Two Ways Your Brain Tricks You into Anger Management Problems
No two people experience the world in the same way and this can be one of the causes of anger management problems. If you were raised in a small southern town your view of the world is likely to be very different than the view held by someone raised in New York City. Whether you were born athletic or clumsy, first born or the last of six, whether you were picked on, a wallflower, very popular or somewhere in between you form a model of the world that fits your experience.
The take home message is to understand that you have one that is unique to you and is based upon the experiences that you have had in life.
People often mistake their models of the world for the real world. It seems very clear to us what happened. We don’t slow down and think that “because of the model I have of the world, I chose to focus on these details and to interpret those details this way which led me to get angry” We usually just think “it happened this way, why can’t you see that?” and our anger becomes a problem/
Most of what we do in life is actually done on “autopilot”. For example, when we first learn a skill such as dancing or playing a musical instrument we are very conscious of our every move “Ok, now I put this foot here and move my body this way…oh wait I screwed up, let me try that again”. However, once dancing or playing an instrument becomes a part of our system of habits we seem to automatically do it, almost like we are on auto pilot.
The same automatic process operates with anger management proglems.
For example, Kathy and Martha were talking by the water cooler about a project they’d been working on. The boss brushed past them with giving his usual greeting. Kathy thought, “oh, no! He doesn’t like our work. I just don’t get that guy! Nothing ever pleases him. I’m getting so sick of that idiot’s arrogance. He thinks he is better than me!” Martha thought, “The boss seems so preoccupied lately. I know he is under pressure from the front office and having trouble at home.” Kathy stewed for the next hour developing an anger management problem because of her interpretation. Martha felt concerned and a bit upset, but quickly forgot about the whole thing. Same event except one person got angry and another didn’t. Why is that?
Its easy as A-B-C!
Anger Trigger —› Belief —› Consequences
Most people believe that A is responsible for C. In reality, B has the greater influence. Lets look at our example. Both Kathy and Martha had the same trigger, but they had very different reactions or consequences, Kathy got angry while Martha stayed calm. The reason? They had very different interpretations of what they experienced.
Anger and Mental Shortcuts
We all use mental shortcuts to help us make sense of the world in ways that conform with our belief system. Usually these shortcuts are very efficient ways of processing information, but sometimes they cause us to misinterpret a situation and become angry. Here are two examples along with questions to ask yourself to make sure you are not missing important information that may keep you from getting angry.
1) The Negative Filter Anger Management Shortcut causes one to focus on what is wrong or irritating rather than what is right about a situation. People who use the negative filter may be thought of as someone who looks at the glass as half empty instead of half full. It’s like having a mental camera that automatically zooms right in on anger triggers blocking out all the good stuff.
Questions to Challenge Your Negative Filters:
What else could I notice?
What isn’t wrong?
What is right or pleasant?
What percentage of the time did I/he/she/they perform well?
2) The Mind Reader Anger Management Shortcut assumes that he or she knows what others are thinking without verifying it. For example, I once stopped at a coffee shop and the server was a bit short to me. I asked, “Have I done something to upset you?” She said, “Oh, I just got yelled at by some guy because he thought I didn’t get his food to him quickly enough”. She was angry, but not with me.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Challenge Mind Reading:
What real proof do I have that he/she is thinking that way?
Verify, verify, verify!! It never hurts to ask someone if their motivation is what you think it is – “Do you know that when you are late you make me feel disrespected? Is that your intent?”