by Grant Porteous, LMSW
Getting back to the question of what do I do to address anger in my life, let me first say that getting anger out of the picture takes work. The good news, from my experience, is that about 80% of most people’s anger can be undone and put away when they are intentional about it within a matter of a month or two. The difficult news is that it seems the other 20% can be pretty stubborn. However, any improvement you make is a move in the direction of better relationships with others and improved personal health, so it’s worth the effort.
The first step is to catch what it is you’re saying to yourself – your negative self talk. Next, you’ll have to get in the habit of looking at what’s making you mad and telling yourself the truth instead of whatever’s presently running through your head. Finally, as you replace your old, negative self-talk with the truth, you follow that up by focusing on what’s good and positive in support of the behavioral change you’re trying to make.
Daniel Amen, M.D., in his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, refers to the process as ‘stepping on’ the ANTS in your life – the automatic negative thoughts. Some people, like Reneau Peurifoy in Anger: Taming the Beast expand on these basic elements at some length, while others like William Backus in Learning to Tell Myself the Truth tend to focus on the importance of step two. For people of faith, skeptical of most things psychological, fear not. Step one is in essence “take every thought captive…”; step two reflects “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”; and, for the third step and the importance of replacing old thinking with positive self talk, see Gal. 4:6-8.
It takes about four to six weeks for most people to make significant changes in their internal dialogue, and as you continue the process you should be learning how to replace old self-talk and behavior with simply saying what you want and setting boundaries with others as needed.
One final observation: when you begin to change how you respond to things, and no longer get upset or angry like you used to, don’t be surprised if some people close to you don’t applaud your self-control or cheer the fact that you’re finally changing that bad behavior. When you change angry behavior, as bad as it may have been, some folks may not know how to respond – and they may not like that. That’s okay. It’s all part of the change process, and unpacking a legacy with anger in it is well worth it.