Being able to predict what situations provoke your anger is a tremendous aid in helping you keep your temper under control. You can choose to avoid provoking situations entirely, or, if that is not possible, you can prepare yourself with ways to minimize the danger of your losing control prior to entering your dangerous situations.
An anger diary or journal can be a useful tool to help you track your experiences with anger. Make daily entries into your diary that document the situations you encounter that provoked you. To make the diary most useful, there are particular types of information you’ll want to record for each provoking event:
- What was provocative about the situation?
- What thoughts were going through your mind?
- On a scale of 0-100 how angry did you feel?
- Were you already nervous, tense, and pressured about something else? If so, what?
- What did you actually do?
- How did you feel immediately after the episode?
- What were the consequences of the incident?
What you think largely determines what you experience. This is true of low mood, stress and, of course, anger.
Types of Triggers/Themes
Here are some themes that may run through your Anger Journal and that may trigger or worsen anger.
Blaming is a belief that other people are doing bad things on purpose. By blaming, you give up the power to change the situation. (Remember James and Susan? James blamed his neighbour for being inconsiderate; Susan recognized that she was expecting quiet too early in the evening.)
Blaming can cause you to be judgmental and vindictive. Now you have two problems: the original situation and the mess you make with your reaction.
Examples of blaming:
- “I would really enjoy this vacation if it weren’t for your constant complaining and always finding fault with things.”
- “If you really cared about me you would have helped me with my resume and I would have gotten the job.”
To counter blaming, remind yourself:
- Most people are doing the best they can and not usually intent on hurting or harming you.
- You are not a victim of other people or circumstances. You always have options to change a situation. Sometimes it may mean asserting yourself; sometimes setting limits; sometimes walking away.
For example: Cut off in traffic
- “That wasn’t a good move but maybe they didn’t see me or they were distracted. No point in getting worked up about it.”
- “I don’t like what’s happening but I know he didn’t mean it.”
This is the tendency to take something bad and really run with it, extrapolating a bad situation to the worst possible conclusion. You behave as though your distorted and exaggerated view of the situation is fact.
- “Because of him my presentation is totally screwed up and I’m going to lose my job.”
- “This is a disaster! How could she do something like that?”
To control the tendency to catastrophize:
- Make a realistic assessment of just how bad things really are (e.g. “How bad it is really?”).
- Be accurate and precise with your language.
- Look at the whole picture. Every situation has positive and negative aspects. Your spouse may be late leaving the house when you’re rushed but she’s supportive and accepting of your many faults and she rarely complains.
The extra staff you were promised this year to help you do your job are not going to be hired. The company is cutting back on new hires.
- “This is really frustrating but it’s not the end of the world.”
- “This situation is really messed up but I’ll do the best I can to make the most of it.
3. Negative labeling
These triggers involve making sweeping, negative judgements about people whose behaviour you don’t approve of or like. Instead of focusing on their behaviour, you label them as “bad”, “worthless”, “loser”, “jerk”, “idiot”, etc.
- “That driver who cut me off is a complete **##!!@@.”
- “What a jerk, he doesn’t know anything.”
- To counter the tendency to label:
- Focus on behaviour. What happened? How did it affect you or others?
- Stop yourself before making derogatory comments about another person.
- Thoughts that can replace labeling:
- “This is awkward. Things aren’t going the way I want but I can cope.”
- “That was a stupid thing they did and definitely something to watch out for in the future.”
- “He’s not an idiot. He probably wasn’t trained properly for his job.”
For more information about anger and conflict, the following resources may be helpful.
- Understanding Anger and Anger Management. https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/understanding-anger-and-anger-management/
- Feeling Angry? https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/feeling-angry/
- Anger. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/anger/index.aspx
- Eight steps to effective conflict management. Government of Canada. https://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/gcc-bdm/8etapes-8steps-eng.html
- Preventing and resolving workplace conflict. https://canadabusiness.ca/blog/preventing-and-resolving-workplace-conflict-1/