Discover the “Irrational” Beliefs That Are Creating Your Anger
by Philip Tate, Ph.D.
People often think that the actions of other people create their anger. “They make me so angry!” is a common statement. If that were the case, there would be little you could do about your anger (except to stay away from most people!) Fortunately, others don’t create your anger. In REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) we teach that your own thinking corresponds with your anger, more than the actions of others.
To discover your thinking that is creating your anger, REBT suggests that you look for the event about which you are angry and then look for your belief about that event. Think, “What happened that I’m angry about?” E.g., someone cut you off in traffic, someone failed to follow through on an agreement, or someone treated you with disrespect. Next, ask yourself, “What am I telling myself about (name the event) that gets me to feel angry?”
When asked what they are telling themselves about the event, many people will answer, “Why’d they do that?” with an intense and frustrated tone of voice. That response, however, is a question, and questions do not create anger. You’re probably telling yourself “I don’t like their behavior. They’re mistaken for acting that way.” But, that too doesn’t get you bent out of shape with anger. That just gets you annoyed or disappointed.
So, What’s Really Getting You Upset?
Look to see if you can find something like “They should not act that way. They’re no damn good for doing what they did.” Statements that contain shoulds and damnations are of the sort that create emotional disturbance, and when you are going from wanting others to treat you nicely to believing that they should, then you easily upset yourself with anger.
Try this exercise. Repeat several times: “They should not act that way. They’re no damn good for doing what they did.” Notice how you feel.
Disputing Irrational Beliefs (DiBs)
How can you discover your underlying beliefs and then reduce your anger? Focus on the event about which you are angry. Then, look for the shoulds and damnations in your head that accompany your anger. When you do, you’ll discover a significant belief that you can begin to deal with. One of the main procedures taught in REBT for diminishing anger is Disputing Irrational Beliefs. An irrational belief (iB) is one which is rigid, inconsistent with reality, illogical or interferes with your psychological well-being and gets in the way of pursuing your personally meaningful goals.
An example of DiBs:
Irrational Belief (iB): “They should not act as they do and they’re no damn good for doing so.”
- Disputing question: Is there any evidence that my belief is true?
- Answer: No. I definitely do not like their actions but I cannot prove that they absolutely should not act that way. They’re may definitely be mistaken, but that doesn’t prove them to be “no good.”
- Disputing question: What good can happen to me if I give up my belief?
- Answer: I’ll diminish my anger. I will not like their behavior, but I will not be irrational about it. I may also be able to think of their more positive qualities, if any, and decide how I will go about relating to them, even with their faults.
When you do the above analysis and therapeutic exercise, you may begin chipping away at your anger.
Doing it many times may help you eliminate it almost completely.
PhilipTate. Ph.D., is author of the book titled Alcohol: How to Give It Up and Be Glad You Did, which is included in SMART Recovery®’s Suggested Reading List. This article originally appeared in a previous issue of SMART Recovery® News & Views.
“Discover the Power of Choice!” Learn more about disputing unhelpful beliefs and other tools for self-empowered addiction recovery at SMART Recovery. .