Pitfalls of Thinking That Lead to Anger

Reviewed Mar 6, 2017

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Summary

  • Faulty thinking is the primary source of most of your emotional suffering.
  • Identify thoughts that fuel your anger.
  • Recognize distorted thoughts and learn to rethink them.

Hotheaded. Short-fused. Grumpy. Do any of these adjectives fit you or someone you love? Everyone gets angry now and then, but to earn a title like “short-fused,” anger might be on the scene all too often. Are you tired of feeling angry all the time?

David D. Burns, MD, asserts that your thoughts, namely the faulty ones, are the primary source of most of your emotional suffering. If you take the time to identify and retrain the thoughts involved when you feel angry, you just might grow a longer fuse.

Recognize cognitive distortions

Can you accept that some of your thoughts, especially the ones that make you feel so miserable, aren’t accurate or rational? In The Feeling Good Handbook, Dr. Burns describes several irrational thought patterns called cognitive distortions that provoke negative emotions. The next time you feel irritable or angry, take a minute or two to write down any thoughts you catch racing through your mind. Perhaps you will recognize some of the following:

Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

  • “My spouse never listens to me.”
  • “My kids always make too much noise.”

All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-or-white categories.

  • "I either want to win or I don’t want to play!”
  • “I will not tolerate imperfection in myself or anyone.”

Should statements: You criticize yourself or others with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”

  • “That guy should turn off his signal if he isn’t turning!”
  • “People shouldn’t have more grocery items than posted in the express line.”

Labeling: You identify yourself or others entirely with their shortcomings.

  • “He’s an idiot because he left his turn signal on.”
  • “I’m a pig because I ate too much.”

Blame: You blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might contribute to a problem.

  • “The reason my marriage is failing is all my spouse’s fault.”
  • “The people in my work group are entirely to blame for problems there.”

Change what you can

Here’s your greatest challenge—to admit that your thoughts might be distorted, and learn to rethink them. Even if you are committed to learning to manage your anger, expect this to take time and practice. As you learn to identify cognitive distortions, consider these alternative thought patterns that can help calm you down:

Thinking in shades of gray: Try to remove “always” and “never” from your negative beliefs.

  • Can you truly never recall a time when your spouse listened to you, or your children were quiet? Change “always” and “never” to “sometimes.”
  • Allow yourself to be human, which means you will sometimes lose, fail, make mistakes, etc.

Examine the evidence: Is there any proof that your thought is valid?

  • Do you actually know the IQ of that driver in front of you?
  • Do you in any way resemble a pig?

Re-attribution: What other factors besides the person you want to blame may contribute to your negative emotion?

  • Rather than constantly blame others for your sour mood, be willing to consider your part in the problem.
  • Consider that your low mood may be coloring your perspective at the moment.

The semantic method: Substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. Try to use fewer "shoulds," "shouldn’ts," labels, etc.

  • "It would be nice if people honored the express lane system at the grocery store.”
  • “That driver must be too distracted right now not to notice that his signal is still on.”

Don’t give up as you try to change anger’s hold on your life, don’t expect perfection. Lack of sleep, illness, too many demands … these and other events shorten anyone’s fuse. Psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends that you cultivate “mindfulness” when you feel anger rise up in you. He would also have you examine your thoughts, as well as focus on your breathing, posture, facial expressions, and muscle tension. Learn to take deep, slow breaths and unclench your jaw or fists.

If your anger is costing you relationships, jobs, or good health, you might consider working with a counselor or other mental health professional. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D. William Morrow and Company Inc., 1989; Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D. Harper, 1999. Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. Dell Publishing, 1990.

Summary

  • Faulty thinking is the primary source of most of your emotional suffering.
  • Identify thoughts that fuel your anger.
  • Recognize distorted thoughts and learn to rethink them.

Hotheaded. Short-fused. Grumpy. Do any of these adjectives fit you or someone you love? Everyone gets angry now and then, but to earn a title like “short-fused,” anger might be on the scene all too often. Are you tired of feeling angry all the time?

David D. Burns, MD, asserts that your thoughts, namely the faulty ones, are the primary source of most of your emotional suffering. If you take the time to identify and retrain the thoughts involved when you feel angry, you just might grow a longer fuse.

Recognize cognitive distortions

Can you accept that some of your thoughts, especially the ones that make you feel so miserable, aren’t accurate or rational? In The Feeling Good Handbook, Dr. Burns describes several irrational thought patterns called cognitive distortions that provoke negative emotions. The next time you feel irritable or angry, take a minute or two to write down any thoughts you catch racing through your mind. Perhaps you will recognize some of the following:

Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

  • “My spouse never listens to me.”
  • “My kids always make too much noise.”

All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-or-white categories.

  • "I either want to win or I don’t want to play!”
  • “I will not tolerate imperfection in myself or anyone.”

Should statements: You criticize yourself or others with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”

  • “That guy should turn off his signal if he isn’t turning!”
  • “People shouldn’t have more grocery items than posted in the express line.”

Labeling: You identify yourself or others entirely with their shortcomings.

  • “He’s an idiot because he left his turn signal on.”
  • “I’m a pig because I ate too much.”

Blame: You blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might contribute to a problem.

  • “The reason my marriage is failing is all my spouse’s fault.”
  • “The people in my work group are entirely to blame for problems there.”

