Chapter 7: Feeling angry? What’s your IQ?
No, Burns meant NOT your intelligence quotient (you see, he’s a really funny guy :))! He’s created the term “irritability quotient” – short: IQ!
We all know that there are a lot of tests we could take to measure our intelligence quotient (that is more or less accurate) but how to measure our irritability quotient?
Easy: With the Novaco Anger Scale which consists of the description of 25 situations that could potentially frustrate you. You just have to imagine these situations and write down how angry you would be if they happened to you.
This is the scale:
0 – You would feel very little or no annoyance.
1 – You would feel a little irritated.
2 – You would feel moderately upset.
3 – You would feel quite angry.
4 – You would feel very angry.
Here you can take the test for yourself!
I’ve got an average level of anger going on so the following exercises aren’t crucial for me but a lower anger level helps more than it hurts! So let’s look at some of the exercises to lower the irritability quotient a bit, shall we?
Just who is making you angry?
Guess who? If you’ve read the last chapter summaries you already know the answer: It’s you and your thoughts!
Are you irritated when something happens you didn’t expect? You could look at situations both in a negative or a positive way. You decide what it’s gonna be and if you want to be angry about it or not! Just think of the distortions you’ve learned about in the last chapters and perhaps you’ll notice that you tend to blow some situations a little out of proportion.
Burns explains that overgeneralization and labeling are the top distortions that hurt your thinking and communication.
When you’re calling a person a jerk or asshole because of something he did, you’re saying he IS a bad person. But isn’t just the ONE THING that he did bad? The betrayal? The angry comment he made? Everyone has positive, negative and neutral attributes so a person isn’t completely bad just because of something he did!
“Labeling is a distorted thinking process that causes you to feel inappropriately indignant and morally superior.”
Mind reading is another distortion that creates anger. You don’t know what the motives of a person are so stop making them up in your head! Asking is a better way to find out if someone really had a bad mindset.
A great example of such a situation: A wife wants to go to a concert with her husband but he rather wants to see a football game. She thinks he doesn’t love her anymore and gets angry and frustrated. Why? Because she doesn’t try to see with his eyes! He really wants to see the game and hates going to concerts. That’s all! It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her anymore – at all!
I know I played this anger game far too long with my ex boyfriend and he played it as well. There was a constant fight about who didn’t love whom and nobody dared to ask for the WHY. That’s a cruel game and I’m so sorry for the pain I caused – but I didn’t know any better at that time. My mother taught me how to handle relationships with mind reading and anger! Exercising to control your thoughts and actions in reasonable ways is really helpful for all relationships and for yourself – trust me!
Let’s have a look at the “should”-distortion:
A clerk lost your reservation for a hotel you wanted to stay in. You instinctively know that he shouldn’t have lost it.
“Before you can feel anger, you must necessarily make the interpretation you are entitled to get what you want in this situation. Consequently, you see the goof-up on your reservation as an injustice.”
It’s highly unlikely that the clerk wanted to treat you unfair so you’re creating unnecessary frustration for yourself. You won’t change the situation to the better when you’re infuriated and declare war on the whole hotel. If you wouldn’t think that negative about the situation you could search for a solution instead.
An interesting thought that Burns explains is that absolute fairness doesn’t exist. There are a lot of different moral systems in other cultures, religions and human beings what means: your own isn’t the only one valid! If someone doesn’t act like you expected him to it doesn’t mean he behaved unethical in his own moral system.
You don’t have to be around people who behave in a way that doesn’t represent your own moral system but you should try to accept that your values aren’t necessarily the values that other people have or want for themselves. Everyone is different.
Burns explains the value system and how it is created in detail in his book.
Should you feel angry at all? Here’s Burns’ short checklist:
1. Is my anger directed toward someone who has knowingly, intentionally, and unnecessarily acted in a hurtful manner?
2. Is my anger useful? Does it help me achieve a desired goal or does it simply defeat me?
Useful means that you could achieve more because of your anger – you channel it into motivation that could help you succeed or your angry voice could help clarify that you’re being serious.
But what could you do when anger isn’t going to help you? How to calm it down? Here are a few of Burns’ exercises to cope with angry thoughts:
Develop the Desire
As Burns makes clear: “Anger can be the most difficult emotion to modify, […]” because you don’t want to lose your feelings in the very moment you get angry at someone or something. The feeling of being treated unfair and having the right to get mad can be overwhelming. It requires a lot of willpower to change your emotional reaction – but it is possible!
Make a column with pro (advantages) and con (disadvantages) of the angry feeling and the consequences of acting on these feelings. This helps you to recognize if anger is really what you want to choose in any given situation!
Advantage: It shows how disapproving I am of person X.
Disadvantage: Person X doesn’t like me to be around him anymore.
You could also make a list of positive aspects of reacting calm instead of angry. It will remind you why you should choose a peaceful reaction instead of an angry one.
Cool those hot Thoughts
Left column: Write down your “Hot Thoughts” that come to your mind and make you angry. This could be something like “I hate it when he treats me like I’m an idiot!”
Right column: Replace the “Hot Thoughts” with cool ones. In this case it could be: “He doesn’t treat me like an idiot. He just loves explaining things to me and probably wants me to admire him. I’m a grown-up girl that can listen to him without feeling inferior to him.”
Daydreaming is a beautiful activity when it’s not about situations that provoke anger to flame up again. The movies in our head can feel so real that the emotions won’t wait to come out and haunt you over and over again. Want to get rid of these hurtful moments of the past?
Burns suggests to imagine hurtful scenes in a funny way – you can rewrite them in your head because you’re the only one who’s watching the film anyway.
Or: You can try to just stop your angry thoughts and do something productive or think about something else instead.
Left column: Your “should” list – why do you think the person should or shouldn’t behave in a certain way?
Right column: Rebuttal – why is this person behaving in this way nevertheless? Think from their perspective and you can find arguments against your “should” statements.
Role-playing-time! Imagine yourself being in the shoes of the person that made you angry and discuss your anger arguments with yourself. That sounds like fun 😉 You could feel angry about your friend who didn’t call you on your birthday and ask yourself why you forgot it. Okay, complicated…here’s an example:
You (as yourself): Why did you forgot my birthday?
You (as your friend): I’m so sorry. I really didn’t mean to forget it. My boyfriend broke up with me and I couldn’t sleep well. I just forgot it because of all this stress.
You (as yourself): But when you forget my birthday I feel like you don’t care for me at all.
You (as your friend): That’s not right! I love you and care so much about you! You know that I will be right by your side whenever you’ll need me. Please don’t be mad at me just because I forgot your birthday this time!
You (as yourself): Alright. You are there for me for as long as I can remember. Thank you so much for this helpful talk! I love you, too 🙂
Yeah…something like that 😉 For better examples read “feeling good“!
It feels so good not to dwell on past images or future ones. If you’re anything like me you’ve imagined a dozen times how a fight between yourself and your mother (or anybody else, really) could happen in the future. This fight didn’t happen and it feels so real and hurts nevertheless. I love the “Imagining Technique” and can stop hurtful thoughts most of the time now!
Click here for Part 6 of my book summary! (coming soon)