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Anger Can Distort Thoughts, Trigger Destructive Behaviors

Who is really being punished?

 Sean Shinnock, used with permission
Source: Sean Shinnock, used with permission

Do you find yourself thinking a lot about who has done you wrong, and all the injustices that have been done to you? Do you ruminate often about insults thrown your way? Do you notice that you start having physical reactions? Perhaps, you feel tension in your head and neck or your shoulders and stomach. Do you notice that you are eating a bag of potato chips while thinking about how angry you are? These are examples of how anger can start distorting thoughts and trigger unproductive/destructive behaviors.

My all-time favorite quote is from the film The Godfather, “never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.” Most people have angry thoughts while they are engaging in vicious self-destructive behaviors. For example, picture a man aggressively driving and running red lights, and getting dangerously close to the cars in front of him while honking like a maniac. This man is engaging in immature and dangerous behaviors. He is acting out of control and I can guarantee you in his head are thoughts of anger.

Feelings of anger can turn into self-destructive behaviors because they lead to what I like to call, permissive thoughts. Permissive thinking allows a person to engage in behaviors that are unproductive, damaging, and result in negative consequences. The thoughts sound like, "I have been done wrong so I deserve to do this!" or "I have a right to be angry and I am entitled to do X, Y, and Z!" For example, a woman finds out that her husband told her a lie and so she decides to go binge drinking. All the while she is thinking, “that stupid, son of a bitch, who does he think he is? I am going to drink until I don’t think about him, and I deserve this after all the hell he has put me through!” This woman is angry at her husband and her thoughts give her permission to engage in her compulsive behavior. Any negative consequences that result from this behavior will befall upon the woman, not her husband.

This pattern can be applied to OCD sufferers. To maintain OCD recovery, a sufferer must always resist indulging in compulsive behaviors. Angry feelings can pose an extra challenge. For example, picture a man whose main compulsion is to avoid anything that triggers him. Suppose, parties trigger him, because he could get "infected" by someone who is sick. So, his protective behavior is to avoid going to the party, usually lying to the host as to the reason he will not be attending. Let's say this man has had great RIP-R therapy and is now in recovery. He is set to go to his best friend's retirement party, and during the car ride he gets into a big fight with his Uber driver. He is now feeling frustrated, resentful, and insulted. There is a chance that he might give himself permission to no longer attend the party. The thoughts might sound like, "I am so angry, that I can't deal with controlling my OCD tonight. I don't have it in me to fight two battles tonight; this is just too much." Next thing you know, this man is "off the wagon" and calls his friend to say, "Sorry pal, but I'm swamped with work and I won't be able to get to your party." He is now engaging in his compulsive/avoidance behaviors again.

These are examples of how anger is expressed in poor behavioral choices that have negative consequences. The question one must pose to themselves is who is really being punished? The best an individual can do is to feel anger while controlling their behavior. I strongly recommend to my clients to feel anger and "catch" permissive thoughts. Then, take those permissive thoughts and manipulate them into motivational thoughts. For instance, the lady whose husband lied to her can take her permissive thought and turn it into, "I am so mad at my husband that there is no way on earth that I will let that son of a bitch push me back into drinking."

Using anger as fire to fuel yourself into success is the best approach. Most people do not like feeling angry and often express it in ways that are unproductive and damaging. Anger is one of my favorite emotions because I have learned how to use it to help make my life better. In fact, if channeled correctly, anger is the emotion that can potentially lead to the most successful behavior. With daily and persistent practice, anger can fuel you to the top!

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