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One important part of an anger control plan is “self-talk”. Self-talk is the conversation you have with yourself inside your head, in other words your thoughts in response to a situation. For example, if you are deciding whether or not to eat a fattening dessert, your self-talk might go something like this: “Wow… that sounds good … I already ate way too much at dinner but I am planning on exercising tomorrow … so I guess I’ll go ahead and have it”.
One way to change your behavior and your feelings about an event or situation is to change your self-talk. This is just as true about controlling anger and aggressive behavior as it is about changing any other kind of feeling or behavior. For example, to change your mind about eating that fattening dessert you might train yourself to think different thoughts. You might get yourself to remember something like “my doctor told me to lose weight,…. to cut down on fat…. and heart disease runs in my family”when faced with that kind of decision. This same strategy can be applied to anger that gets out of control or is inappropriate to the situation.
Certain kinds of thoughts tend to make you angrier, while other types of thoughts tend to lower your anger level. If you can recognize the thoughts you have that crank up your anger, you can try to replace those thoughts with calming, soothing thoughts that will bring your anger level back down.
Here are some examples of the kinds of thoughts that can make you feel angry and some example ideas on the kinds of thoughts you might use to replace them: Thoughts that make things seem worse or more important than they really are an lead to increases in anger. These kinds of thoughts can blow annoyance and aggravation way out of proportion.
Examples of angry thoughts:
“Should”thinking can also be problematic. These thoughts can change your “wants”and “desires”into demands that are placed upon the rest of the world. You are thinking like this when you use a lot of “should be”, “need to be” and “is supposed to be” in your self-talk. For instance, “She should be on time.”Although we may have strong feelings and opinions about the way things “should be”, we do not live in an ideal world or in a world where we get to have control over other people and all events. No matter how mad we get it probably isn’t going to change these facts.
Examples of “should” thinking:
Thoughts that label people or things in extreme terms can lead to increased anger. Labeling someone as an “idiot” or a “fool” just makes you feel angrier. Using swear words can also make you feel angrier. Try using more realistic negative descriptions.
Examples of thinking in extremes:
Jumping to conclusions without checking out all the facts can cause many a sticky situation. Your conclusion might not be accurate and it also might crank your anger up. If you had all the facts, you might find out that your anger is out of proportion to the situation or not needed in the situation at all. Slow down and check out the facts.
Examples of jumping to conclusions:
Working on changing your self-talk is only one part of a good anger control plan. There are many other anger control strategies, like “time outs”, deep breathing and exercise. By figuring out what works for you and practicing using your plan when you get angry, you can feel more in control of your anger, yourself, and your PTSD.
Source: Adapted from Positive Coping Skills Toolbox
VA Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (MIRECC)
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