Defusing an Anger Time-Bomb

By: Brian M Murray, MS


Anger is a natural emotion that all people experience at one time or another. How people handle anger is what can make the difference between a constructive outcome or destruction. Often getting in the way of handling anger are cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are the result of automatic thoughts that occur when we experience events in life. These distortions can and often create a false reality. A false reality can be construed in different ways such as feeling the need to always be right about topics of discussion or life events. This can lead to magical thinking of how things are supposed or should be leading to maladaptive beliefs.

In many situations when maladaptive beliefs are challenged it can stir up angry feelings of which one of the biggest culprits is feeling disrespected. A good question to challenge a maladaptive belief about what a person might be thinking or feeling in a situation is to get to the bottom of  “what is it that I believe about this situation that makes me angry?” This question addresses emotional reasoning that if a person feels angry then it must be true.

Sometimes what people say and do may feel like disrespect or create feelings of being challenged. However, could it be possible the other person is simply discussing the subject and would like some further information? The underlying message of interpretation of the offended person is unfair treatment from others. This can be a slippery slope and this line of thinking can lead a person down the road of despair and that life in general is not fair. The reaction response which is anger is “I will not stand for it and I am going to fight.” Unfortunately there are times when people drift off into a negative mind set and that everything in life has be dealt with forcefully and angrily.

Okay, hold on a minute. Before we don our boxing gloves, ring the bell and the fights on, let’s slow things down and look at some resolutions on how to defuse an anger time-bomb. The first is split second thinking and this is often the hardest part. Catching our initial thoughts in mid-stream before reacting to a situation is of utmost importance. This is literally the very first split second thought. There is this teeny window of opportunity that allows us to catch ourselves and think to the self “hold on, what am I reacting to, and what is the threat?” Before reacting, think of how to instead respond. There is a difference between reacting and responding. One is about aggression and the other is about being assertive. Reacting, especially in an explosive manner, is aggression and responding is being assertive.

A balloon is a good example of how this works. Adverse events come to us in our lives and each time this happens it adds a little bit of air to the balloon. When we respond to the event, we are asserting ourselves, it lets some of the air back out of the balloon. This is how the anger is managed, air comes in and some of it gets let back out. When the air goes into the balloon and does not get let out it keeps building and expanding until it can no longer hold the volume of air and it reacts, an explosion occurs. As human beings there is only so much we can hold. The idea of defusing and managing anger is to be more assertive by responding to others and events. This can be done is a respectful manner where feelings and thoughts can be expressed and easing the building tension and anger inside of us.

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