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Manage an Anger Problem

24 December 2021
Manage an Anger Problem

Michael R. Edelstein, PhD :
Please help me dispute my irrational belief. It isn't helpful at all and causes me to easily feel angry quite often when I think I'm being insulted. For example, I walked past a stranger in the hallway at work, and he was making eye contact with me, but he wasn't smiling. I immediately felt angry. I thought: "OK, he isn't smiling, he is therefore trying to insult me. He absolutely must not insult me. He's a louse."
These thoughts are typical even with a trivial situation. It could be a number of minor things where I think someone is trying to insult me in some way.
Was he trying to really insult me? Is it likely? Who knows? But I immediately assumed he was, and I can't seem to let it go without getting very angry. Have you ever dealt with anything like this before?
Thank you for an interesting question. I've had clients experiencing similar, not identical, challenges with eye contact. As you know, REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy), devised by psychologist Albert Ellis, is my treatment of choice.
Step 1. It's essential to recognize that your emotions come not from unpleasant situations like someone possibly insulting you, but rather from your own thinking about it. Consequently, you feel angry not because of the stranger's failure to smile, but rather due to your beliefs-beliefs such as, "He absolutely must not insult me. He's a louse." You've made yourself angry; the stranger in the hall did not.
For clarity, let's view it in the form of a Three Minute Exercise, A-F.
The format looks like this:
A (Antecedent event): Suppose someone looks at me in the hall and doesn't smile.
B (irrational Belief): He's trying to intimidate me and he absolutely must not. He's a louse.
C (Undesirable emotional Consequences): Anger.
Step 2. At A, B, and C we've diagnosed your problem. The diagnosis consists of finding the immediate cause of your anger and this lies in your irrational thinking. Notice that excavating your childhood would have wasted your time and your money.
Since you can change your view, you can change your disturbed emotions. A powerful concept!
Step 3. This involves questioning and challenging your irrational Belief at D. What is the data proving that because you greatly prefer he not insult you, therefore he absolutely must not? How does his lousy behavior magically turn him into a total louse as a human?
Step 4. Think deeply about these questions. This segues to E. When you do, you're likely to come up with more reasonable conclusions: "I can find no data in the real world to prove that what I greatly prefer absolutely must be the case. Reality is reality, not what I think it must be. If I feel intimidated, this can't diminish me, my essence, or my personhood. It doesn't turn me into a weak or worthless person. I can allow others to conclude whatever they wish about me. I'll still be the same imperfect human I've always been and function productively and enjoy life. It's not his treatment of me that caused my feelings of anger; rather it's my irrational 'must' thinking that's my real problem and I can change my thinking."
Step 5. Maxie Maultsby said, "Reinforcement is the royal road to learning." Ponder, review, and repeat your rational conclusions again and again and again. The more the better. As with learning a foreign language, REBT does not offer an overnight cure. It takes practice, practice, practice.
Summary. When disturbed, identify your demands-the "musts" and "shoulds" underlying your maladaptive emotions. Then question, challenge, and contradict your maladaptive views.

(Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Three Minute Therapy
 and Stage Fright).

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