The ABCs of Anger Management

Who is the one person who always seems to make you angry?  I’m sure right now you can think of your spouse, employer, children, friend, colleague, or other family member.  However, this is a trick question because the only person who has the power to make you feel angry is YOURSELF.  I bet you are wondering how that makes any sense.  The answer to that is that you are the only person who has the power, control, and decision-making ability to allow yourself to be affected by a person or situation.  Therefore, anger is not caused by a situation but rather it is the result of how you think about the event. One way we can gain insight and learn to develop more effective anger management techniques is through the ABCs of anger:

A: The antecedent or anger trigger.  This is the event or situation that has occurred and has potential to affect you in some way. Being stood up by a friend for lunch is an example of an antecedent or triggering event.

B: Your beliefs about the antecedent or event.  Your beliefs are made up of your thoughts, personal rules to live by, and meanings you attach to both internal and external triggers.  An example would be what your thoughts are and what it means to be stood up by a friend.  You could assume that your friend did it on purpose or consider that they may have a good reason for not showing up, depending on your thoughts and beliefs at the time.  

C: The consequences that accompany your beliefs about the triggering event.  Consequences can include other feelings besides anger (annoyance, sadness, jealousy, or empathy to name a few) as well as physical responses and behavior.  For example, you may feel annoyed, clench your jaw, and call up your friend to yell at them or you can remain calm and call your friend to see if everything is okay.

When we think about anger, we generally think of it as being negative however anger tells us a lot about ourselves and what underlying emotions and beliefs we may be experiencing.  For instance, fear, sadness, guilt, and shame are common primary emotions that are often masked by anger.  We can use the ABCs of anger to help us increase our self-awareness about our angry experiences and automatic responses that are not helpful, learn to challenge our thoughts and beliefs, and develop more effective strategies to manage our responses. 

Steps you can take to manage our anger more effectively using the ABCs:

1.    Increase awareness of your triggers to anger.  Consider situations that you
commonly find yourself becoming angry in. 

2.    Recognize your automatic, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and expectations.  These can often be called “errors in thinking” and can include: labeling, overgeneralizing, jumping to conclusions, ‘all or none’ thinking, magnification or catastrophizing, and blaming.  

3.    Challenge your unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and expectations by asking yourself the following questions: 
•    What would someone else do in this situation?
•    Is there another way to think about what happened?
•    Is my reaction worth it?
•    Am I right to think that?
•    What are the chances of that happening?
•    How much does this matter in the bigger scheme of things?
•    Am I being realistic?

4.    Engage in self-talk to help us ‘cool down’ your angry thoughts. Some examples can include:
•    “remain calm”
•    “just breathe”
•    “it’s not worth it”
•    “don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing you angry”
•    “give the person a chance to have a say”

We have the ability to take control of our thoughts and therefore our feelings and behavior when it comes to anger.  Hopefully you find this to be reassuring and can begin to change your experiences for the better.  Try to apply the ABCs to your experiences and see what you learn about yourself as well as any positive changes you can begin to make!

~ Cory Stege, LMFT