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Cheat Sheet

Managing Anger with CBT For Dummies (UK Edition)

From Managing Anger with CBT For Dummies by Gillian Bloxham

Managing anger with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a proven way to really get to understand your anger, from learning its root causes through to coping practically with anger in real-life situations. This Cheat Sheet helps you to frame and start to deal with some of the issues involved in managing anger.

Distinguishing Healthy Anger from Unhealthy Anger for CBT-Based Anger Management

When setting out to manage your anger with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), you need to understand that anger is normal. Anger is a natural human feeling – it’s how you use it and express it that counts. Healthy anger is an energy, motivating you to speak up, stand up for yourself or get people together to make changes for the better.

Unhealthy anger, on the other hand:

  • Lasts a long time: For around 30 per cent of people, unhealthy anger lasts more than a day.

  • Happens a lot: Unhealthy anger occurs more than five or six times a week.

  • Escalates out of proportion to the trigger: You may smash your phone after losing reception while you’re chatting, for example.

  • Gets out of hand, bringing trouble: Being expelled, arrested or convicted are all examples which have bad effects on your health, relationships and at work.

  • Involves using poor coping strategies: You may be coping by means of using swearing, insults or shouting, and calming down using drink or drugs.

Practising Healthy Ways to Make Your Anger Work for You

Studies in managing anger with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) show that letting anger take over your thoughts and actions every time you feel it trains your anger to become stronger. However, with some CBT tips and techniques you can learn to:

  • Keep your reactions in proportion to triggers: Rage about missing a train means you can’t react much more strongly to something really awful.

  • Choose actions instead of just reacting: Using angry feelings as a warning that you need to discuss a problem or make some changes, instead of getting your own back on the quiet or boiling over.

  • Let anger go as soon as you’ve got the message that there may be a problem: Living without suppressing anger (‘I don’t want to talk about it’), denying it (‘I’m not angry at all – really’), or throwing your weight around (‘I’ll show you’).

  • Learn to accept and forgive: Life isn’t perfect, and neither are people. No matter how much you want life to go well or believe it should be fair, getting wound up by problems rarely helps you to find the best answers.

  • Spot unhelpful beliefs which turn irritation into fury: Teach yourself to see every situation in life as having positives as well as negatives.

Calming Yourself When You're Angry: Moving from Hot to Not

Getting angry doesn’t happen in a moment. Managing your anger and calming down doesn’t either, but even acute rage eventually wears off. Understanding how angry feelings evaporate gives you tactics you can use as anger antidotes. These are tactics you’re already using, but may not have spotted! Using memories of past anger, try working out how you cool down.

Have a look at the following successful calm-down options, adding your own to the list, too:

  • Just leave it: You’re sick of arguing and walk away. So choose to leave now and come back later. You can make your point better when you’re calmer.

  • Get distracted: If someone phones, you’ll answer. Make your own distractions to help you change focus. Try texting yourself ‘Calm down’ and reading it.

  • Rescue yourself: If anger turns into fighting, the loser is usually left dealing with injuries. You can rescue yourself by changing the subject, apologising, agreeing or finding answers, before hurtful words or fighting start.

  • Accept there’s nothing more to say: In plenty of situations, you know this as you’re getting angry. Anger won’t change the other person’s mind; coming back with facts might. Use time away to get the facts that back you up.

  • Picture something funny or calming: When anger is intense, your mind gets tunnel vision. Your imagination is an antidote to take you far away to somewhere calm or amusing.

Using Assertiveness to Manage Your Anger with CBT

You need to recognise that one of the key strategies for managing your anger with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is to be more assertive. Assertiveness isn’t the same thing as aggression: it involves respecting yourself and others.

Using an aggressive or passive-aggressive style to force others to respect you is impossible, but earning respect is something you can do. Keeping your rights and responsibilities in balance is a big part of being assertive; as a result, you’re earning respect by showing respect.

Some basic rights and responsibilities shared by everyone include:

  • Being respected: You have the right to be treated with respect, to be listened to and taken seriously. You’re as important as any other human being. You’re responsible for showing the same respect. Others are important too.

  • Making choices: You have the right to choose who you are and what you do. You’re responsible for accepting that others have the same right to choose. Choices always have consequences. You’re also responsible for the results of your choices, good or bad.

  • Messing up: You have the right to make mistakes. No one is perfect. Constant criticism from others says more about their problems than your abilities! You didn’t mean the mistake to happen, but you’re still responsible for the consequences of it.

  • Respecting equality: You have the right to have and express your opinions and feelings. Because everyone has an equal right, you’re responsible for understanding others’ positions and finding some sympathy for their feelings.

  • Saying ‘no’: You always have the right to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. You’re responsible for accepting ‘no’ from others, even when you don’t like it.

  • Showing honesty: It’s your right to be honest about your feelings, thoughts, views and needs, even when it’s awkward. You’re responsible for being honest and open with others, without expecting them to know what you think and want automatically. You’re also responsible for expressing yourself without being insulting or damaging someone, physically or emotionally.

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