As children, most of us enjoyed stories–those read to us as well as those spontaneously created by our caretakers. And, most of us clamored for certain stories to be repeated. Some suggest that such repetition helps children learn language, including the meaning and sound of words as well as their rhythm.
Others propose that the repetition of a story provides a child a sense of security and comfort, the dependability of knowing in advance what will happen next. Such repetition may offer children a sense of organization in their world, a perceived orderliness that creates calm.
As adults, we similarly hold onto our fascination with stories. We cherish some because they inspire us to become a better person. Others reveal the depth and range of human emotion and by doing so help us to feel less isolated. Some simply expand our awareness of what it means to be human, for better or worse.
Stories can play a vital role in shaping the guidelines by which you live. This is especially true of the stories you repeatedly tell yourself. And, like a child, you may derive a sense of security through such repetition. For even as an adult, you yearn to experience organization in your world–and to know in advance what will happen next.
I have found this to be true throughout my years as a clinician helping individuals with a wide variety of issues. But I have devoted much of my practice helping them to recognize those stories that make them vulnerable to anger arousal.
Our stories inform our expectations of the world in general, others and of ourselves. And, suffering that is especially grounded in anger is most often based on holding on too rigidly to expectations that are rooted in such stories. Our expectations influence not only how we believe things “should” be but also how they “should have been”.
With regard to anger, with and without awareness, such stories diminish our capacity for considering alternative appraisals of a potentially anger triggering event. Consequently, they limit our resources for responding to the challenging realities of life.
These stories are highly influenced by what I have come to identify as “child logic”, logic that is overly influenced by our emotional brain. Such logic often takes place below the radar of our awareness. It most powerfully informs how we wish or hope things to be. As such these stories can best be understood as “fables”, grounded in our most cherished fantasies of our world and of ourselves
I’ve identified several key story themes that may highly impact your potential for anger. Such stories shape your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behavior, all with blind assurance that, “of course”, this is how life is and should be.
Below is a listing of these stories, their major premises, and narratives that more accurately define the human condition.
1. Fable: I should not have to suffer.
You may tell yourself that suffering is for other people. Or, you tell yourself you shouldn’t have to suffer because of your specialness, intelligence, past lack of suffering or the severity of past suffering.
Realistic narrative: We all suffer.
Suffering is part of being human. Unfortunately, some of us suffer more than others. The challenge is to identify strategies that can best reduce your suffering.
2. Fable: I deserve to hold onto anger because of past wounds.
This story implies it is helpful to embrace anger and dangerous to let go of it.
Realistic narrative: Letting go of anger can help heal my old wounds.
It makes perfect sense that hurt leads to anger. And, understandably, I may be fearful that I’ll be vulnerable to wounds if I let them go. However, healing from old wounds helps can help me to make room for greater life fulfillment, in the present and in the future.
3. Fable: I should not have to be frustrated. Things should be easy for me.
This storyline may imply that you don’t deserve to be frustrated or you are flawed or “less than” if you are frustrated.
Realistic narrative: Frustration is a natural part of life.
Frustration may arise when I experience challenges to my goals and ideas of how I think things “should be”. I can develop frustration tolerance, in part, by accepting it. Additionally, I can be mindful to identify when your unrealistic expectations foster such frustration.
4. Fable: Life is (or should be) fair.
This is a sequel to the storyline that you shouldn’t have to suffer.
Realistic narrative: Life just is–and, at times may not be fair.
Bad things happen to good people and good things may even happen to bad people. I can assertively take actions to try to increase greater fairness in my life: in my personal relationships, at work or as a citizen.
5. Fable: I shouldn’t make mistakes. I am weak, flawed or ignorant if do.
Realistic narrative: Making mistakes is part of being human.
I could only strive to do my best and try to recognize and overcome barriers that interfere with doing so. Striving for perfection is very different from feeling compelled to be perfect. I need to remind myself that we all make mistakes–sometimes because we don’t have sufficient information, have reduced attention or lack specific skills.
6. Fable: I need everyone to love and respect me.
A part of this story may include the belief that you need to please everyone or you will greatly suffer if you can’t achieve this goal.
Realistic narrative: I need some love and desire respect.
I need some love, from myself and in my most intimate relationships. While I care what people think about me I can’t, nor do I need to, please everyone. In fact, the more I am true to myself, I may invariably disappoint some people.
I recognize that respect is earned and I desire it most from those who are important to me, both in my personal relationships and in the workplace.
7. Fable: If I do good deeds, good will always come my way. (This may be considered a chapter of the “Life is fair” story.)
Realistic narrative: Doing good deeds may increase the likelihood of good coming my way.
I could savor doing good because that is what I value and it makes me feel good to do so. And, I could hope or wish for good to come my way, but it may or may not happen.
Ask yourself the following questions regarding your stories:
1. How rigidly do you hold onto each of these stories?
2. To what degree does each story make you vulnerable to anger arousal?
3. To what extent do you wish to revise any of your stories?
Self-reflection regarding such fables offers you a pathway to mindfully cultivate stories that reflect who you wish to become. Reviewing and revising these fables is a powerful and essential approach for cultivating healthy anger.