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Counteracting the Anger Impulse and Rage

Part 2: How to restructure anger and rage with CBT and SIRO.

Key points

  • Taking time to reflect on the underlying causes of anger can help people acknowledge and confront it.
  • Thinking about the relational nature of anger and others perceptions can help identify root causes of anger.
  • Healthy practices to help manage anger include practicing benevolence, avoiding blame, and learning cognitive behavioral therapy skills.

Part 2 of the series on Counteracting the Anger Impulse (IED). Read Part 1 here.

'Olly/Adobe Stock Photos', 'Getting Upset, licensed for use'.
Source: 'Olly/Adobe Stock Photos', 'Getting Upset, licensed for use'.

Learning to restructure the way we think by replacing the exaggerated and irrational thoughts manifested by anger with more logical ones can help modify how we address the stressful events in our lives. This practice is known as cognitive restructuring, where engaging logic to alter perceptions of an event can have a tremendous impact on anger. According to the American Psychological Association,

“Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it's justified, can quickly become irrational. So, use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is "not out to get you," you're just experiencing some of the rough spots of life.”

Restructuring the way we have learned to perceive situations can help transform the potentials for anger and rage episodes in a healthy way.

Managing Your Focus

Taking the time to reflect on your anger and where it is coming from can be a good first step in nudging awareness. One of the main objectives of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is to help patients manage their behaviors by turning their focus toward their cognitions and how they are "thinking" about their issues. Clients gain an awareness of how their current thinking has become the primary impediment to sustaining their problematic behaviors.

Changing our thinking requires reflection. We can do this by taking a closer look at the personal and situational factors that trigger Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). Here are some important questions to reflect on:

  • What factors (environmentally or internally) triggered the event?
  • Would the anger be considered a disproportionate reaction given the circumstance?
  • What alternative choices could I have made to diffuse the anger?

Such introspection and focus can be useful tools to understand the conditions under which you respond and engage anger impulses.

Understanding Your SIRO

Anger is often relational, hence the elevated states of anger during crisis times that most often tend to arise through our interactions with the environment, such as in the case of a pandemic. Therefore, much of our anger resides in how we see ourselves concerning others which is otherwise referred to as our SIRO or "Self In Relation to Others."

For instance, the pandemic created a surge in emotional intensity at all levels, and for some, the projection onto others of their frustration and anger felt about prescribed living restrictions. This was evinced in highly reactive rage reactions captured in coffee shops, grocery stores, and on roadways where such rage reactions were streamed across social media.

'Daniel Rodriguez/Adobe Stock Photos', 'Transport, licensed for use'.
Source: 'Daniel Rodriguez/Adobe Stock Photos', 'Transport, licensed for use'.

When our SIRO is inflated, we are operating on an enlarged sense of self, and this can be externalized in various ways like putting our needs before others, expressing narcissistic tendencies, becoming egoistic, self-absorbed, or feeling entitled.

On the other hand, when our SIRO is collapsed, we may internalize emotions and feel deprived, alienated, unheard, or marginalized. In both the inflated and collapsed SIRO, there is a feeling of “offense” or personal attack that takes place which becomes the precipitating factor for the prospect of anger and the possibility of more volatile reactions.

Balancing Emotions with Good Practices

'Styf/Adobe Stock Photos', 'Imagination, licensed for use'.
Source: 'Styf/Adobe Stock Photos', 'Imagination, licensed for use'.

Learn to practice benevolence. Especially during trying times, practicing the act of impartial benevolence towards oneself and others can help mitigate unhealthy reactive states. Allowing the right of way to another driver or calmly waiting your turn are examples of balancing the ego.

Start translating expectations into desires. Angry people tend to demand certain things. Typically, it is based on things like fairness, agreement, recognition, concession, or flexibility. Instead of using demanding phrases like “I want” or “I need” you might want to exchange those for healthier options like “I would like” or “May I please.”

Try avoiding the “blame” game. According to Associated Behavioral Health Care,

“Your first impulse might be to feel like blaming others for your current frustrations, which is completely normal. But before your disappointment turns into anger, take time to pause and sit with your feelings instead of utilizing blame. Dive deeper than the obvious.”

Engage in alternative choices. Too often, when we are angry, we are pushing through an emotionally engaged state because we feel there are no other choices available to us. Psychologist John Riskind says the following,

“The experience of anger is not as problematic as the belief that the sequence of events triggering the anger is accelerating, and the available window for taking action is disappearing.”

Situations that intensify our sense of personal offense may also push us to act out in unhealthy ways with longer-term damaging effects. Learn to look for the options in every situation.

Burn off some adrenaline while stabilizing your cortisol levels. Anger is infused with various chemical reactions in the body in the form of adrenaline and cortisol. Unmetabolized, adrenaline in your body can wreak havoc by way of stress, heart disease, and blood pressure. Ideas to help you burn off adrenaline are as simple as going for a run, swimming, cycling, and walking to name a few. You can also find ways to ground yourself by stepping outside to catch your breath, gardening, or engaging in routine chores, all of which can help.

Find a CBT Therapist. Seeking out a therapist who specializes in CBT can also offer positive potentials. In a specialized controlled study for IED, researcher results revealed that after 12 weekly sessions of CBT, individuals from the experimental group were less angry, less aggressive, and less depressed than those in the control group.

Learn to process your emotions. Not all of us have been taught the function of processing emotions. Processing emotions like anger can help provide important insights on things we may be missing.

Accepting your weaknesses and vulnerability to anger is an important first step. Ultimately, how you choose to view a situation and your reactions to it can be the defining factors for helping control anger and rage for better outcomes.