Most of us have experienced anger at some point in our life; it’s a common emotion and it can range from irritability through to rage. CBT suggests that anger is an ‘unhealthy negative emotion’ and there is no room for it in our lives – ever. This is because, in general, anger is based on what are called irrational (not fact based) beliefs – that life is unfair and/or someone has violated our internal beliefs about how we think someone ‘should’ or ‘should not’ behave.
Anger can be serious and can have a detrimental effect on your mental and physical health and of the mental and physical health of those around you.
As a result of thinking that we have been unfairly treated/disrespected or that others have broken our moral rules, principals, standards or expectations, we then fall into a ‘catastrophising’ trap where we angrily claim that we can’t or won’t tolerate it! This unhelpful way of thinking leads to anger, which in turn stimulates the body’s adrenaline response resulting in us behaving in (or getting the urge to behave) in a threatening or aggressive manner.
There are often three major MUSTs involved when we feel the emotion of anger:-
- I have do well, be perfect, outstanding and I have to win the approval of others otherwise it will be awful. I can’t stand it if I am no good and have to always be faultless and people have to think I am right all the time!
- Other people should do the right things or be a certain way and they should lead their lives according to my principals and beliefs. They should treat me well and be kind and considerate at all times otherwise they are horrible and no good.
- Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience. I must not have any hassle or else it will be unbearable and unfair.
Anger is expressed in different ways. It can be acted out immediately by shouting, throwing or breaking things and more seriously it can result in physical violence. Different people express their anger in different ways. Some suppress their anger and then act in a passive aggressive manner by sulking, withdrawing, being obstructive, giving dirty looks, ignoring someone, manipulating people or situations, withholding information and making excuses. A person who behaves in this way might not always show that they are angry, but underneath they are.
At other times anger is suppressed and then released in an aggressive burst. This can feel an instant relief but in the long term this is destructive and can lead to other emotional problems.
The Anger Cycle
Some people tend to become angry easily (a “short fuse”) and some have problems controlling their anger. Anger has consequence which often involves hurting other people, usually their feelings, but sometimes physically. After an angry outburst, we often think very critically of ourselves and our actions, leading us to feel guilt and shame which might result in our withdrawing from others, not wanting to do anything
How CBT Can Help
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) takes the view, that there are helpful and unhelpful ways of reacting to a situation – which is determined the meaning we attach to it. If we have a tendency to view a situation in a negative, unhelpful way, based on interpretation rather than fact, then it can lead to negative emotions; such as anger.
CBT suggests that it’s not about like or dislike/positive or negative, it’s about rational. CBT doesn’t suggest that you need to ‘like’ it when someone does or says something that you don’t happen to agree with, it just helps you to take responsibility for the reaction to your thoughts and respond more rationally to it. CBT argues that because we are human, at times we are going to feel ‘annoyed’ but anger is a pointless, destructive, unhelpful behaviour which destroys our own lives and the lives of the people around us.