Change what you can

Here’s your greatest challenge—to admit that your thoughts might be distorted, and learn to rethink them. Even if you are committed to learning to manage your anger, expect this to take time and practice. As you learn to identify cognitive distortions, consider these alternative thought patterns that can help calm you down:

Thinking in shades of gray: Try to remove “always” and “never” from your negative beliefs.

  • Can you truly never recall a time when your spouse listened to you, or your children were quiet? Change “always” and “never” to “sometimes.”
  • Allow yourself to be human, which means you will sometimes lose, fail, make mistakes, etc.

Examine the evidence: Is there any proof that your thought is valid?

  • Do you actually know the IQ of that driver in front of you?
  • Do you in any way resemble a pig?

Re-attribution: What other factors besides the person you want to blame may contribute to your negative emotion?

  • Rather than constantly blame others for your sour mood, be willing to consider your part in the problem.
  • Consider that your low mood may be coloring your perspective at the moment.

The semantic method: Substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. Try to use fewer "shoulds," "shouldn’ts," labels, etc.

  • "It would be nice if people honored the express lane system at the grocery store.”
  • “That driver must be too distracted right now not to notice that his signal is still on.”

Don’t give up as you try to change anger’s hold on your life, don’t expect perfection. Lack of sleep, illness, too many demands … these and other events shorten anyone’s fuse. Psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends that you cultivate “mindfulness” when you feel anger rise up in you. He would also have you examine your thoughts, as well as focus on your breathing, posture, facial expressions, and muscle tension. Learn to take deep, slow breaths and unclench your jaw or fists.

If your anger is costing you relationships, jobs, or good health, you might consider working with a counselor or other mental health professional. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D. William Morrow and Company Inc., 1989; Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D. Harper, 1999. Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. Dell Publishing, 1990.

Summary

  • Faulty thinking is the primary source of most of your emotional suffering.
  • Identify thoughts that fuel your anger.
  • Recognize distorted thoughts and learn to rethink them.

Hotheaded. Short-fused. Grumpy. Do any of these adjectives fit you or someone you love? Everyone gets angry now and then, but to earn a title like “short-fused,” anger might be on the scene all too often. Are you tired of feeling angry all the time?

David D. Burns, MD, asserts that your thoughts, namely the faulty ones, are the primary source of most of your emotional suffering. If you take the time to identify and retrain the thoughts involved when you feel angry, you just might grow a longer fuse.

Recognize cognitive distortions

Can you accept that some of your thoughts, especially the ones that make you feel so miserable, aren’t accurate or rational? In The Feeling Good Handbook, Dr. Burns describes several irrational thought patterns called cognitive distortions that provoke negative emotions. The next time you feel irritable or angry, take a minute or two to write down any thoughts you catch racing through your mind. Perhaps you will recognize some of the following:

Overgeneralization: You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

  • “My spouse never listens to me.”
  • “My kids always make too much noise.”

All-or-nothing thinking: You look at things in absolute, black-or-white categories.

  • "I either want to win or I don’t want to play!”
  • “I will not tolerate imperfection in myself or anyone.”

Should statements: You criticize yourself or others with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”

  • “That guy should turn off his signal if he isn’t turning!”
  • “People shouldn’t have more grocery items than posted in the express line.”

Labeling: You identify yourself or others entirely with their shortcomings.

  • “He’s an idiot because he left his turn signal on.”
  • “I’m a pig because I ate too much.”

Blame: You blame other people and overlook ways that your own attitudes and behavior might contribute to a problem.

  • “The reason my marriage is failing is all my spouse’s fault.”
  • “The people in my work group are entirely to blame for problems there.”

Change what you can

Here’s your greatest challenge—to admit that your thoughts might be distorted, and learn to rethink them. Even if you are committed to learning to manage your anger, expect this to take time and practice. As you learn to identify cognitive distortions, consider these alternative thought patterns that can help calm you down:

Thinking in shades of gray: Try to remove “always” and “never” from your negative beliefs.

  • Can you truly never recall a time when your spouse listened to you, or your children were quiet? Change “always” and “never” to “sometimes.”
  • Allow yourself to be human, which means you will sometimes lose, fail, make mistakes, etc.

Examine the evidence: Is there any proof that your thought is valid?

  • Do you actually know the IQ of that driver in front of you?
  • Do you in any way resemble a pig?

Re-attribution: What other factors besides the person you want to blame may contribute to your negative emotion?

  • Rather than constantly blame others for your sour mood, be willing to consider your part in the problem.
  • Consider that your low mood may be coloring your perspective at the moment.

The semantic method: Substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. Try to use fewer "shoulds," "shouldn’ts," labels, etc.

  • "It would be nice if people honored the express lane system at the grocery store.”
  • “That driver must be too distracted right now not to notice that his signal is still on.”

Don’t give up as you try to change anger’s hold on your life, don’t expect perfection. Lack of sleep, illness, too many demands … these and other events shorten anyone’s fuse. Psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends that you cultivate “mindfulness” when you feel anger rise up in you. He would also have you examine your thoughts, as well as focus on your breathing, posture, facial expressions, and muscle tension. Learn to take deep, slow breaths and unclench your jaw or fists.

If your anger is costing you relationships, jobs, or good health, you might consider working with a counselor or other mental health professional. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D. William Morrow and Company Inc., 1989; Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D. Harper, 1999. Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. Dell Publishing, 1990.

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