A lot of anger problems come from our habit of keeping our anger warm. If feelings are not under our voluntary control, and anger is a feeling, then when anger happens, its intensity will be worse and potentially more destructive if we are already slightly angry due to the routine sort of thinking we are doing. But can we control our thinking so that we can reduce our risk of anger quickly ramping up from an already warm base? I think a lot of of our thoughts are linked to our feelings and actually reinforce those feelings, so we don’t have as much direct control over thoughts as we might ‘think’. I think we can learn to put the brakes on certain thoughts though by learning to recognize them so when they pop up later we can ‘give pause’ to the moment and in that pause shift focus to a decision to ‘reject or accept a proposal for action’ that we make to ourselves associated with that thought. Thoughts that already have momentum due to their link to a feeling require decisive measures for you to even have the option to slow or stop that momentum.
Ask yourself, when angry,
Have I lost control of something?
Often , when you ask yourself this question, you realize you never had control over it in the first place. For example, if your spouse or parent says something you preceive as unfair criticism, and you feel angry, did you lose over what they think or say? You actually never had control over what they think or say. You lost control over what you think when the anger arose involuntarily. Your thoughts were rolling along peacefully enough, you hear a criticism, and you feel angry and you lose that relatively peaceful stream of thought you had. You want it back. You want control of your thoughts. If they kept thinking that critical stuff, and you felt in complete control of your thoughts, you wouldn’t have lost control of anything.
Do you want control of your thoughts?
Well, as I said, thoughts are largely involuntary, so you can’t control them either, just like you can’t control your critic’s thoughts.
So what can you do?
Try this: Notice how each thought that arises points to an action on your part, if at all. If it only points to action you’d like the other party to take, go to the next thought. Keep evaluating each thought in terms of the actions it points to you taking. Multiple action options will arise that you can accept or reject. Let them keep rolling. It will feel pretty natural even though my writing about it makes it sound complicated. Eventually you will see yourself doing something that makes you feel good and meets your standards for yourself. You will feel more in control because you will be focusing on the only thing you can control – what you do.
This works because when you are angry your body wants you to take action and use some of that adrenaline. The only way to respond to your own anger is with an action mindset. Anger will fight you doing anything else. As soon as you start focusing on your thinking, or their thinking, or their action, your body will be fighting it and wanting to take it action of its own. But if you don’t use that energy to decisively present all the action options to yourself than you will pick a default action and it will usually be a less than optimal.
Here is a personal example of me doing this. It follows a critical comment I heard from someome I care about:
I could sit here. No. That feels like giving in.
I could say something. No. I don’t know what to say. I’ll say something that will make it worse.
I could say nothing. No, I have to do something though .
I could leave. No, that solves nothing.
I could get a drink of water. Yes. But then what?
I could walk over to the person. No, not yet.
I could listen to the person. Yes. I walk over and listen. I show I am not afraid and am not going to just let this go.
I could really work hard to understand the person. I am not agreeing with them. Just really trying to understand. I am not showing fear. I am not agreeing to change anything I do. I am not being intimidated.
I could look at them while they talk. This shows respect and self-confidence.
I could ask questions so I could learn more about what they think. This shows respect, concern, interest, and I have agreed to nothing.
The original propositions for action in the example are pretty primitive but I gradually gain control over myself by telling myself decisively no until my proposals for action get better in terms of their fit with what is going to be effective and comfortable with me.