Anger… It’s not something I deal with very well, at least in regards to controlling and defusing it. It can bubble inside me for hours, leaving an irrational feeling of frustration and rage. I swear sometimes I can literally see the red mist descending!
I think it stems for an instinct to blow things out of proportion and take things too personally (both very typical traits of anxiety.) It’s not a choice believe me, I wish I didn’t react that way by default.. but I do. The best explanation I ever heard was from a woman I overheard talking in a lift; “I sometimes really struggle to accept and rationalise my emotions.” I wanted to shout YES right in her ear! (But decided to remain cool.) She hit the nail on the head though. I spend so much time fighting my emotions and letting them escalate, that of course my body retaliates and increases their severity.
Here’s a handy example…
Yesterday afternoon I agreed to help a friend with a book signing. It basically involved manual labour (unpacking books for authors to sign, putting stickers on them etc.) Signings aren’t part of my job but I’m always happy to help out when extra hands are needed. Anyway, by the time I got down there some girls from publicity had also arrived (with the famous author) and decided it was best to speak to me like a prison bitch subordinate. Here’s how the conversation went as soon as I walked through the door:
Publicity: Pick up the books
Me: A bit puzzled as she didn’t indicate where she was looking and who she was talking to – sorry?
Publicity: Slightly sharper and said without looking at me – books.. on..the.. floor!
[Basically this woman refused to bend down and pick up the books that were on the floor… 10cm to her right!!]
Me: Walked the full length of the room and squeezed past everyone, by which point she could’ve done the task herself twice over and I could’ve been doing something more useful and less humiliating.
Publicity: Put them there. All of them, quickly – again barked without even looking at me and then goes back to shamelessly flirting with the celebrity.
This charade continued for another thirty minutes before I walked out (I would like to say in a dramatic fashion, but I genuinely had stuff to do and therefore had a valid excuse.)Now, I’m certain that a more secure person wouldn’t have been too bothered by this incident. But I felt embarrassed and irrationally angry. I don’t generally respond well to having orders barked at me.. I’ve been through all that during my uni years of shitty shop work and work experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking to have my hair stroked or be asked in a sweet and soft voice… I just don’t like being talked down to in such an obvious way, as I’d never do that myself.
Now rather than accept the way that I felt and employ some CBT techniques I wasted two hours letting it fester inside me and berating myself for being such an; ‘over-sensitive wimp.’ I also spent a good thirty minutes thinking of sarcastic yet witty comments I should’ve said. Oh and there was one extreme revenge daydream, including scissors and her long (obviously fake) hair. You see.. this is why I could never be trusted with super powers!
Anyway, did any of that make me feel better? No, of course not.. I just completely wasted hours of my life feeling angry and tense rather than dealing with it.
So how should I have handled it? If you’re anything like me then listen up as this CBT technique really helps.
- Praise yourself for recognising that letting anger fester isn’t an effective way to deal with it. It’s good that you’ve spotted this so don’t criticise, congratulate yourself.
- Use some classic CBT techniques such a ‘Thought Chart’ (please see below for example)
- Distract yourself with a task that requires your full attention.
Basic Thought Chart (Thought charts can vary and be adapted)
Author Signing. Was directed to do a task by publicity and didn’t appreciate the way in which I was asked.
- They treated you like a skivvy and you looked pathetic to everyone in the room.
- That woman is a complete bitch and you should hate her forever
- The fact that you let yourself get so worked up by the situation means you’re a loser.
- You’ll always be treated this way by people, you’re weak and deserve it.
Personalisation – You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, it had nothing to do with you personally.
Black or white thinking – you’re seeing the situation as 100% negative without allowing for any other explanations. Was it really that bad?
Mind Reading – How do you know that everyone in the room thought you were ‘pathetic?’ They were probably wrapped up in their own worlds.
Labelling – The woman might’ve seemed rude, but that doesn’t make her a bitch. You only saw her for thirty minutes!
Catastrophising – You will not always be treated this way by people. It was one incident and doesn’t define the future!
- Could a police officer taking a statement use any of the above ‘unhelpful’ thoughts as solid proof? NO!
- Could a scientist use it to prove an experiment? NO!
- It was an unfortunate incident that made you feel bad about yourself and this is completely normal. However, perhaps you shouldn’t take it so personally? Whoever would’ve walked through that door would’ve been spoken to the same way. It had nothing to do with you as a person.
- Do you think this time tomorrow it will really matter to you as much?
- Don’t label this woman as a bitch as it won’t help. All this will achieve is making you feel is angry and upset. Let it go… you really have no idea who she is as person and it doesn’t matter.
- Honestly, is any of what happened earlier important in the larger scale of things? Absolutely not. After everything you’ve faced over the years you’re certainly not a weak person.
- It was just a bad day.. lets write it off and do something fun tonight!
Thought charts help me to rationalise situations which I would struggle to do naturally. I won’t lie… they can be time consuming, but after practice you’ll find that you can do them faster and sometimes even in your head. I use the app; ‘Thought Diary Pro’ so that I can complete them privately on my phone, rather than writing them down manually.
I’m not saying that my anger has dissipated entirely (as I’m only human,) but it’s at least 60% less than it was previously and I feel better for it.
So there you have it… until I get super powers I have CBT on my side!