive affirmation about something in you
that is wonderful, inviolate and easily recognized by all your friends.
This technique begins the repair process of a damaged self-esteem,
does so very quickly, and as it turns out, also helps to effectively
undermine anger and lots of other problem dynamics, i.e., it modifies
addiction behavior pathways. It works by changing your emotions,
even though the approach involves working with specific thoughts.